Sunday 19 March 2023

Mad Max on the PS4, some musings.

This here is a review of the PS4 version of the Mad Max game.  When I first became aware of the game, I had a feeling it would be something I would like.  Recently I've been playing a lot of sandbox games and have played them quite extensively.

The Arkham series and their simple combat and stealth mechanics started it off I guess and that spread into the Shadow/War of Mordor, Just Cause games and to the Witcher 3.  Which are pretty much the majority of the "big" games I've been spending my time on.

At the time of release(2015), I think was playing a lot of Just Cause(maybe).  I remember seeing articles about Max and thinking that it looks fun, but thought I would be reaching the end of my tether for Batman Arkham style sandbox games.  I was also still playing Red Dead Redemption as well.

Reviews were ok saying it was standard fare and I felt satisfied with my decision to not bother with it.  I have always enjoyed the world of Mad Max and absolutely loved the movie Fury Road; it's such a simple premise but done very well and expands the Max lore quite nicely, but felt no strong urge to get the game that was released the same time.  The Mad Max game has little to do with Fury Road, but theoretically is set before it.

So eventually (2021) I see a tweet stating that the Mad Max is cracking a 5.99 price and I just so happened to have that amount hanging around on my long untouched PSN account. So I grabbed it.

Boy howdy am I glad I did!  What a blast I have had with the game.  It's not perfect by any means and not up to the levels of other games.  I don't really think I have a perfect game to compare it with.  While I've enjoyed the Arkham games, they weren't perfect.  The Witcher is good, but not perfect as well. I think it unlikely there will ever be a 10/10 game that is perfect and will happily live by that.

However the game certainly has its fun parts.  And the fun parts it manages to do, it does quite successfully.

Gameplay Breakdown

In essence the game consists of three gameplay styles.  Exploration, Melee combat and vehicle combat.


Oddly enough, exploration is the point where you traverse the game world. 

Shocking right?

You can do this either on foot as Max, or while riding around in a vehicle.  Be that the Magnum Opus (the main vehicle's name), or some other car.  Both are done very well.  You can't really mess walking around up, and the cars all handle pretty nicely too, even having differences in weight placement and their movement.  A car with a rear mounted engine will slide out at the back quite easily, a heavily armoured vehicle has slow acceleration and slower steering etc.

During exploration, you'll find places to visit and buildings to explore which is required to do so as to gather "scrap," the currency in the game with which to trade for upgrades. Many places are small camps with a small amount of bad guys in them.  Some are large bases with heavy defences and small army within. The small camps often regenerate baddies in them if completed, or may well be left abandoned.  The bases will be populated with friendly NPCs once cleared of enemies and will generate scrap for you automatically.  All will have a certain amount of scrap to be found.

Max scoping out an enemy's camp through his binoculars.

Places of interest are noticeable by either visible structures, or plumes of smoke as seen in the above two screenshots.

While looking for scrap,  you'll often bump into the next two types of game mechanics.

Melee combat.

Melee combat is  in the "free flow" style of Batman Arkham/PS4 Spiderman/Shadow of Mordor games, essentially one button is attack, another button is parry and you use combinations thereof for special attacks and weapons. Max's skills and gadgets are limited though, but there is enough variety without being overwhelming.  While I liked the combat in Arkham City, I found myself forgetting about many of the skills I had.  

Max has a combo system and once you hit a certain point he goes in to "fury" mode.  Attacks are stronger and slightly faster.  Get hit though and you'll come out of fury mode.  You'll need to keep up the combos to keep in Fury mode.

It plays nicely different to the other games I've had with this system.  Batman and Spiderman are both agile fellows, so it was easy enough to flit all over the place changing positioning easily. Talion (from Mordor) has a ghost pal who grants him extra agility. Max though is a slow brutal brawler and the game manages to convey this feeling well. 

His punches are telegraphed, gathering momentum for the swing, his headbutts are painful looking, the arm breaking counters look like they break limbs (although enemy is just stunned for a bit before getting back up).  Once in Fury mode, there is a nice heart pounding sound effect with bone crunching impacts noises.  Enemies reel from blows and you can finish a combo with a very painful looking wrestling move such as a backdrop, or an enemy flinging dropkick, totally impractical in a real fight, but somehow it makes it look like it works.

