Mad Max begins and ends the exact same way: with the eponymous hero behind the wheel of a car, alone, speeding toward some elusive destination. It’s the essence of the character, a man who tells himself he neither needs nor wants the responsibility of looking after other souls.
It’s jarring, then, when he spends the 40 hours between those two scenes intertwined in the lives of every single survivor of the apocalypse.
It’s fun to see all the obvious references, like Max replenishing his health by eating Dinki-Di dogfood, a nod to Road Warrior’s food of choice. But there are more subtle examples, as well. A notable landmark is a giant statue wearing the same robes and holding the same stance as the briefly seen Dr. Dealgood from Beyond Thunderdome.
One warlord dwells in a canopied structure inside her fortress modelled after the one belonging to Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity. The characters speak in the same hybrid patois from the movies that introduced such terms as “Aqua-Cola” and “Guzzleine.” One thing is for certain: Mad Max is no cash-in. If anything, Avalanche Studios’ creation may be too reverent.
Avalanche Studios is so literate in the Mad Max world and language that it would have been interesting to see it apply that knowledge to creating a new vision of Max. Instead, the developer’s video game contribution to the series functions as something of a prequel to Fury Road. In so studiously constructing a precursor to that film, the game forgets one of its central lessons: Max doesn’t need, nor particularly benefit from, an interlocking mythology.
Here, the hero runs afoul of one of Immortan Joe’s sons, Scabrous Scrotus. He’s left alive but desperate and without a vehicle he can use to reach “The Plains Of Silence,” a mythical location he is certain will allow him to quiet the angry voices of the dead that rattle in his head.
In an effort to secure a sufficiently sweet ride, Max turns to a number of besieged communities for aid and odd jobs. In the movies, he would inevitably fall into the orbit of some group of isolated survivors and reluctantly provide them aid. The massive scale of the game’s desert wasteland provides numerous such locales that its Max pursues at leisure. Like the movies, he approaches his dealings with each group’s leaders curtly, kicking off partnerships with a perfunctory, “Let’s do business and be done with each other.”
He continues this brusque facade even after becoming a veritable regular within each community. It’s difficult to feel Max’s urgency to flee and leave humanity behind when he functions as the central cog bringing together all the disparate people of the wasteland like a desert messiah.
Avalanche’s reverence for Max is best personified in the first person he encounters, an old hunchbacked sea dog in mechanic’s clothing named Chumbucket. He becomes a constant companion and, due to Max’s silent nature, handles the majority of the dialogue. The game is not necessarily better for it.
Chumbucket has created a religion that revolves around Max, “The Saint Of The Wasteland” who The Angel Of Combustion has foretold will drive Chumbucket’s sanctified vehicle, the Magnum Opus. It’s a great concept, but Chumbucket’s constant, repeated proselytizing wears thin over the game’s considerable length.
More than the carefully constructed language or the fidelity to a story that doesn’t need to be told, Mad Max is at its best when it offers some of that silence its hero swears to seek. It’s when Chumbucket shuts up, when no deals need to be bartered, when you can just drive—just you belching out fire and black smoke across the highways, shiny and chrome.
Verdict: Mad Max is filled with jobs and distractions that have become the trademark of open world games today. However, the draw of the wasteland keeps you invested in the game no matter where else the game fails.