NEED TO KNOW
What is it? An open-world action game based on the fiction of the Mad Max movie franchise, featuring vehicle and melee combat.
Expect to pay: $60/£35
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: Intel i7 x980 3.33 GHz, 9 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
Link: Official site
The same day Mad Max: Fury Road arrived at my house on Blu-ray to be obsessively watched and rewatched, Max came to my PC in an open-world action RPG by Avalanche Studios, developers of the Just Cause series. In it, Max finds himself left for dead in the desert—and worse, his iconic Interceptor stolen—after a run-in with a hulking warlord named Scabrous Scrotus. Max quickly joins forces with a fawning, Quasimodo-like mechanic named Chumbucket who agrees to help Max build a new car so he may seek revenge and get his original wheels back. To acquire all the parts and upgrades needed to turn this rusty jalopy into a war machine, Max reluctantly makes deals with the leaders of several desert outposts and sets about clearing their turf of threats, conquering enemy camps, scavenging for scrap metal, and engaging in high speed car-to-car combat and melee brawls with enemy goons.
As you explore the wasteland you'll randomly encounter lone vehicles or multi-car war parties bristling with spikes, loaded with explosives, or carrying crews of hooting War Boys. Luckily, you've got something they don't, and it's one of the most enjoyable weapons I've used in a game: a kickass car-mounted harpoon. Target a car's doors and you can tear them off. Target a rear bumper and you can slingshot your car into it for extra ramming damage. Yank off armor, piece by piece, to expose a gas tank which you can then detonate with a shotgun blast. As you upgrade the harpoon you'll gain the ability to tear off a car's wheel, completely neutralizing it. Best of all, you can a rip a driver right out of his seat, either through an unarmored windshield or a door you've removed, and then catapult him through the air. It's a blast. You're not always the hunted, either: sometimes enemy drivers will realize they've bitten off more than they can chew and beat a hasty retreat, meaning you get to become the pursuer.
The harpoon isn't just useful against other cars. Across the wasteland enemy factions have built intimidating metal 'scarecrow' towers which can be harpooned and pulled down. Sniper nests also dot the landscape, and you can rip them down or simply impale the sniper and yank him right out of his roost. Tear down the gates of enemy camps and you'll be able to target any creeps foolish enough to come running, pulling them one-by-one out into the dust. Eventually you'll acquire the Thunderpoon, which adds explosive-tipped bolts, effectively giving you a rocket launcher attack useful against heavily armored vehicles.
The apex of car combat is encountering a fuel convoy: a big lead vehicle with a handful of cars protecting it. This is where the game does a great job of capturing the long, chaotic, and violent chase scenes from the films. As you chase down the convoy and start picking off the escort vehicles, you'll be rammed and sideswiped as eager War Boys leap onto your car, stabbing and kicking you through your windows until you shake them off. You'll be engaging vehicles in front, behind, and on both sides of you, tearing into them with your harpoon, detonating their gas tanks, and ejecting their drivers, all the while trying to catch the lead vehicle and keep your own car on the road.
Random wasteland events only add to the high-speed chaos. In the midst of one extended convoy attack, a massive storm rolled in, turning day into night and filling the air with crackling lightning bolts and hazardous flying debris. During another convoy chase, a different war party of three vehicles came rocketing along the same highway... headed in the opposite direction. The utter devastation was hilarious. These random events can completely ruin your assault, which I'm sure some will find frustrating, but I personally never minded doing a convoy mission multiple times. They're easily the best part of the game, and I'm happy to say there's a massive one toward the end of the story missions.
Of course, you need to get out of your car quite often, which is where some of the fun of Mad Max can start to fizzle. Invading enemy camps is always done on foot, and while melee combat works similarly to what we've seen in the Arkham games—parry blows with one button, deliver your own by mashing another, chain attacks together for damage bonuses, and execute special moves when prompted—it's simply not as fluid or flexible. The camera can be awful during fights, sometimes completely obscuring Max and his enemies. Learning special attacks and parries lets you deal with goons more quickly, but in response the game simply increases the size of the mobs you face. It's animated well: breaking a goon's arm or piledriving him into the ground feels meaty and crunchy, and blasting away with your sawed-off, using spiked melee weapons, and throwing explosive spears gives fights a bit of a kick. Ultimately, though, there are simply so many of these fights, all essentially the same, that they eventually begin to feel like a numbing chore. I have plenty of fun stories about car combat, but none about the hundred-plus fistfights I had.
