Watch the embedded video above, featuring an audio reel supplied by Mel Gibson's brother, Donal Gibson
The intro reel and audio you just heard is, of course, not from the final product we’re talking about here. It’s something I cut together with an audio bite we were given by Aussie director Jamie Blanks and Donal Gibson. That’s right, Mel Gibson’s brother.
I cut this together because we were instrumental in having Avalanche change the Max character’s voice from a generic American one, to Australian. We had a popular petition up on Change.org and also had other media outlets jump on board to spread our message alongside myriad Mad Max fans around the world. Avalanche responded and we now have an Aussie voicing the titular character. It’s just not Donal, who I thought channelled the character perfectly.
So this is my way of showing you what should have been. We won, obviously, but not wholly. And if you think the voice that made it into the game sounds a bit too boganish too much of the time, we do too. But don’t blame us, because we had the next best option for the character in the brother of the actor who made Max who he is today. Just wanted to get that out there.
Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to get to the review proper but the aforementioned is a good segue into, I guess, my biggest problem with what does eventually become a very enjoyable game, and it’s in Avalanche’s narrative foundation and mishandling of Max himself.
At the very beginning of the game you’re stripped of your car -- the last of the great Interceptors. This is an iconic car. It’s Max’s Batmobile and Avalanche take it from you. This isn’t new -- his car was also taken from him at the end of Road Warrior and the beginning of Fury Road, however, in the game it’s used as a videogame trope -- strip the main character of their identity or power by the big bads -- impassable, or impossibly strong enemies, you’ll need to then reset yourself for, in order to take them out. It’s a trope that works perfectly in so many games -- just look at any Metroid title -- but here what it does, is take away one of the most important aspects of who Max is, and replaces what he represents with what we loathe most in the Wasteland he wanders.
Max is a passer-by -- he’s a tourist in the stages set for each telling of his story. He’s us -- the viewer, or in this case, the gamer -- and in no way wants to hedge his bets on this post-apocalyptic lot in life. He’s constantly moving, he dresses differently and, while souped-up to the nines, and booby-trapped 20 ways to Sunday, his car is not like the monstrosities the general wasteland population -- of the evil kind -- build. It’s an affront then that, from the outset, your goal as Max in the game is to build the “Magnum Opus” a ‘better’ car than his now lost 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT. (And the big bads don’t even blow it up, they just strip it for parts!)
This car also ends up looking like the sort of vehicles your enemies drive, and as you progress Max with his look and abilities, he too starts to become a wastelander. The sort of folk he’s been trying to avoid, and it’s at complete odds with what, and who, that character is in the wake of whatever disaster it was that struck the world and made them crazy. Max is a loner; a hapless hero thrown into scenarios he doesn’t want to be involved in, but pulls off because, well, like I said earlier, he’s us.
Underneath all of this though, there is an enjoyable game. Mad Max fans will either like the ties to the current movie, and the gorgeous wastes Avalanche has created here, or they’ll loathe the treatment of the main character. For what it’s worth, I’m part of the latter group, but having pushed on through for the sake of review, I can say that it gets easier to deal with as the game progresses and eventually, you will start to enjoy the stage Avalanche has set here.
It’s a huge game-world, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise given the studio’s pedigree. Moreover, Avalanche has done a great job of building out a heady set of points of interest that don’t overly litter the landscape. Discovery comes in equal measure to checklisted mission markers, and once you start using the balloons to survey the land and fill your map up with information on encampments, good and bad, and all the littered bits in between, the game quickly becomes a full experience with plenty to do.
