“You’re the video game writer person,” said one of my friends last night. “What do you think of Metal Gear Solid V?” I looked down at my Shadow Moses shirt, slightly embarrassed. “I haven’t played it much,” I confessed. “I’ve been spending most of my time with Mad Max.”
Mad Max is not, strictly speaking, an amazing game. It’s certainly not on the same level as The Greatest Stealth Action Game Of All Time: A Hideo Kojima Game And Don’t You Goddamn Forget It. It’s got harpoons, and cars grinding all up on each other, and a very angry man who gets even angrier the more he punches people. There is very little pretense; Max needs to get to a series of places, and he’s gotta make his car better in order to do so. This leads to lots of scrap collecting and busywork. That’s pretty much The Whole Thing. You may have heard some people say that it gets repetitive quickly. They are not wrong.
People have been arguing over whether Mad Max is A Good Game or A Bad Game. I posit the following: I don’t give a fuck. It’s hitting just the right spot for me at the moment, despite its flaws. Here are a few reasons I’m digging it so far:
The quiet moments
Mad Max is loud and dumb most of the time, but it’s also prone to lulls in action, moments of thunderously bleak beauty. Chilly desert mornings where wind is a faint hint of a whisper and the sun can’t decide if it wants to rise or finally call it quits and start dipping into its billions-of-years-old 401k.
Video courtesy of Corey Reeve.
Sometimes, a sandstorm will roll in and force me to seek shelter, something many have found annoying, but I actually kinda like. The storms are truly monstrous things; they make me—even as Max, wasteland murder machine extraordinaire—feel small. I can barely see, and all I can hear is furious howling. Such immense natural moments are rare in games. I choose to savor them. At least, until a giant chunk of soaring scrap metal wangs me in the head.
Eventually, dudes in spiky cars show up, and I press buttons extra hard to clobber them. Catching their punches, pinning them up against walls and force-feeding them a hilarious number of knuckle sandwiches, ripping armor off their friends’ cars with my harpoon—it’s all so deliciously physical. It feels like I have to manhandle my controller, like anything else wouldn’t be doing the fight scenes justice.
That’s the basic loop of most situations I’ve encountered so far: idyllic desert beauty —> dudes (either in cars or not) —> harpoon —> punches in bunches. Predictable? You betcha. Even similarly structured Warner Bros games like Shadow of Mordor and Batman: Arkham Knight had more going on. Right this second, though, I don’t really want complication. Other things are complicated. Life is complicated. Work is complicated. Mad Max has become the milkshake that helps me wash down the day. It’s a nice thing to have.
Disclaimer: Mad Max: The Game very rarely feels like Mad Max: Fury Road. And truly, it’s a case of wasted potential. Can you imagine a Mad Max game in the Uncharted mold—tight pacing and cinematic scripting with oppressively thick tension and subtlety to match? If only, if only.
But man, if you want to squint your eyes and pretend that’s the game we got, try getting into a car battle and then switching into first person view. It is, to put it lightly, intense as hell. Look at this:
Video courtesy of QisforQadim.
It really does look like a scene from Fury Road, albeit completely un-scripted. Any time I sight cars on the horizon, I go first-person. I don’t care if it puts me at a disadvantage. Being stuck in a screaming metal deathtrap, getting crushed on all sides and physically flinching each time a tiny tank pings off my scrap shell—it’s a thrill. Maybe I’ll tire of it in time, but not yet.
The stuff war criers say when they’re all alone
War criers are Mad Max enemies that hang suspended in the center of enemy forts, giving grunt enemies a healthy dose of aural steroids. Usually, it’s a good idea to take them down first—stop them from buffing everyone—lest enemies proceed to pummel you with their steam shovel fists. However, I like to keep war criers alive until everyone else is out cold, because a) it adds challenge and b) they say the silliest shit when they’re all alone. Case in point:
Video courtesy of TwoFiveFiveMike.
I am, admittedly, only about seven hours into Mad Max, but so far the game has provided me with a sense of desperation that other murder-murder-death-kill open-world rampage games rarely match. Early game Max isn’t a punishment sponge. A couple sniper shots or a few solid whacks will put him down for the count. On top of that, there’s hardly any ammo anywhere, and Max’s car—the vaunted Magnum Opus—is a total junker. As a result, I’ve ended up in situations where I’ve gotten surrounded by raider convoys, my survival far from a certainty. They bash my car to burning bits, and I have to leap out while my trusty sidekick, um, thing Chumbucket sets his gnarled hands at repairs. At this point, all I can do is frantically dodge while raiders whoop and howl, machines charging at me like bulls. It’s terrifying, especially as cars catch my legs or torso, but don’t quite run me over entirely, like this:
If I survive, I get to take my revenge. With the Magnum Opus up and, er, belching again, I start ripping drivers out of their vehicles with my harpoon. Some flee. Sometimes I give chase. Other times, I just watch them run.
I’ve heard, however, that Max’s situation becomes markedly less desperate as you upgrade the Magnum Opus and Max’s own abilities, turning him from scrappy, Fury-Road-style nobody into video game hero badass du jour. That makes sense, but it also sounds like it’ll strip Mad Max of the parts I love, swap out the rusty rough edges for polished chrome.
For me personally, that’s unfortunate. So I’ve taken to upgrading sparingly. Some upgrades are required, but I’ve found that I can rove around destroying increasingly tougher baddie bases—taking out their sniper towers, dismantling their defenses inside and out—without making Max too powerful. It actually makes the game kinda hard! Picking apart each base smartly feels more Mad Max to me than slowly morphing into a demigod.
Every base presents itself as a unique challenge, forcing me to dig deep into my resources and get clever. One time I found myself completely overwhelmed by enemy numbers—bruised and bleeding, one solid shot away from death—so I ran outside the base to my car. I got in, fully prepared to flee, only to notice that everybody had followed me to their sand-strewn front porch. That’s when I decided to go bowling. Revenge bowling.
Oh what I’d give for a good nemesis system to raise the stakes even more.
Damn. The in-game photo mode is a nice touch, too.
When this happens