There is a kind of upgrade system of moves you purchase, such as being able to parry weapons, parry and steal weapons from enemies etc, and they work with the character well.  Later options make earlier options unnecessary however, so I wonder about the earlier option really being there in the first place. For example, one option you have is by pressing a button combination to stun an enemy after a "perfect" parry.  Then later on you unlock an option that auto stuns with perfect parrying. Couldn't the first option just be left out?   However, all the moves do have a role to play in combat and I found myself needing to use them all on some instances.

Enemy Types

Enemies are varied here, with about 5 or 6 types, however each faction of enemy you come across all have members representing the same types.  It is a bit limiting, especially since the factions look very different and would have different resources available to them.

Boss wise the game is sorely lacking, in that there aren't really any.  There are ones call the top dogs, which are tougher enemies with slightly better attack patterns that you have to beat in some bases.  However they all play exactly the same. Jon the Fallopian Strangler requires the same tactics as Fred the Booger Bather for example.  You can get information on them, which states weaknesses(such as being vulnerable to shotgun blasts but resistant to punches), but never did I feel I had to exploit those weaknesses to win.

Melee combat is fun, brutal and painful looking,  just how one would imagine fighting in Mad Max's universe to be.  If you take the time to observe fighters, you can see people getting black eyes and cuts to their faces.  Once you finish, if you've taken a couple of hits, Max himself will be bloodied, a nice graphical addition.

However it is the part of the game that has been done in many other games(and better) and can get tedious after a while.

Car Combat

While traversing the world in your (or someone else's) vehicle, you have the chance for some car on car action.  This can be incredibly fun and also terribly tedious, and this depends a lot on how you approach the car combat while also being one of my gripes with the game.  More on that later though.

Cars can of course be used to smash each other, head-on, side to side ramming, from behind etc.  You'll eventually get the option to add armour to the Magnum Opus to increase both offence and defence as well as extra weapons as you level up both Max and the car.  Enemy cars can be taken and used, but can't be upgraded.  However there is a large selection with different vehicles having different uses. Just like in real life.

Not only can you get in and out of your car whenever you like, you can also use your car to fight footsoldiers.  Rip their vehicle's wheels off and they have no choice but to try and follow you while running.  See an armoured car?  Ram it from the side to knock the armour off, rip the door off with your harpoon, then you can either shotgun the driver, or harpoon him right out of the driver's seat!  

Then for added nasty, drag him around behind your car to terrorise the others.

Using the harpoon to ease the upcoming fisticuffs.

The vehicle combat is at its best when you are strong enough to stay alive and defeat enemies, and also to be able to keep rolling.  A lot of the time, you can smack into scenery bringing you to a sudden stop and end up driving around in a circle trying to bash an enemy car, as they are trying to do the same thing.  If you are clever and can avoid doing that however, vehicle combat is a lot of fun.  You can cause damage to enemies by having them smash their cars into each other and the scenery too.  

My very first convoy mission, I managed to force the lead truck into a wall making that the final crushing blow. VERY COOL.

A great moment captured for prosperity!

By far and away the best part of the game is taking on a fuel convoy. This is where the vehicle combat really shines.  The convoy has a set route they stick too, and so keep travelling, avoiding the circle trap and there is also a lot of enemy cars.  Usually 6-8 and they have a variety of different types mixed in too which have a set role and keep (as best they can with you messing everything up for them) to their positions.  It's incredibly fun, can be done numerous ways and it extremely dynamic.  The convoy battles were the highlight of the game for me.

Destroying Convoys gives you an item to mount on the car which increases some stats.  The convoys don't come back though, so I found at the end of my game, I deliberately left two convoys still running.  They're not defeated until you completely destroy the Tanker truck, so I would often take out the smaller vehicles, then work on disabling the Tanker so I didn't destroy it completely.  I was sad once when a storm started and lighting struck the tanker, and I was down to only 1 Convoy.

Something that can be used throughout the car combat and exploration is the very nice in car view.  Now this is something that really adds to the immersion.  Double tapping the down direction key on the pad gives you a glorious driver's view of the action.   It's pretty awesome, but also very restrictive.  In this view it seems to lessen the size of the window somehow, and on PS4, without adjusting the controls, it's very tricky to keep track of all the cars and where you are heading when in combat.  Still, it's super fun and with headphones on, and a great experience!

