Mad Max Avalanche Studios Available for Xbox One, PS4, PC – 220 AED.
Mad Max: Fury Road, the absurd, demented, and wildly imaginative reboot of the film franchise, which hit cinemas in May, might just be the best action film since Die Hard.
It was as though director George Miller, the creator of the series, had hired a 1,000-strong art department and told them there were no bad ideas – just make them as weird and awesome as possible and we’ll stick it in the film.
That would explain why the film featured a blindfolded man on bungee ropes strapped to a lorry who served no purpose other than to bounce around playing a flame-throwing electric guitar with two necks. That’s the kind of zany, spontaneous energy by-the-numbers blockbusters can’t even dream of.
The Mad Max video game is not an adaptation of the film – which is for the best, since those have a somewhat chequered history – Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, anyone? – but it certainly takes its design cues from the movie’s art direction.
You play as Max, in his continuing mission to flee the Wasteland. After the destruction of his V8 Interceptor at the hands of Lord Scabrous Scrotus, son of Fury Road’s antagonist Immortal Joe, Max stumbles across Chum-bucket, a skilled, though strange, hunchbacked mechanic who gives him a new car, The Magnum Opus, and promises to upgrade it into the ultimate, spike-tipped, flame-thrower-armed post-apocalyptic desert-prowler.
Most of the time you will be driving around the Wasteland and engaging in car-to-car combat in your customized vehicle. Sometimes you’ll be waging Batman: Arkham Asylum or Shadows of Mordor-style beat-’em-up war against Scabrous forces.
Much of the car combat is fun and frequently exciting, while much of the hand-to-hand combat will be pretty familiar to anyone who has played any other game published by Warner Bros.
But there is another element to the game play: gathering scrap to upgrade your car. And what a lot there is to collect. While adding new features to your car is somewhat rewarding, scrambling around looking for scrap metal is not. And you will spend a lot of time scrambling around.
While this has some justification in narrative terms, wandering the desert for hours and hours to procure upgrades nonetheless feels like a cheap way to force the player to make use of the sandbox.
More arbitrary are the number of open-world tasks you must complete to unlock missions: destroying stationary towers, emptying camps, chasing down convoys – and scavenging. Lots and lots of scavenging.
Other open-world games make exploring their sandboxes fun, narratively important – or both.
But in Mad Max, the carrot of fun is relied on less often than the stick of things you must grind through to unlock progress in the story. You can upgrade a series of major bases, for example, by completing “fetch” quests. If you complete three such quests, any cars you destroy will automatically be added to your scrap total. But this will only apply to a small section of the map – if you want this to happen wherever you destroy a car, you have to complete three times as many fetch quests. There’s no good reason for this – it just seems like a way to extend the grind.
Mad Max is far from the only sandbox game guilty of forcing gamers to grind out tasks like this – but it feels like an especially egregious example. The endless hunt for scrap eventually starts to resemble unpaid labor. It’s not a fun way to spend your time.
It’s a shame, because there is much to enjoy in the driving sections, and the game looks great. Customizing your car – once you’ve finally collected enough scrap to do so – is also fun.
But our experience was of a lengthy grind, of the sort that represents the worst aspects of open-world gaming.
To borrow from the words of Immortal Joe in Fury Road, Mad Max is – mediocre.