I finally came around to writing a review for the recently released Mad Max game. Okay, recently is a bit of a stretch; the game came came out on the first of September, the same day Metal Gear Solid V – The Phantom Pain released. Metal Gear Solid took first priority.
Now, some of you might ask yourself “What does Mad Max have to do with Pretend Race Cars?” – and you’d be absolutely right, but it surely has a lot to do with Pretend Cars.
This leads us directly to the core of the game, and the reason why I wrote this article: There is a shit ton of driving in Mad Max. But, since this is a review of the whole game, I’ll delve into every aspect; not just the driving aspects.
My home setup runs Windows 7 Professional with an Intel i7 4790K CPU at spec clocks, 16GB G.SKILL RAM @ 2400MHz, a Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 Gaming G1, all stuck onto an MSI Z97-G45 Gaming motherboard. It’s a pretty decent setup for my needs. The game ran at
silky smooth 24fps constant 60FPS with no noticeable drops. I rarely experienced micro-stuttering, which usually happened a few seconds after I got dropped off a loading screen, so it might just have to do something with the fact that I installed the game on my 2TB HDD and not my solid state drive. The loading times themselves were actually pretty long, considering I have a PC that is absolute overkill for everything else in the game. Someone needs to explain to me how it can take the game longer to return to the title screen after saving the game, than to actually load a savegame and start playing. It makes no sense.
I played the game with a DualShock 4 controller, which has native support for the PC version of the game, meaning you don’t need extra programs like InputMapper or DS4Windows to be able to use that controller. The only oversight this game has in terms of controller support is no matter what controller you have plugged in, when it shows a controller to explain the button mapping it defaults to an Xbox controller layout – even if Mad Max recognizes your Dualshock 4.
What a way to go the extra mile to include native DualShock4 support, and then be too lazy to burn one more image onto the fucking disc to have it displayed in the game. Boo!
Since we are talking about my junk already, let’s start talking about the graphics, as well as the sounds of the game. Mad Max looks absolutely beautiful most of the time. The landscapes in all the different zones of the expansive world look and feel hand-crafted, and even though everything plays in a dried up desert, every zone looks slightly different and has a different vibe to it. Everything you can see while outdoors is something you can reach, unless it’s a high mountain with no way up or something called The Big Nothing, the game’s way of a ‘wall’ around the playable map. This however makes a lot of sense: Mad Max plays in Australia, where all the oceans have dried up, and there is constant talk about how The Big Nothing is the dried out seabed of the Pacific and Indian oceans that existed before the great apocalypse that happened before the time of Mad Max.
There are lots of small details which make the world seem very alive, even though it’s an empty desert most of the time. Footsteps or tracks of your car are left behind in the sand, and tiny lizards can be seen running around which you can kill and eat in order to regain some health. The cars all look amazing and all have the Mad Max feel you know and love from the movies, especially the Buzzard cars and goons; they look just like they do in Mad Max – Fury Road, something the game obviously received a lot of influence from.
Mad Max’s most prominent graphical strength is its explosions, though. They are the most realistic looking ones I have ever seen in a video game and simply look stunning. The only negative things to say about Mad Max’s graphics, is that when you are indoor, some of the textures look quite squishy. When you’re outside, objects in the farther extremities far away look a bit too blurry, though this could also be due to a simulated heat haze.
Either way, it’s something I’m not really fond of.
The sounds in Mad Max are nothing special to get extremely excited about, but they do their job. Explosions and engine sounds are satisfying, especially the V8 engine you can get for your car later on in the story. Guns sounds slightly underwhelming, as in that your shotgun sounds only slightly different to a normal explosion. Considering you mainly use your shotgun to blow things up as well, the shotgun sound is nothing to get excited about as it’s dominated by the sound of explosions most of the time anyway.
As mentioned above, the game consists of five different zones, each belonging to a different faction in the game. The southern two zones are called The Great White, which consists mainly of sandy barrens, while The Dead Barrens are a bit more rocky, for example. One of the zones consists of only dunes with an old abandoned airport right in the middle of it, and the final zone is a huge junk yard centered around the only habitable city in the world of Mad Max. What I like about the zone design is that every zone has something unique to it like Sulfur pits, or some oil wells in the middle of oil lakes, caused by the leaking of said wells, and here and there are wrecks of ships and planes scattered around the world.
There are several things which contribute to the amazing atmosphere that Mad Max has. Some are only little things, like all the cars being right hand drive, or the above mentioned tiny animals running around, just waiting for you to kill and eat them. In order to survive in the rough world that Max lives in, he obviously needs to eat food and drink water to survive. Booth food and drink give you back health if you lost some of it in a fight, and you regularly need to refuel your car unless you want to get stranded in the middle of the desert.
Water can be found in many camps, where wastelanders have built water collectors, just waiting for you to fill up your water bottle again. Food is found in bodies in the form of maggots or in tin cans which are labelled Dinki Di – these cans are also the reason why most wasterlanders call dogs ‘Dinki Di’.
Later on you can build tiny oil wells, maggot farms (yes, maggot farms) and water collectors in the game’s strongholds (basically your own bases that you unlock throughout the game) which restock and refuel your car whenever you return to one of them.
The biggest contributor to the game’s atmosphere, however, are the sandstorms. Words cannot describe how awesome it feels to be inside one, so I’ll just leave you with these two short clips showing the two different kinds of sandstorm – regular and thunder-sandstorm.
