Way back in the 80s Mel Gibson strutted the post-apocalyptic wasteland as Mad Max, the psychologically damaged ex-cop trying to survive in what was left of a world ravaged by nuclear war. It was brilliant and, frankly, absolutely ideal material for a video game. Wind on to 2015 and director George Miller revived his hero with Tom Hardy playing a new Max for a new generation. It was still brilliant, and, this time, someone had the genius idea of turning it into a massive, hugely enjoyable, sandbox game.
You start as Max, left for dead and helpless in the wasteland. The region’s warlord Scabrous Scrotus has taken his car and dumped him in the desert. Things look hopeless until Max is found by local nutcase mechanic Chumbucket who believes Max has been sent by the Angel of Combustion to create the Magnum Opus, the mightiest war car the world has ever seen. Max will use this vehicle to rise from nothing to rule the area by taking down the warlords and their minions.
That’s about as much story as you’re going to get until you’ve nearly completed the game. But it doesn’t matter. It’s all you need to know in order to let the mayhem commence.
The playing area is very limited to begin with. Chumbucket guides you through some small training adventures near his workshop so you can learn your basic skills. You are either on foot or driving but the control systems for both are quick to pick up and intuitive. On foot involves scavenging and collecting items and combat with enemies. Fighting is fun and satisfyingly brutal whether it’s with your bare fists or with any of the assorted weapons you’ll come across. Driving sections involve exploration but also crunching road battles with enemy vehicles. Once you’ve learned the basics Chumbucket upgrades the Magnum Opus and then the game really starts. More of the map becomes accessible. Once you reach the first weather balloon and climb inside you’ll rise high up into the air, your map will synch, and a massive new area becomes visible complete with landmarks, objectives, allies, enemy outposts and more for you to investigate. The main adventure is clearly flagged and you can always pick it up whenever you’re ready, but if you’d rather go exploring off piste then go for it, because there’s loads to do.
Mad max allows you to progress in a very satisfying way. Completing challenges increases your ‘legend’ which you can then cash in with your mysterious friend Griffa to improve your skillset. You collect scrap on your travels which can be exchanged for weapons, armour, tools and outfits. You upgrade the Magnum Opus in the same way and, as your mean machine becomes ever more mighty, this will allow you to access areas and complete tasks that were previously impossible. The menu of upgrades includes armour, nitro, harpoons, spikes and spears, flame throwers, custom tyres and just about everything you could need to make your wheels the ultimate battle chariot of the apocalypse.
You rise in the wasteland by defeated local warlords and destroying the roaming gangs of warboys. This means wrecking their fuel depots and refineries and reducing their influence by smashing up their totems which are scattered all over the landscape. You need to hone your skills because combat with other vehicles is frequent and the more your vehicle is upgraded the more inventively destructive you can be. You can ram enemies to disable them, or shoot them with harpoons, or blow them up by dumping and igniting fuel. Every now and then you’ll cross paths with a giant convoy. Taking these down is quite a challenge but the rewards are well worth the effort if you can do it.
It’s all very impressive and, most of the time, enormous fun. Some challenges do become a bit repetitive and it would have been nice to have had more story-telling built into the game rather than just at the start and the end, but these aren’t serious complaints. The world looks fantastic, barren, savage and rather beautiful. Players familiar with the film will also recognise many of the design features and icons that were so striking on the big screen. However, there are some issues with the frame rate and occasional glitching. However, for the most part it’s exciting, imaginative, violent and explosive action all the way. And, when you’ve left the main game behind there’s still plenty to bring you back. There are loads of vehicles and upgrade parts to collect. You can go online and race against other players in death run races and other challenges. At well over 40 hours of gameplay it’s a big world and there’s a lot to do before you’ll want to leave.
Reviewed on PS4