Welcome to the end of the world. A world of dust, blood and gasoline. You are Max and you want to escape this world. The noise, the violence, the memories. You want to cross the Plains of Silence and your car is ready for that. But in this world people take what they want and you lose your car, the Black on Black. You also destabilize the entire area by putting a chainsaw into the skull of the local warlord.
Now you need to start again, to get a vehicle good enough to leave this place. Luckily a raving hunchback, who talks of machines like people and worships combustion and engines, has had a vision for the most powerful vehicle ever. He calls it his Magnum Opus, and you are the Saint that will drive it.
I need to cross the Plains of Silence
That is the story in a nutshell. You spend a great deal of the game chasing after a MacGuffin: a V8 engine. You need to strengthen your car enough to get through the next region of the wastes. As you get closer to Gastown, the warlord Scrotus’ seat of power, enemies get tougher with better base defenses. As you move through these regions, you leave nothing but destruction in your wake. In a world where everything is scarce, Max’s scorched earth approach feels inconsistent. If you find an oil well, you destroy it. Find a moisture farm? Rip it apart for a favour from one of the strongholds. If you spy a few folk hiding in a ruined building, you waltz in, kill them all and take their scrap. Yes it isn’t as if games don’t promote you being a murder hobo, but generally they at least try to establish them as mortal enemies or the bad guys first. Often the people you encounter, when entering their camps or homes have no idea who you are. Just a murderer wandering the desert for a few scraps and faded photographs.
Are you off to talk to the ghosts again?
In Mad Max, you are the bad guy, to pretty much everyone except in a few strongholds that you help upgrade for your own gain. You do nothing except if it helps you and the scant dialogue of Max, when he is actually talking to real characters and not mumbling about the old world, gets old quickly as he goes on about being betrayed and not trusting anyone and so on and so forth. All this while taking advantage of Chumbucket.
Max is so aloof, so uncaring and unaware of most of the world around him. He is so focused on the old world, on what he has lost that he cares nothing for what everyone else has lost. Everyone he meets is a tool to be used and then discarded. I haven’t met a character so unlikable, that I was so unable to relate to in any way, since Aiden Pearce gruffly murdered most of a city on his path to vengeance.
Praise the Angel Combustion
Your sidekick, Chumbucket, is by far the more relatable, interesting character here, providing descriptions of the world around you and a feeling of the world. The sections on foot, when you are too far away for Chumbucket to provide narration, Max’s grunts and barked phrases do little to punctuate a grim, empty space.
The story talks about those born into this and those that remember, yet Max seems to know what light bulbs and airports are, what lakes and oceans are called. Somehow, this young looking man remembers what so many others apparently never experienced, which is baffling.
The game has brutal fighting, meaty cars with weapons and harpoons and you get to smash things and after a while, in the quiet times when nobody is trying to kill you, you realise how repetitive and pointless a lot of the content is. Collecting scrap is a mainstay of the game, blending from “collectible” to “required for any sort of progress. You need a lot of it too and sometimes you discover that the scrap heap you were looking for in a large base was only worth 2 scrap is defeating. The game loses the survival aspect very quickly, as not even two hours in you are no longer rummaging for fuel for your car and often you have enough water, or enough places to fast travel to for a free refill, that the scrounging to get by feel evaporates far too quickly.
Now we’re really flying!
Regardless the driving is really fun. Hearing your new engine roar for the first time is great and finally being able to pull down an eyesore tower with an upgraded harpoon has a rewarding feeling. You better enjoy the driving and the graphics because you will be driving a lot. Everything is really far apart, with large expanses of nothing as you make your way from point to point. The combat feels real and you often fight like a madman, entering a bloody frenzy. Sadly every boss fights in the exact same way and even when surrounded you never get mobbed, in typical Assassin’s Creed fashion. Seriously, the bosses in the latest Disney Infinity playset have more variation.
I haven’t played such a collectathon since Rare Replay bundled Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooiee and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts together. Your car upgrades are often reliant on having completed enough free roam objectives, almost all of them completely arbitrary, leading to times when you have piles of scrap and nothing to spend it on because of game reasons.
It feels like Avalanche had the beginnings of a good idea, and never worked out how to improve it or flesh it out. The story is over far too quickly and it feels really rushed and unfulfilling. What starts off as interesting slowly devolves into something uninteresting, leaving me almost as disinterested as Max himself. Let him drive off into the Plains of Silence, and stay there.