It's an unusual set of circumstances the Mad Max game finds itself in. It narrowly escapes the video game kiss-of-death by not being based directly on the "Mad Max: Fury Road" blockbuster that hit theaters this past summer. Sure, it does capture a lot of the same aesthetics, but the game's story lives on its own.
Mad Max also saw its share of adversity throughout development. It shaved platforms from its release (the PS3 and 360 versions were scrapped), was delayed for a massive revamping and has seen at least one other completely different iteration on its long development road.
The right stuff is packed deep within Mad Max, it just doesn't show its face often enough. The entire experience feels unbalanced and erratic and you'll need to bite your tongue and train yourself to kneel to the game's shortcomings and frustrations to make it worth playing.
The story is simple enough. After a brutal run-in with a warlord, Max must remove the warlord's legacy from the wasteland, flushing out campsites, tearing down his paraphernalia and killing his followers whenever he gets the chance. At the same time Max and his loyal blackfinger friend Chumbucket must work together to restore a viable car for the job, Max's Magnum Opus.
There's a lot to like in the wasteland but there's a similar amount of odd gameplay choices that hold it back from being something exceptional.
Playing Mad Max hits all the right tonal notes. The desperation is there, the scarcity of it all weighs heavy on the player. Ammo is nearly impossible to find. Scrap (the game's currency) is peppered finely throughout the empty void.
I swear I could smell gasoline during a session of Mad Max. I'd want to shower after playing. The grit, the oil, the blackness. The game nails everything Mad Max represents. But it's the failure to fully complement that articulation in presentation that really disappointed me.
There's just a handful of unevenness to the whole thing. As he progresses through the world, Max unlocks strongholds that act as bases of operations. These areas spawn side missions and eventually provide access to the meatier story missions that move the game's narrative along. At the start of the game I'd find myself taking on a story mission that felt much more difficult that it should have been. At about five hours in I found a balance emerging from the otherwise rocky start.
Perhaps the most glaring of letdowns in Mad Max are the controls. It's not just the loose steering, but also the copious camera slack that really detached me from immersing myself in the game's world. Outside of the substandard driving controls (driving makes up the majority of the game, mind you) there's a fair amount of annoyances that show up when controlling Max himself.
For instance, the same button that tells Max to drop a fuel can is also the one that makes him climb a ladder. You'd be surprised how many times that set of commands is required in Mad Max. Everything in the game is a "hold button for" kind of logic, which just feels like the wrong control scheme.