Before I get to the metal meat of the game in cars and car combat, Max is also an important part of the whole experience. And you do invest in him. It’s all a bit binary, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to make him like Rambo, or a bum (or hipster), but some of the customisation in between is actually on-point to the character, and I thank Avalanche for this. His animation tree is a bit broken, and the game outside of vehicles is a bit ‘sticky’ on controllers. His battle stance is usually pretty jarring and occurs at odd times, and just makes him look a bit silly. Melee combat is both brutal and rewarding if you can get the timing right, and it obviously borrows from Batman, though it’s far less complicated. There doesn’t appear be the sort of cadence Rocksteady created with their Batman games though, where successful use of every combat move made it all feel like a perfect dance, and so it can becomes more of a mash session than one of skill, but Max will become pretty powerful and, in keeping with where we are, it’s always brutal. Though I’m not really sure why Max can seemingly punch people to death all the time, but it is what it is.
As you get into the groove of the game, it becomes apparent that this Max is something of a glorified courier. Avalanche was obviously faced with a dilemma on how to keep people busy, and so followed traditional gameplay structures, sending the player out on myriad fetch-quests to help a host of people who really should be able to do this stuff on their own. You’ll help in the construction of friendly bases and perform tasks to help setup economies between different outposts. You’ll also be rewarded for this type of thing, and when you start to forget you’re playing as Max, it’ll become more enjoyable. There were plenty of times I thought the game might have been better off not being based on Mad Max, and just presented as a sort of ‘spiritual’ post-apocalyptic title with franchise nods, but I digress.
Alongside you for the ride, literally, is Chumbucket -- a deformed mechanic with “magic black fingers”. He’s okay for the most part, but doesn’t know how to say “Dinki Di” properly. It’s helpful having him on board the Magnum Opus though, as he can fix the car when it gets damaged but, for whatever reason, the car can’t be flipped which is odd given the great physics involved with every other car, but it also just means you can get back into the fight more quickly (or use this advantage to perform ridiculous jumps and stunts).
You’ll also be able to drive Chum’s buggy which is kitted out with a little kennel for your other companion in the game -- your dog. The dog is injured early on, and so plays more of an alarm role for you to go out and discover locations such as minefields to make sure you don’t drive your monstrosity over them.
The core of Mad Max though, is the car combat. You’ll need to upgrade your vehicle in order to make the biggest impact in the wasteland, too. Huge convoys travel between camps, often with goodies you’ll need for side-quests or story missions, or just for your scrap count (which is the currency you’ll use throughout your experience). As mentioned before, the physics are very cool, and with nitro, you can charge into your enemy while taking no damage, provided you’ve got the extra boost. You’ll also get a harpoon which can also be upgraded, which can tow both cars and people with devastating effect. Once you’re really jacked up, stringing together all of the systems involved in the game’s car combat creates some seriously incredible moments and it’s clearly the game’s strongest point, and the place I implore you look to get the most out of.
On-foot stealth missions and reconnaissance missions break up the gameplay, and do allow for forward planning (something actually lifted from the films), but it’s wholly in the driver’s seat you’ll have the most fun.
The irony of this is, while my problem with the game is in its representation of Max and your in-game goal of effectively making him a wasteland dweller, it’s when you settle into the wasteland and perform your courier and car-combat tasks that the game comes alive. This means, likely, that there isn’t an interactive formula that can entirely work for truly representing the licence, though I thought for the longest time that the Mad Max setting and character were essentially made for gaming.
Mad Max is obviously a licence close to my heart, and The Road Warrior is my favourite tale in the franchise, so it could be considered unfair to have judged the game how I have, but there are definitely some glaring issues here that make the product schizophrenic in its licence representation. When applying played-out tropes, however, it actually works through the game’s size and goals, and is easy to enjoy -- just as long as you forget the past and embrace the present. Oh, and if you don’t mind not being able to drive that car -- the last of the great interceptors -- for the duration of your stay which, in my opinion, is probably the game’s biggest missed opportunity.
What we liked
Huge open-world with a lot of content to explore
Car-combat is very impressive
Bruce Spence is in there
No one does vistas like Avalanche - it's a gorgeous game-world
Impressive car physics
What we didn't like
Max should have been played by Donal Gibson
You took his car
Far too much Americana still exists within the game
The Max character feels misrepresented from the outset
Max's progression is relatively binary
Some missions and side activities are too structured and lack an emergent quality that would have helped