The Arkham series transformed the action game canon, and now, six years after the release of Asylum, some games are still paying very direct homage. We all know Batman: Tolkien Edition, aka Shadow of Mordor, and now I’d like to introduce the next Bats wannabe: Batty Batman, aka Mad Max.
The principal ingredients to the recipe invented by Rocksteady remain unchanged: timing-dependent combat with an emphasis on flow, open environments strewn with challenges, and trophies and rewards that must be sought. Mad Max adds a dash of its own spice to the pot, creating an action-game flavour many will enjoy, even though its sensory overload won't live particularly long in the memory.
Magnum Opus: a sweet desert ride
Those fools who thought that Furiosa undeservedly stole the show in Max’s recent cinematic outing will be disappointed to discover he’s been upstaged yet again - this time by his car.
As the opening credits close Max stumbles upon a hunchback mechanic (disconcertingly called Chumbucket) with a plan to make the Sistine Chapel of desert rides: the Magnum Opus. Constructing, and then endlessly tinkering with this four-wheeled death machine is the game’s true MO.
High-octane thrills worthy of the franchise
In the vast apocalyptic wastes a front-facing battering ram or upgraded harpoon make all the difference. Max must use the Opus to face off against other cars, but also to eradicate the static defences of the many encampments. Snipers, flamethrowers, and waterfalls of molotov cocktails stand in your way, and ridding yourself of them is exhilarating.
It’s in these high-octane engagements that Mad Max is most successful; exploding through other cars or pulling a sniper from their tower with a harpoon to the chest. Both in their visual splendour and in spirit, this half of the game is worthy of the frivolity for which the franchise is so well known.
And if you enjoy this as much as I do then you’re in luck: there’s a hell of a lot of it. The world map is gargantuan, and packed with sites of interest. The degree to which the environment scales, moving from vast vistas of desert dunes to the innards of a claustrophobic shanty town is truly impressive. However, the more time you spend on foot, the more the game’s issues make themselves known.
Max is no superhero, and as such his skillset is more human than superhuman. Unlike Batman he can’t glide through the field of play with elegant grace. As a result combat feels staid, and even worse, its flow is broken by Max’s inability to dart from one enemy to the next. The result is more repetitive than anything experienced in the Arkham series, even though it is, for the most part, a satisfying system.
New enemies are introduced in a regular fashion and bases become more intimidating, but there is a homogeneity to Mad Max’s on-foot adventuring that lead me, eventually, to bore slightly of its scrap heaps and warboys. No, I pined for time with my Opus, time on the desert dunes scanning for quarry with whom I could eradicate in a stylish barrage of collisions and explosions.
Yet against my will the game would continually insist that I was pulled back into my fleshy body with its ineffectual limbs and lack of nitrous oxide.
Mad Max verdict
If only our Aussie hero wasn’t holding the Magnum Opus back, then Mad Max would be a smash from start to finish. As it stands, the game is left in the shadow of its contemporaries, with a formula that ever so slightly misses the mark.
Lets be very clear, this is not the Mad Max: Fury Road video game. You’re not Tom Hardy and you’re definitely not Mel Gibson. This is an open world game based on the two crucial traits as pointed out by Avalanche Studios’ audio designer Magnus Lindberg, “Freedom and incentive for the player to explore the world you’ve created.”
The desolate, dystopian universe that Max Rockatansky exists in is just a mythos (a downright miserable one) - each film being a unique take, with this game being an additional one. Game designer Emil Kraftling emphasised this saying, “That was very much intended from the start, because that would allow us the creative freedom to make the best possible games, the best possible game experience and not be limited by dictated rules in terms of story.”
That means you’re not going to be fighting to protect a pregnant Rosie Huntington-Whiteley from Immortan Joe - you’re going to be driving around beating up warboys, collecting fuel, surviving and indirectly helping out the inhabitants not trying to kill you. As Magnus said, “There’s a different mindset in the wasteland. You don’t have an abundance of everything, everywhere at any time so as a player you have to calculate your steps.”