This will be more of a reflection than a true review of this title. I’ve not yet finished the game, but I’ve put a good few hours into it so far, and I’ll just give my thoughts on my experience with the game. I figure that if some people think it’s unfair to give an opinion after 30+ hours of a game, then they’re the ones with a problem, not me.
Graphically (on the PS4) it’s pretty good. Not amazing, but there’s an awful lot to see and a lot to render, so it’s all acceptable. It runs smoothly and there are some nice, small touches. Max’s upgraded armour features a bit of military gear in Auscam camoflague. I’m not sure why Max’ back is uniformly bloody all of the time, though (except in the final armour upgrade). That just looks bad. It’s got some interesting locations but while being unique, they also feel very samey as well. There are only so many skeletonised shells of aircraft and small ships you can scavenge through before they just blend into each other. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is so little variation in the sandbox palette. The lighting and shadows are well done, particularly the environmental lighting as part of the day/night cycle, making for some very nice sunsets and sunrises within the game. They did an exceptional job here of creating an atmosphere.
I enjoyed the game a great deal at first, but before too long, the tedious grind began to show its face. I’ve just about finished the first couple of “kingdoms” completely and have unlocked and marauded in all but Gastown, though I spent a lot of time exploring and doing the side activities and have little left to do for those, so I haven’t rushed through at all. It’s certainly feels much grindier than Mordor, and the gameplay isn’t as nearly as smooth or refined. The combat is a poor shadow to Mordor’s combat (see what I did there?) and the driving is decent but not best-in-category. The tiny number of shotgun shells Max can carry (even upgraded) is just silly, and while I’m totally happy to ignore the silly “how can he carry all this scrap?” issue that Gamespot had, the ammo thing is less easy to handwave away to me. There’s also a sniper rifle (also with ridiculously limited ammo) that can only be used from the back of the Magnum Opus and never carried. Because Reasons.
I’ve spent way too much time trying to collect all of the things, but that’s my own OCD-based issue, rather then a result of the collections being particularly fun in any way.
The game has a number of significant missteps in my opinion. The mine defusing stands out as particularly awful and I don’t see how something this bad could have gotten through concept or “fun” testing. I’ve got nothing more to say about it. It’s shit, and deserves to be called out on it.
The melee combat is ropey and seriously flawed – The combat animations and executions – while nice enough – are uninterruptible. Well, I say uninterruptible, but they’re only uninterruptible for the player, not for your enemies. The result is that I keep getting pounded by enemies while Max is in the midst of these animations and executions, and the parry function is also sub-par. It’s also not helped by the camera’s pretty bad whirling around, making it incredibly difficult to see what’s actually going on around you, particularly during multi-combatant fights in tight spaces and during execution animations. Combat in Mordor was a far more smooth and refined variation of the same Arkham system, and it was a year ago now. It feels like the melee either needed more time or better quality QA feedback (or the Devs being willing/allowed to fix it). When it’s such a core part of the game, and the same things still annoy more than 30 hours in while using the same style that felt smooth as butter in older games, then there’s an issue.
Much of the game looks pretty much like this.
The “Balloon” variation of the Assassins’ Creed tower climbing is fine in theory but physically painful in practice. Seriously, blurry shitty binocular-vision actually makes my eyes hurt and once again I don’t know how this made it past QA. A much better solution would have been to emulate Assassins Creed’s pan-o-rama-vista more closely, “unlocking” all spots in range and then allowing the player to look around some more with the binocs. Or just making them less horrible to use and look at. As it stands, it’s not only tedious, but a physically unpleasant experience.
Car combat seems amazing at first, but before long becomes pretty samey. I’m hoping that with more unlocks it’ll be less tedious, but I’ve clearly got to blast through a bunch more story missions to unlock more car parts in the hope that it re-funs the car combat. There also seems to be little to no point to collecting all of the minor variations in War Boy and Bandit cars, and no way (that I can find?) to check if the car you’ve just jacked is one of the ones you need. But they’re all obviously shit compared to the Magnum Opus anyway. Still, the Car Combat is the best thing about this game (aside from the lovely skyboxes) and it does manage to provide some real white-knuckle moments when you’re trying to take down a convoy – enough to make you forget the silly nature of the game’s convoys (they patrol in very large circles on preset road tracks. forever – so they’re not actually conveying items from one place to another or anything. That kind of “random encounter” takedown is provided by “Scrapulances” which you need to take down and then drive to one of your bases in order to make a pile of c̶a̶s̶h̶ scrap. Still – it’s the strongest part of the gameplay.
When attacking enemy bases, there’s often a back door you’re able to (potentially) sneak into, but given that there are no real stealth mechanics in the game – no crouch/sneak/move slowly – and the enemies seem to (mostly) spot you immediately, there’s no real point to it. It almost seems like there may have been a “sneak” mechanic planned that was removed, given the design of some of these environments and the meaninglessness of trying to stealth them. I usually enjoy sneaking around and backstabbing people in games, but here’s it’s a non-starter.
Lovely environment and lovely skyboxes.
The other thing that’s particularly annoying is the voice acting. Starting from the get-go with the (mis)pronunciation of “Dinky-Di” being laughably and jarringly wrong (it’s Dinki-DIE, not Dinki-DEE, for fuck’s sake!) While people from outside Australia guys might WTF who cares on that one, it’s an incredibly well-known Australian expression of the “ocker” type, and while people don’t really use it all that much where I live, everyone who I’ve played that bit of audio to has laughed at how painfully awful it is.
Other voice issues include Max’s Aussie accent being overdone (yeah, I know the (new) voice actor is an Aussie, but he’s overdoing it), and the number of characters with redneck hillbilly accents in post-apocalyptic Australia is also jarringly bad. Some American accents are fine to have, and both Entity and Furiosa provide precedent in the films – and hell, I’ve worked with Americans here, many Canadians, constantly with Brits, and SO many Europeans that fewer clucking hillbillies and a few British and European/Mediterranean accents would have been much nicer to hear and more realistic for the game’s world. At least they did change Max from the initial, American voice actor – but it really does feel very lazy and sub-par in terms of voice acting. Most lines are delivered “as written”, which turns out wooden and unnatural to my Australian ears as well as incredibly stiffly. Sadly this includes the readings by Max’ voice actor – the only real exception to all of this being the Mystic character who seems to be channelling Bruce Spence, which is a good thing.
Anyway, Mad Max is a decent game. It’s not a great game and while the world is huge, it’s not nearly as good or fun in terms of gameplay as Mordor was this time last year, nor as diverse, alive and entertaining that Far Cry 4 still manages to be for me. I’ll definitely manage to finish it, but once I do I doubt I can see myself firing it up again to do races or whatever.
Will I do a follow-up post on the game? I honestly don’t know, but my thoughts are that it’s not all that likely. I don’t foresee any major plot twists, or interesting bits of characterisation.
Postscript: All of the above was written over three weeks ago now, and then I took a break from the game. Since I took a break due to Destiny: TKK, I haven’t had the slightest urge to play Mad Max since – and the original Destiny didn’t hold my interest past the story quests and level 22 when I gave it away completely until picking up TKK a couple of weeks ago, so Max isn’t competing with a game I was deeply invested in. Mad Max was a film I enjoyed at a young age, Mad Max 2 is a classic for the ages, and I also quite enjoyed Fury Road, so really – I’m far more invested in Mad Max than I am in the Halo-esque background of Destiny. (I have no interest in the lore for Halo or Destiny, I’m afraid).
The fact that I’ve felt no pull to go back and finish the game says it all, I think. Worth a purchase on the cheap, but it’s not something that’s got a strong hold.