The openworld game type sets crucial limitations on Mad Max
There are plenty of games coming out these days with at least some open-world elements, and while games of this type can be very fun if done right, sometimes it just feels out of place. Based on a popular franchise, Mad Max might have worked better as a more story-driven game, rather than an open-world car game.
The game came out at around the same time as the movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. However, it’s only loosely based on the movie franchise. Some of the characters and locations in the game also appear in Fury Road, and while the events of the game seem to lead up to the events in the movie, the game isn’t purely canon. This would have given the developers free hands to do pretty much anything with the setting and the characters, but the events of the story are dictated by the possibilities and limitations of the game type.
At the beginning, the game mostly feels like it’s set in the Mad Max universe. Max himself is well written and looks the part, and many of the car-worshipping side characters are enjoyable. Even the voice acting is great, and the first minutes of the game really made me expect a story-rich Mad Max experience. However, once I cleared the tutorial missions and was free to roam around the world (in a car most of the time), the open-world elements started to get tedious, no matter how much I wanted to like the game.
The game looks beautiful. It is set on a desert that once acted as a seabed, and the landscape is dotted with things like ruined lighthouses and massive, rusty cargo ships. The huge map consists of several unique-looking regions, and I always felt excited when entering a new region and figuring out what it might have looked like under the ocean. However, there are also plenty of enemy watch towers, raiding parties and loot locations. Looking over the horizon it often looked like a vast desolation, but running into enemy camps and mapping balloons every minute felt like I was in a very crowded country.
Giving the player plenty to do while driving around is compeletely understandable from the point of view of an open-world game, as the missions mostly have Max drive back and forth. Driving would get even more tedious without anything to do or see, but it doesn’t quite feel like the world of Mad Max I’m familiar with. The seabed should be mostly empty, and running into enemies should be dangerous and unlikely, but that would not work well in an open-world game. Why not make it a more linear game with several smaller locations to explore? Sure, driving around in a smaller environment might not be quite as fun, but Uncharted 4 pulled it off in the amazing Madagascar off-road driving level.
The enemies are richly written, and the locations are often interesting to explore. Visiting friendly strongholds for the first time, conquering enemy camps and meeting new factions is rather exciting. Max’s friends, such as Chumbucket the mechanic and Dinki-Di the dog, are delightful additions to the cast. The enemies include people named Scrotus and Stank Gum, and I loved to hate every one of them. Sadly, conversations with most of these people only take place in short cutscenes, and there isn’t much other interaction with people apart from killing them. In addition, there isn’t much reason to spend any extra time in locations once they are cleared, as there isn’t anything to do. The high amount of quality writing almost seems to go to waste in a game that hardly lets you talk to anyone, which is another reason why they would have worked better in some other type of game.
There are plenty of redeeming factors in the game, though. The car combat can be extremely fun. Ripping the door off a driving car and firing a harpoon at the driver, then speeding off and sending them flying is very satisfiying, as is straight up exploding their cars with well-placed shotgun blasts or rockets from the Thunderpoon gun. Trying to outrun a massive, looming sandstorm, hoping not to get hit by lightning bolts, and eventually trying to find my way to safety in complete darkness is an awesome feeling.
However, plenty of the content could be adapted into a more linear game. The rare survival elements of Mad Max could be worked into a prominent feature, and the characters could be opened up more with a focus on storytelling. Mad Max is a good game, but like in many other open-world games, the point seems to be to distract the players with content, tricking them into spending time in a world that could be interesting on its own.
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox one, Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Release date: September 1, 2015