Review: Mad Max (PS4)

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Title: Mad Max
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (30.9 GB)
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Mad Max is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Mad Max is a combination of so many games that one would expect the result to settle somewhere around the realm of “master of none.” Fortunately it blends well enough to make for an entertaining adventure into the wasteland. With some great Twisted Metal-like driving mechanics, a vast world to explore, and a decent leveling system, Mad Max will keep you entertained for hours, assuming you don’t mind some repetitive mission structures and an environment that doesn’t vary much (for understandable reasons).

Gameplay:
While Mad Max presents itself as a post-apocalyptic driving game with an emphasis on vehicular combat, you spend quite some time on foot exploring sheet metal forts, underground complexes, and brawling with the lesser friendly folks of the wasteland. In fact, vehicle combat doesn’t truly become interesting until at least a few hours in, since your junk heap car doesn’t reach formidable status until you upgrade it.

I actually found myself confronting some enemy convoys only to run away with my tail between my legs because I wasn’t quite ready to face them. Once you equip a harpoon and upgrade your armor and maneuverability things get a lot more interesting and the game becomes far more exciting.

This purposeful leveling system is welcomed, because it truly makes you feel like you are surviving, rather that just starting as a badass. It gives Mad Max a slightly more role-playing game feel… although more along the lines of Fallout, and not so much Dragon Age.

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There are areas in the wasteland where your car, The Magnum Opus, cannot traverse. It’s here where the game’s combat system comes into play. Fans of the recent Batman Arkham game outings will be immediately familiar with the combat mechanics in Mad Max. So familiar was it, in fact, that I was kicking some ass almost immediately. Except that Max isn’t Batman, and the “counter” button is not nearly as effective as it was when controlling the Dark Knight.

This never seemed to bother me because I felt that, once again, I was surviving here and not the only formidable fighter. I did often wish for a lock-on button of sorts but there was some compensation for being surrounded by enemies in the form of pressing the R1 button, which dive-rolls you out of harm’s way and allows you to reposition yourself.

… launching a harpoon at one of the drivers …
So while the combat in Mad Max isn’t as robust as the Dark Knight games, you are presented with options and upgrades that make the on-foot missions pretty enjoyable. And for a game that is based on a vehicular combat movie, I was impressed that there was even a physical combat system that worked to begin with.

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But let’s talk vehicles, because that’s what some of us are here for. The driving mechanics are solid. They felt a little sluggish at first, but again, survival.

If your car is taking too much damage, find some scraps and upgrade it. If you’re unable to catch up to the convoy or that one straggler who is escaping, invest in some better boost capabilities.

… will give you hours of game time …
The best of Mad Max comes in the form of the vehicular battlefield and few things feel better than knowing how crappy your vehicle started, only to see the progress you’ve made with it over time. Creeping up to a convoy, launching a harpoon at one of the drivers and yanking him out feels great and always helps to even the odds a bit, as does crashing full speed into an unsuspecting enemy while taking little to no damage yourself.

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There is plenty to do in the wasteland and you will find quests and opportunities for upgrades that will give you hours of game time. This is still a sandbox game after all. You just don’t have the luxury of a safe house at all times.

Replenishing health requires water, and water is scarcely available. Even when you find a small reservoir, the supply is limited. When you run it dry, you must wait another day for morning dew to collect enough water for you to replenish your canteen.

Fortunately, you vehicle repair can be done whenever there is downtime as your companion (I call him wasteland Navi) travels with you and repairs the vehicle for you (sometimes at a much faster pace, if you spend scraps on the repair).

… sitting in idle and revving the engine …
Visuals:
The world of Mad Max looks terrible. It’s desolate, void of life, and despair reaches the horizon in every direction. Ironically, this atmosphere is sold through a brilliant use of design, lighting, and graphical integrity.

Everything, from the brilliant sunsets, to the billowing dust that bursts forth from your tires, contributes to giving atmosphere to a world gone apocalypse-mode.

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And despite this being a sandbox game, where the next area is just “more wasteland” I never quite felt that environments were being repeated for the sake of adding more areas to explore.

Audio:
Metal grinding on metal and tires spinning on sand and rock are accompanied by appropriately engineered sound effects. Engines rev with a used sound and I couldn’t help sitting in idle and revving the engine just to hear it growl a menacing grungy roar.

Additionally, combat feels satisfying because of some of the brutal sounds that accompany your punches, particularly when you reach a fury mode and you’re knocking the living hell out of your enemies with solid kicks and punches. Excellent sound design brings this world to life.

… bringing a terrible world to life with grace …
Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Mad Max could have easily been a Twisted Metal clone with close-quarter combat and no on-foot exploration. It could have… and it probably would have done well. But the developers took it a step further. They allowed me to explore a world that reminded me of all of the wasteland 80’s movies I used to watch (Mad Max among them of course).

With a strong combat system and an even more brilliant driving system, Mad Max succeeds in bringing a terrible world to life with grace. There are quite a few choices for gaming in September, almost mercilessly so, but if you are on the fence about this particular game, you won’t find disappointment here.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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