The dozen-or-so boss fights aren't great, either. Camp bosses are identical: lumbering damage-sponges wielding giant hammers that require you to dodge their swing, quickly attack to shave off slivers of their health, then dodge again. A couple other bosses are of the quick and agile variety, but there's really no difference in strategy. Wait for their signature move, dip in for a quick attack, and repeat until they're beaten. Sometimes you'll have to fight goon-mobs at the same time, which at least gives you a new activity: trying to trick the boss into accidentally smashing his own minions.
Besides car and melee combat, there are other things to do in the wasteland. I've played for 45 hours and my map is still cluttered with icons, though there's honestly not a whole lot of variety in activities. You can search locations for scrap, gather parts to upgrade friendly strongholds or build new cars, capture outposts whose hot air balloons serve as vantage points, participate in timed races, or listen to a friendly wastelander's (usually boring) tale of woe before getting a tip, sharing their loot, or getting a series of small side-missions. More often than not, these activities involve more melee fighting. I feel like more could have been done with the wasteland: there are a couple of genuinely interesting and creepy underground locations that felt like they might be leading to something different, but unfortunately they end up the same way every other interior location does: with a roomful of guys for Max to punch to death.
Not an option
There are a lot of ways to upgrade your car: adorning it with spikes, rams, armor, and flamethrowers, improving traction and suspension, and adding bigger and better engines and nitro boosts. Some of these upgrades simply require scrap metal, and others are the result of story progression. Some, however, are tied to certain milestones. Heading into the final confrontation, for example, I wanted the maximum armor on my car since I'd been finding myself having to pull over far too often to let Chum repair it. This final armor upgrade required not just gathering a bunch of scrap metal, but also eliminating every single threat in one region of the map: clearing every enemy camp, taking out every sniper and scarecrow tower, and finding and clearing every single minefield. I have a bit of a problem with this. The great thing about open-world games is that they don't just offer the freedom to tackle challenges in the order in which you choose, but also the freedom to not tackle some of them if you don't want to. Tying several of Max's upgrades specifically to the completion of all these optional activities makes them, y'know, not so optional. It's not that I hated doing the work—at least the things I could do while driving, like taking down towers—it's just that I felt I had no choice in the matter.
At least the wasteland itself is a solid pleasure. I'm sure it was a challenge to make a massive and barren desert visually interesting, but Avalanche pulled it off nicely, giving different regions distinct themes. You'll find sun-bleached white sand, rolling yellow dunes, dark jagged peaks and cliffs, vast swamps of oily muck, and rusty red buttes and boulders. Then there's Gas Town, with its belching smokestacks and mountains of trash, looking for all the world like an industrial Mordor. I wish the story complimented the visuals, but very little of the dark humor of the films make it into the game, and most of the characters, including Max himself, are fairly uninteresting.
I'm quite happy (and a little surprised) to say the port is excellent. With settings maxed (heh) I generally averaged around 70 FPS while driving and around 60 FPS in the game's interiors. Some of the controls aren't great, like the fact that every non-combat interaction requires a key to be held rather than tapped. For something like climbing a ladder it's not a big deal, but for collecting scrap metal, which you'll do hundreds of times, having to hold the button for a full second before Max picks up his loot feels pointlessly time consuming.
I know that's a lot of negatives, but the exciting and satisfying car combat goes a long way toward making up for the rest of Mad Max's shortcomings and annoyances. Whenever I became bored with the endless fist-fights and scrap metal hunts, I'd just hop back in my car with Chum and race around the dunes and valleys, looking for the telltale plumes of dust in the distance that indicated a rolling war party or convoy. Then we'd ready the harpoon, blast the nitro, and get up to ramming speed.