Sadly these sandstorms rarely happen. Throughout my complete playthrough – which took me a whopping thirty five hours – I had four or five of these suck me in, of which one happened right at the start of the game where I had no idea what was going on, and once while I was in an underground location, only for the storm to end just as I came back to the surface again. The sandstorms also play no role in the story, which in my eyes is a huge missed opportunity: Imagine a bossfight, either on foot or in the car, while a sandstorm or thunderstorm is raging around you.
Speaking of the story, there is not much of it in the game. It’s definitely not one of Mad Max’s strong suits, but it keeps you entertained long enough to keep playing the game. It’s a typical revenge story, though this time it’s luckily not about a woman – though you’ll have to save one during the game, of course – but about your car that gets dismantled by the antagonist. The loss of your precious car right at the beginning of the game also results in the most fun aspect of Mad Max: The building of the Magnum Opus.
Building and upgrading your own car is probably the most fun that I have had in a long time when it comes to customizing a car in a game. You can upgrade your engine (starting off with a V6 and, later on, a V8), exhaust, tires, armor, put spikes on the car, change decals and color and – and this is the best thing – you can change the body of your car. There’s the obligatory Ford XB Falcon body, a 67 Mustang, Corvette Stingray (or, as I have been told, the Perentti Coupe, a kit-car based on the Corvette), a 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe, a Pontiac GTO and something resembling a 60s Rolls Royce.
All of this is done and accompanied by the lovely Chumbucket, a crippled mechanic who probably loves cars a little bit too much. He’s your companion throughout the game whenever you sit in the Magnum Opus and arms the different types of weapons that you can use when driving the car, including a harpoon and a rocket launcher. He’s also your own personal groupie who prefers to call you Saint instead of Max and calls upon the Sweet Angel of Combustion to aid you in your endeavors. As well as being able to upgrade your own car, you can steal cars from your enemies and drive them back to your base, allowing you to drive them whenever you choose to do so. You can unlock special cars by completing so called Death Runs, the game’s version of AI races, or you can find them while exploring the world.
The equipment Max carries around isn’t all that varied, but it makes sense in terms of realism and the environment that he finds himself in. He carries around a shotgun which starts off with a single barrel, you can however upgrade this until it eventually is a quadruple barrelled shotgun. You can also loot shivs from killed enemies, which you can then use on enemies with low health to finish them off with a cinematic execution. Other things you can upgrade is Max’s jacket, which adds extra armor, his gloves and wristbands, which gives you extra damage and defense stats, and his moveset. All of these upgrades change the visuals of Max’s attire as well, a small detail which in my eyes increases the immersion by a considerable amount.
All of these upgrades, whether it be for the car or for Max himself, need to be unlocked first by either completing parts of the story, or by exploring the world, freeing camps from your enemies or by destroying sniper outposts and propaganda insignia. This gives you a sense of progression, as the deeper Max gets involved in the fate of Upsidedownia, the meaner and stronger he gets.
The fighting system in Mad Max is clearly taken from the Arkham series of Batman games. Square is a simple attack, holding square produces a heavy attack. When the triangle flashes above an enemy’s head you can parry his attack and counter with one of your own. Pressing circle makes you fire your shotgun at your closest enemy, pressing L1 before that allows you to aim the shot and choose a different target. When pressing X, Max performs a roll towards the direction you held your control stick to. The whole fighting system feels too simple and too easy in my opinion, as it was extremely easy to build up 30 or 40 chain hit combos without getting attacked, and hitting someone with the shotgun head on would always kill the enemy in an instant, bosses excluded of course. The enemies usually did little to no damage when hitting you, though sometimes for reasons unknown they’d hit you for about 10% of your health, something that confused me quite a lot. But, considering they barely hit you anyway and are dumb as fuck as well, it didn’t really matter in the end.
Speaking of dumb as fuck AI, something we here on PRC.net have criticized a lot during the past few weeks, while driving a car the AI is the complete opposite of dumb. They always try to overwhelm you with numbers, box you in so they can use their spiked wheels to damage your car or crash into you, causing even more damage. When they realize that you have out-driven them or they are the only ones left standing, they try to escape and regroup. This makes the fighting with different cars interesting and challenging, especially when considering that your enemies’ cars become stronger throughout the game as well, always presenting a challenge. The only issue that I have found with the game’s driving AI is that sometimes the path finding glitches out, which results in cars desperately trying to drive up a 90° steep wall or crashing into hard objects while being low on health, resulting in them dying. These glitches however were very rare, and the only other glitches I have found during my thirty five hours of playing the game were that once, a car including it’s crew disappeared while fighting me, and another time I started talking to an NPC which resulted in me getting thrown away into the dunes.
To conclude this article, and this is probably what you have been waiting for, let’s say something about the driving physics of Mad Max. If the only reason you were considering to buy this game was that you expected realistic driving physics, then you will be disappointed. You can’t force the car into a drift, no matter if you are on sand, dirt or tarmac. Powerslides are possible, but not controllable, and the physics when landing after a jump make you spin out almost every single time. Driving off a beaten path slows you down by a considerable amount, even if you’ve equipped special tires that are supposed to give you more grip and acceleration on loose surfaces. All of this can be forgiven however, since this is an action game with a lot of driving, and not a Dirt Rally competitor.
Considering everything mentioned in the article, and weighing all pros and cons against each other, I’d give Mad Max the highly desirable rating of 9/11.