This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mad Max.
As much as it paints a very reductive portrayal of the mentally ill, I feel kinda sorry for Mad Max. It's such good video game adaptation material. Christ knows why it's been fucking around with movies around for so long. Movies are all like, "Ooh, look! A little film about S&M perverts driving around a desert and blowing each other up. Well, the Academy need look no further for the best dramatic screenplay candidate, fnahahahaha." Meanwhile, video games are all like, "S&M perverts driving around and blowing each other up? Where the fuck do I sign? Along your cock, using my saliva instead of ink? Can do!"
So Mad Max, or, as it's called in its native land, 'Med Mex', finally rolls into Video Game Town (disregarding the Mad Max game on the NES, which doesn't count for a whole lot because fucking Wayne's World had a game on the NES) only to find that the industry is way ahead of it and we've already played what might as well have been the Mad Max video game about seventeen times already by my count, between Borderlands, Rage, Carmageddon, the entire Fallout franchise and, to a lesser extent, Mario Kart.
In a post-apocalyptic Australian outback, whose population has a slightly bafflingly-large percentage of people with American accents, Max Rockatansky is doing what he's always doing at the start of Mad Max stories, that is to say, bugger all. Drifting about, squinting into the middle distance until he falls foul of this week's roaming gang of S&M murderers, who will in some way fuck him over so he can mad all over them.
Sure enough, one comes along and Max battles them in an overlong intro cinematic with a textbook case of "Why the fuck didn't they make this a playable prologue?", before losing his car and his jumper and being left for dead in the desert. Shortly, the other thing that always happens in Mad Max stories happens: he stumbles upon an insane person and teams up with them, although he tries his damnedest not to.
Mad Max's personality I would rate a point seven on the Kratos scale of anti-hero-so-riddled-with-generic-anger-it-works-against-their-own-best-interests. He's filled with naked indignation whenever a character has the balls to be in his presence without bashing their heads in on the floor amid a stream of progressively slurred apologies. But who cares if the protagonist's personality is more repellent than a cast-iron toilet brush, as long as he has a relatable goal. Max sets out on an epic quest to... urmm... actually what the hell are we doing here? Well, we're antagonizing the local warlord, but that's more of a hobby thing, that's what Max does when there's no Games Workshop nearby where he can buy new paints for his Warhammer miniatures. No, that's just in aid of his main, if you pardon the pun, driving motivation, which is to make his car really nice. But you can be halfway through the game and driving a spiky death metal monster that fires rockets and plays ice cream van music and the game just keeps trundling along, shrugging its shoulders as to where the hell it's going.
It's a sandbox in almost the most literal sense, in that you explore a whole bunch of sand and do a lot of bare-knuckle boxing. But it's the kind of sandbox where you're getting more of your money's worth in the side activities. If you only follow the critical path, you'll play the story of a man who shows up at friendly camps, promises them the earth and then fucks off to the next one, like a wasteland Jehovah's Witness. But Mad Max isn't just a sandbox game, it's the sandbox game, that is, the thing every sandbox game is now. You look for collectable caches of in-game currency, you go to some kind of observation tower thing that reveals all the in-game currency in the near vicinity, you bring down enemy strongholds to reduce threats and acquire more in-game currency, and then you spend it all on upgrades to make it easier to get in-game currency. In this case, it's scrap, which Max can use to upgrade his car and himself, for life is hard in the wasteland and the only way to learn new fighting techniques is to eat large quantities of jagged rusty metal.
It made me think of Shadow of Mordor a little bit, and that in turn made me think (That's right, my brain can think about a whole two things, you jelly?) that "the sandbox game" has now become what the third-person-shooter was not too long ago: the default setting that tends to get rolled out for generic action games after the creative team have sat around a blank whiteboard all morning and have started hankering for an early lunch. Not that there's anything wrong with "the default game" - it's a staple, like bread. But without butter and/or luncheon meat, bread by itself's fit only for pigeons. Remember Kane & Lynch 2? I've been trying not to over the years, with the able assistance of Dr. Bleach. Putting aside the horrible camera effects and sweaty old man buttocks, it was shit because the gameplay had nothing besides the default third-person shooting. It was just bread and buttocks.
The default game lives and dies on a unique selling point, like Shadow of Mordor's little black book of orcs. So what is Mad Max's USP? "Well, there's cars." Cars in a sandbox game? Shut your mouth! That would be like putting Bulgarian women in the Bulgarian women's national handball team. Car combat, I should say: as you drive around, you frequently run into convoys of enemy vehicles of some errand or another, that isn't so important they can't take time out to hound you remorselessly to your death. But that was more an annoyance than an impromptu break out of wacky races fun times, when you're trying to reach the next observation balloon and someone's grill is trying to french-kiss your exhaust pipe. I eventually found it much more efficient to get out of my car and stand next to a big wall, then watch the little cogwheels turn in the heads of the enemy drivers, until they realize they can't ram me without totaling their vehicle, and now have to get out for some of that now standard punch-counter combat that I am betting the Arkham Asylum people really wish they patented.
Right, now let's get to that observation balloon so in future I can fast-travel past all this bullshit. "What was that?" says the game, "please call down a massive dust storm? Well, since you insist!" I never figured out what the fuck I was supposed to do in dust storms. If I'm supposed to wait for it to pass, then it takes way too fucking long, 'cause I always gave up and went back to the nearest friendly outpost. I tried to use the observation thingy regardless, but for some stupid reason the game doesn't think it's a good idea to fly hot air balloons in howling gales of jagged metal.
So Mad Max is a resounding "meh". It's got a perfectly adequate, if occasionally buggy, sandbox setup, but the only USP seems to be the fact that it fucks you about on your way to places, which is precisely the same USP as the Birmingham one-way system.
- Moderately perturbed Malcolm: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- You'd think the S&M murder squad in the desert would want to wear something that breathes a bit better than leather
- Bruce Spence sadly does not appear
- The a titular character drives a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT coupe AKA Pursuit Special from the titular franchise.
- The titular game holds a Volkswagen Type 1 before smashing 2 Citroen 2CVs together.
- An Evil Imp sits in the driver's seat of a Citroen 2CV before getting out to fight Mad Max.