Magnum Opus & The Interceptor.

The aim of the game is to upgrade the Magnum Opus as Max thinks his Interceptor has been completely destroyed.  This is done by levelling up Max and opening up the option to buy upgrades with your scrap.  Your chatty sidekick Chumbucket (a talented mechanic) will upgrade the car and invent the things required for it.

There are about 6 "weapons" for the car.

  • Ramming bar.
  • Side armour- Important for side ramming and not causing damage to your car.
  • Harpoon
  • Thunderpoon (grenade launcher thing)
  • Sideburners (flamethrowers from the side of the car)
  • Nitro boost.
The upgrade screen.

    I found at the start that not having many of these made vehicle combat tiresome.

    However this also links into a major game flaw.

    At the start of the game your vehicle is naturally underpowered and enemies are plentiful.  As you are weak, it takes time and effort to successfully take out an enemy.  There were many occasions where I had just finished taking out some dudes, then started looking for a place to fix the car, when two more enemies would appear again.  Naturally this got tiresome.  Sure you can get out of the car and dodge until they get out of theirs to melee fight, but this is tedious and not terribly fun (the dodging aspect) and takes time.

    As you progress through the level, two main things happen.
    1. Your car gets more powerful.
    2. The "threat level" of an area is reduced.
    This could be great right?  Actually no.  Story-wise, it makes total sense. Max, the Magnum Opus and Chumbucket are making the lives of "good" people better. Great.  That means less enemies to terrorise the populace. Yay for Max.

    Game wise it's counterproductive, as the threat level drops, so do the enemy encounters.

    While your car gets better at combat, the car combat becomes more enjoyable and opens up different ways to play, the game is slowly reducing the opportunity for combat.

    At the end of the game, when the car is fully powered up and car combat is at peak enjoyability you are very lucky to find another car battle.  The game is designed to limit your fun as a core mechanic. Odd.
    I found myself avoiding certain tasks that lowered the threat level in the last section for the game for this very reason.

    Story Telling

    This core mechanic of making the world a safer place is integral to the story and makes sense.  On top of that it also tells us a lot about Max himself.

    At the start of the game, we see Max with the Interceptor just trying to get from A to B without bothering anyone.  Then trouble finds him, car is gone.  He gets a new car and is forced into helping others to help himself.  

    You know, the usual story, boy meets car, car gets kidnapped, I'm sorry, but your car is in another castle kinda thing.

    While you start off weak, you end up strong.  You start off a victim, and end up a victimiser.

    Max ends up becoming just like the enemy in the course of the game.

    What makes the bad guys the bad guys in this game?

    They ride around wherever they want, kill whoever they want and take whatever they want.

    In Max's quest to reclaim a car, he ends up doing exactly the same thing to the "bad guys."  He runs into their camps and bases.  Kills the people within and steals all their stuff.

    In a way its an interesting look into Max's psyche.  His goal is very simple, yet undefined. He is looking for peace and the Plains of Silence (which must be a mental state) and we often find him minding his own business and being forced to interact with people where he ends up being just as ruthless (if not more so at times) than those he fights.

    This then begs the question:

    At which point does the hero become the villain?  

    It's all very ambiguous in this game.  While you're helping people who seems decent enough, in one of the strongholds (bases for your allies), you overhear them talking about attacking and stealing from the other strongholds.  How are the people you help any different from the gang and Scrotus? (aside from the Scrotus gang being full to the brim of crazy nut jobs, even then the leader of the first Stronghold is very similar to a Scrotus lackey)?  It's a thin line it would seem.

    Judging from his actions at the end of the game, I would even say that Max crosses that line as well.  

    Admittedly, the base story is pretty ho-hum, but things that happen in between, while not award winning stuff, ARE very world appropriate. 

    Speaking of world appropriate.

    Visual Story telling and world building.

    The game also made me rethink Mad Max (and to a lesser extent storytelling) as a whole.  

    There are many many paces to go, of course, it's a sandbox game. They supply a map and slap a whole bunch of stuff to do on it.  Sure, some of it is repetitive. Clear the minefields, smash the scarecrows, help the stronghold, destroy the convoy, raid the camps of the enemies. You do all these things in each game area which is where the criticism of the repetitive gameplay often comes from and they are valid criticisms.  FInding the nth mine field and defusing the mines the nth time is tedious and unexciting.

