Mad Max is an open world action adventure which, while it may be a rather saturated genre at the moment, is a perfect fit for the title.
Your character, Max Rockatansky, has his iconic car taken from him and is left for dead (in fairly typical fashion) after a clash with Scabrous Scrotus, the chief bad guy. Shortly after waking up, Max meets Chumbucket, a mildly crazy blackfinger (mechanic) who believes that Max is a Saint sent by The Angel of Combustion who will assist him in creating the ultimate Wasteland vehicle... the Magnum Opus. Chumbucket travels with you everywhere when you are in the Magnum Opus; repairing it, firing the various weapons and providing constant tips and narration to your journey. This constant narration should be annoying after a while... but it's a credit to the writing and the voice actor (Jason Spisak) that he is anything but.
And so begins your journey through the objective-filled Wasteland, earning scrap to pay for upgrades to your car, Max and the strongholds of the various faction leaders you meet.
Like most open world games, there are numerous different tasks open to you as well as the story missions: simple scavenging locations where you'll find scrap and collectibles; convoys to take down; structures to destroy to reduce the influence of Scrotus in each region; races to participate in and various types of camps to clear. These objectives can often feel a little overwhelming in number, particularly when you first uncover a region using a hot air balloon (like Far Cry's radio towers or Assassin's Creed's synchronisation points) but it does mean you are never stuck for something to do.
The races have a typically Mad Max feel to them with no penalties for taking out your opponents and you'll often find you have a bomb strapped to the bottom of your car to add an extra incentive for winning a race.
The scavenging locations are a means to an end, providing a small amount of scrap and maybe the odd collectible or stronghold upgrade part; while the camps tend to be more involved with numerous objectives, rewarding you with scrap, extras and a regular scrap contribution to your friendly strongholds.
One of the best activities, however, tends to be the convoys. Your objective is to destroy a gas-transporter, often armoured and always surrounded by supporting vehicles, by any means necessary. What tends to follow is a very scrappy, extremely fun, rolling fight (as seen in my video below). The reward for taking down a convoy is a new ornament for your car, of which you can mount two, that improve an aspect of it such as top speed or defence. Sadly, once you have defeated a convoy that route is then clear so there is only a finite number of convoys to fight.
As you can imagine, the car is the real star, with a large number of potential upgrades and styles to choose from. The key to the customisation, however, is choice. Unlike some games where you simply keep picking the next upgrade, lot of the upgrades on the Magnum Opus have penalties. For example, if you install better armour it will have a negative impact on your acceleration and handling (because it increases the weight of your car) and later on, you'll be able to choose tires based on the surface you'll be driving on. These choices mean that you can tailor the car to your playstyle. Personally I like the speed and handling and rely on my weaponry to keep the enemy at bay... so I opt for lighter armour, a low end ram and (because I tend to spend most of my time off-road) tires with better traction on sand.
As you progress through the game, you'll also gain access to a few different weaponry options for your car. Your first is Max's trusty shotgun but it's not long before your acquire a harpoon and then the options start to open up for ramming bars, grinding edges, flamethrowers, a sniper rifle and, eventually, the Thunderpoon (an exploding harpoon). Once you have the Thunderpoon, you become a far more formidable force... but the harpoon is definitely the most fun. Aiming it, while driving, slows things down allowing you to target specific areas... from the wheels of a vehicle (once the harpoon has been upgraded) to an exposed driver or pedestrian. When you've fired, you can simply keep driving and drag whatever you have skewered around behind you... or you can give it a quick pull and drag the object from its location; lighter items (like people) are often catapulted high into the air... which can be as amusing as it sounds.
While on foot, Max isn't exactly a slouch; dishing brutal punishment out in Batman-styled combat. Hit the correct button when there is an icon over someone's head and you'll effectively block or counter their attack... otherwise you can simply punch, stab or shoot them untill they stop trying to hit you. Often during combat you'll also trigger Max's fury/rage mode where your attacks will cause more damage and new finishing moves will become available. If you are attacked with any weapons, you can unlock the ability to take those away and use them to your advantage. The combat doesn't flow quite as smoothly as Batman's, but it does feel more violent and gritty... which seems fitting.
Max's abilities can be upgraded throughout the game by completing various challenges, unlocking "Griffa Tokens" which can be spent with the mysterious Griffa to improve Max's health, his fury mode, his efficiency with weapons or making him better at scavenging resources.
As well as his abilities, Max can improve his equipment with better armour, shotgun, gloves, tools and fighting moves. These are paid for with scrap and, unlike the vehichle upgrades, are pretty linear... you're going to want to get the next one on the list.
Put this all together and what you get is a large, fun, brutal game. While there are bound to be comparisons with the Batman series or Shadow of Mordor, the real selling point for me is attention to detail that I would normally only expect from someone like Rockstar. Every camp, however small, feels like it has been specifically crafted. No copy and paste here... the locations and layout make sense and nothing ever feels like it doesn't belong. In a game of this size, you can't understate the amount of work and care that must hove gone into this. Add to this the almost flawless launch, which seems to be such a rare thing these days, and Avalanche have really pulled off something special. I am slightly surprised at how cheaply you can pick the game up, particularly if you tend to use third-party key vendors, and I hope that this doesn't have an impact on their future titles... they deserve a resounding success, unlike Rocksteady (also under the WB label) who were responsible for the hideous mess that was Arkham Knight on the PC (months before it was even playable).
tags: avalanche studios, mad max, pc, review, warner brothers
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