If you’ve played any of WB Games’ recent releases, then you know what to expect from the studio’s most recent project: Mad Max. At last year’s E3, I had a chance to speak with Michael De Plater, Director of Design for 2014’s Shadow of Mordor. When I asked why the game was so similar to WB’s Batman titles, he responded frankly: “We’ve found a great deal of success with the engine, and you know, if it’s not broke, why fix it?”
Mad Max follows that same philosophy. It feels and plays similarly to Batman, especially when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. However, much like how Shadow of Mordor relied on its Nemesis System gimmick to differentiate it from other WB games, Mad Max relies on creating the titular character’s Magnum Opus. Before I talk about all that, let me cover some of the basics.
Mad Max is all about looting. Enemies have camps scattered throughout the game’s expansive world, and in those camps rest several essentials: scrap, water, and cars. Scrap is the currency of this world and allows Max to upgrade the Magnum Opus. Water can be captured in a flask and drank to restore health. New bodies for the Magnum Opus can be unlocked by having your goons retrieve any you find at camps. Max will fire a flare gun into the air, and then the body becomes purchasable on the main menu screen.
Speaking of the menu screen, boy oh boy does Mad Max go crazy with upgrades. Nearly every part of the Magnum Opus can be upgraded using scrap. To be specific, its upgradable parts are: Engine Grill, Armor, Engine, Exhaust, Tires, Suspension, Boost, Rim, Boarder Spikes, Hood Ornament, Decals, Body Colors, Car Body, Repair Speed, Sideburners, Thunderpoon, Harpoon, and Sniper Rifle. Purchasing and equipping different parts here will increase or decrease the Magnum Opus’ stats. In that sense, I suppose, Mad Max could be considered part RPG.
Mad Max gives the player plenty to explore, and it also gives the player the freedom to choose how. Much like Batman, areas of interest are represented by a variety of icons on the world map. Destroying Scarecrows gives Max a place to rest and reduces his threat in the area. There are enemy camps where piles of scrap wait to be taken, and feature lots of hand-to-hand combat. Lastly, there are Convoy missions—this game’s bread and butter—where Max must give chase to a pack of armored cars, landing him new Hood Ornaments for the Magnum Opus and considerable amounts of scrap to boot.
Defeating a convoy isn’t always as simple as “blowing it up”. Most of the time it is, but not all the time. In the chase I was involved in, for example, I had to pull metal plates off of the leader’s car to expose explosive barrels in its trunk. Before that, though, I was ripping the tires off of pursuing cars using the harpoon, or sticking my double-barrel shotgun into an opposing car’s gasket while I drove past it. A limitless slow-motion mechanic gives you the time you need to make every shoot feel truly badass.
You know, that’s what Mad Max does best: it does anything and everything in its power to make you a complete and utter badass. The hand-to-hand bits may be a tad too familiar, but traveling the world in the Magnum Opus, giving chase to enemy convoys—that’s where the game hits it home.