    But one things that impressed me was the subtle way it made places feel different.  

    I saw this tent by this buried shed area, if you make your way inside, you find a regular house, with a fridge and fridge magnets.  As well as a dead guy that you didn't kill.

    You could find an area of scrap and it would be a container in a lake of sludge. You walk in and there is a skeleton on a bed.  What's the story behind this place?

    A small tent, a skeleton and a car wreck give this area its own history.

    Or you find a cave, you sneak inside and scattered around are severed bodies and blood everywhere.  You spy three enemies, but they are praying to something by the far wall.  Obviously these guys aren't going to offer a cup of tea. You sneak up and get into a fight and find there is a "throne" type chair with a snazzy looking skull there.  This cave is the only pace that looks like this.  What was the story here?  No-one says anything, you only have your own experience and assumptions to fill in the gaps.

    Or another spot with two skeletons in an embrace on some rotted old mattresses.  With love hearts painted on the wall.  Very cute, very sad.  Again, a one off.  

    It makes you wonder about life for people in this world.  It adds a bit of wonder.  "How long did these guys stay here for?"  "Was this cave a cult?"  Why is this fire still burning?  Could the owner of this camp still be around somewhere?

    Many of these camps are unique and rarely will you see things like that repeated.  

    When you invade a base or camp, you'll usually find some form of sleeping quarters, some form of kitchen area (usually cooking man-flesh) and a toilet.  You know, the kind of thing people would do if they were trying to survive here.  It's pretty cool.

    (l)A sniper has a chair and a coffee cup for those long boring days, just chilling and enjoying the sunset.  (R), A Scrotus camp Kitchen.  Hygiene inspectors optional.

    Even things like a sniper tower in the middle of nowhere is very likely to have a tent set up nearby.

    All these little touches make each camp feel different to the one before. Sure, you're doing the same stuff, killing dudes, stealing their things (who's the good guy again?), but there are subtle little bits here and there that make many of the camps feel unique to each other.  As well as occasional points of interest.

    While the whole game is set in a desert, they've also done a pretty good job making each area look drastically different from previous areas.  There's a Sandy  creeping Sahara type desert, there's the dried coral and what used to be undersea caves area.  They all look pretty different somehow, although they're all dry.  The game also makes logical sense, in the areas where the ground level is lower, there are no buildings, anything you come across is either a sunken boat, crashed boat or slapped together shed kinda thing.  In the areas that were "above sea level" you'll find some old dilapidated buildings, docks, a church, an airport etc.

    The summary

    While not the most amazing game, and going in with, essentially low expectations, I found myself somewhat drawn into and enjoying the game immensely.  Everything in the game seems to meld together nicely and supports the other sections rather well and the car combat is exceptionally fun! (Just avoid using the Thunderpoon too much and you're good).  I would really love to see the game refined a bit more, more enemy types, vehicle types and a bit more expansion in section activities.  

    The lack of real War Rig in action was a bit of a let down.  Yeah, Scrotus has one for the end of the game, and you raid a dead ( and cooler looking) one earlier. Scrotus' final battle is a bit of a let down and not all that different to normal car combat. It also has the occasional bug with enemies suddenly popping out of existence, or something graphical.  Check out Mad Santa:
    This was something to do with lighting

    I would have liked to seen a massive War Rig like in Fury Road, perhaps having to jump onto it for gameplay purposes or something, could've been seriously epic.  Or having the War Rigs and Convoys be a bit of a puzzle challenge, like having to mount one enemy car to turn off some defense, then get back to your own car to continue the attack.  It could be quite an epic battle.

    I very much doubt a sequel will occur however just because of the lack of success.  Mad Max did pick up a bit of momentum a couple of years after it was out, and I managed to pick it up for 5 bucks, like many others, which definitely sweetens the deal, but to be honest, Warner Bros and video games... Ya know.

    The graphics have their moments and the fire and explosions also look great, they've also added in a photo mode AND a video mode.

    It's also great that they've given most of the characters Aussie accents, and if you're wondering where it's set, there is this not-so subtle hint at the start.

    G'day Mate

    Anyhoo, I think it's a rather fun little game(obviously, I played it for over 100 hours!), well worth a gander.  I've paid more for worse games, that's for sure and would love to see the idea and concept worked on a bit more, there is much protentional in this one!


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