Mad Max, from the Just Cause gamedevs Avalanche Studios, is to me 2015’s most bafflingly reviewed game. While I’ve only played it on PC and, therefore, some of the extraordinarily low scores it garnered for the console versions (5.5/10 from Polygon, 4/10 from Jim Sterling) could be partially explained if the visuals and performance are much much much lower on those platforms I suspect not considering the excellent PC performance even on fairly low spec rigs.
It’s true that the game does not have a particularly stellar storyline, quests are basic, and the optional tasks repetitive – so you’d think a low score would be fair. But I don’t. You see, to me an open world game is as much about the feeling of existing in a world as it is about a story and emotional quests – if not more. The world is a character – in many ways, the most important character. And Mad Max’s world is staggering. Considering it’s set entirely in a post apocalyptic desert, the variety of landscape – all of it feeling real and natural – is breath-taking. A ruined suspension bridge spanning a dried river bed feels enormous – you know, like real bridges are.
It reminds me why, despite some great environmental design, in Fallout 4 the shrunken down microcosm of Boston never really gave me a sense of awe. Yet one ruined bridge in Mad Max did. Some people may find Mad Max’s world empty, but to me it was beautifully vast – the lower density of settlements and structures adding to the post-apocalypse vibe.
Mad Max’s trump cards are its world, its lighting, its weather effects (when a storm blows in it’s an event. I thought the radioactive lightning storms in Fallout 4 were nice but, to paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, “lol that’s not a storm, that’s a storm”) and it’s for these reasons you play the game. The story and tasks are just things to occupy your time and give you a feeling of progression and if you’ve reviewed the game primarily in these terms you’ve rather missed the point (and, I suspect, you have no soul). The combat – both on-foot and in-car – are solid enough. But again, the game isn’t about this stuff in isolation. It’s about this stuff at the moment the game warns you there’s a storm approaching. It’s sensational.
Oh, and the FUCKING sandstorms. How this made it to the final game will never be satisfactorily explained. At entirely random points the game declares, “Get inside, a storm’s coming!” and you have to stop whatever you’re doing and find somewhere to shelter for literally ten goddamned minutes while it blows over… It offers nothing to the game, other than to interrupt whatever you were presently doing with a pointless period of no fun. It’s bewilderingly stupid.
John Walker, RPS review
I think we live on different planets.
So, Avalanche Studios, what I would like next please, is a “World of Mad Max” sequel. Except not that name because it’s rubbish. I don’t want to play as Mad Max – I want him to be a character in the world, a legend, spoken of but never seen (except possibly in the climax). Let me create my own character, male or female, give me the world’s worst car to begin with, drop me into the world and say “go”. Take the water mechanic in the existing game, but make it deplete over time so that water becomes required for survival (while you’re out of water, your health slowly drops). Keep the car upgrading, it’s cool, but ditch the auto-repairing and make that the equivalent of resting (find a safe location, repair, time progresses). Make the whole game about slowly building up a reputation so that, ultimately, you come to the attention of Mad Max (for good or ill, depending).
The world of Mad Max is so perfectly suited to an open-world survival game that it would be a travesty if it never happens. Sod the story, sod playing as Max himself – just give me the world, a bunch of psychopathic weirdos, and a true survival mechanic.
Mad Max, Avalanche Studios: Awarded Binky’s Brillopops Award for sensational world design 2015.