'Mad Max' Is the Waypoint 101 Game for May 2018


#1

I could feel the excitement leave me every time I saw a little bit more of 2015's Mad Max. It was an unfair situation, really: It released months after Mad Max: Fury Road, an action movie that made me remember how much I loved action movies, one that didn't so much transcend the genre distinction so much as execute on it in a way that reminded me of its potential. The war rig, the puffs of colored smoke across blue sky, the grey wastes, the convoy kicking up dust. Everything was big and bold, and as columnist Cameron Kunzelman points out, hopeful too.

It was so easy to hope a Mad Max game would capture some of that feeling. But if Fury Road felt expansive in its understanding of the action genre, in previews (and in the quick look I eventually sat in on over at Giant Bomb) Mad Max the game seemed restrained and limited. Partially that had to do with the glut of open world action games in the years surrounding its release (to say nothing of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which released day-and-date with Mad Max). But it was also because because Just Cause 2 had, in 2010, shown that Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios were absolutely capable of delivering in gaming the same feeling of exuberant action that Fury Road served in film.

So, I skipped on the game. As did the rest of Waypoint's editorial team. As did, I suspect, many other people. We had other, more exciting games to play after all. And fuck. Furiosa wasn't even in this thing!

But in the time since, there has been a murmur, as there often is when a game gets looked over. "Mad Max wasn't that bad," it started, a broad defense before more specific apologia would form. "Best skyboxes in the medium," tweets an acquaintance. "The hand-to-hand combat was so-so, but the driving felt great," said a friend. "Some really bad story beats," says a forum post, "but the dialog is so unique and distinct." And then most important of all: "Hey, did you see that Mad Max is free on Xbox Game Pass and part of PS Plus this month?" Well, yes, I did see that actually.


Listen to the most recent episode of Waypoint 101, on Fortnite, right here:


And so, Mad Max becomes May's game for Waypoint 101, our semi-regular podcast, forum thread, and streaming series where our editors and you, the Waypoint community play through a game we missed or would like to revisit. Which doesn't always mean a game we think will be great, or even particularly good. In fact, from Binary Domain to ZombiU, a lot of Waypoint 101 games end up looking a lot like what critic Aevee Bee calls a "7/10 game."

She lays out the idea in her review of Fatal Frame 4:

In terms of plot and storyline [7/10 games] are either cliche or incomprehensibly surreal. In the space of 7/10 games plot and story doesn't really matter. It doesn't even matter if it's good—it doesn't have to be good, not really, or even new or interesting, in the ultimately all summed up sort of way, like if you browsed the wikipedia entry for the game. Because we're not really interested in what it looks like all summed up, we're interested in the grammar and vocabulary of the game that expresses something with so much texture and depth that it can't be summed up. A lot of 7/10 games say something stupid very beautifully...

Which is to say that "7/10 games" are more than just products with middling-to-positive scores, they're also lenses through which we can examine our own expectations and tastes, and which can say a lot about the context of a game's release. After all, a lot has happened in the time since Mad Max, even just within the realm of the open world action game. We've had Breath of the Wild, Mafia 3, Watch Dogs 2, The Division, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Assassin's Creed Origins, just to name a few. Which on paper, could make it even harder to like Mad Max. But we've also had the soulless Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the disappointing Shadow of War, and the unfocused Agents of Mayhem.

Which is all to say: We have a lot more context now. And as we head into an E3 that will likely be filled with even more open world, third person action games, it's as good a time as any to revisit one that's right in the middle of the pack (and which, hopefully, can be a great kickoff for thinking through the genre all together.)

As always, we'd love for you to be part of this conversation, so go ahead and use this thread to start chatting about it, and feel free to start sending questions in to gaming@vice.com using the subject "Waypoint 101 Question," too!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/bjpwv3/mad-max-is-the-waypoint-101-game-for-may-2018

#2

MAD MAX has the best “car engine starting” sound in all of video games and I appreciate all the times it goes in on how Max is actually, you know, Mad. There are some genuinely weird characters in that game.


#3

This game is great! I’m curious to see how they feel about Chumbucket as a companion. I was initially expecting him to be absolutely insufferable and was totally surprised at how much I liked having him around. The way he scrambles into postition when you start driving while he’s making repairs in the hood is one of my favorite little animations that probably no one else cares about at all but that game has a lot of nice touches like that. The convoy chases in this are also some of the most fun I’ve had in a driving game, it actually does capture some of that nice fury road chaos.


#4

I played Mad Max last year and came to the conclusion that it could have been a great “7/10” if it had just cut to credits a few hours earlier. It’s a bit simple & repetitive, sure, but not excessively so for the genre. Building a post-apocalyptic death car is rad, a lot of the animation work is low-key impressive, and that wasteland might still be the best-looking one in video games. But the total mess of a last act still bewilders me. There was a perfectly good seemingly-final mission that’s one of the highlights of the game, but then it keeps going. The entire last act feels like a DLC expansion that was handled by another team with a different writer and a much lower budget.


#5

I still maintain that Mad Max has the mechanics of a 4/5 game, wrapped in the design of a 3/5 game, and with the story of a 1/5 game slapped on top of it all. But also I haven’t played it in three-ish years, maybe driving into other cars isn’t as good as I remember.

And it’s gorgeous. Don’t sleep on that photo mode, it’s probably still my favorite out of any game I’ve played. I remember posting some screenshots from that and having multiple people ask me what game they were from, which never happens with me.


#6

I’ve REALLY enjoyed Chumbucket so far, in a way I super wasn’t expecting. I’d seen a bit of the writing on that character and dismissed it as like… goofy? But there’s something so jarring (in the best possible way) in his use of technical/religious jargon. It turns me into an active listener in a way I just did not expect.


#7

Honestly three years later I still haven’t seen a game with better skyboxes than Mad Max. Driving through the Wasteland at dusk is weirdly chill and gorgeous.


#8

I had wanted to play this, not enough driving combat games out there. Are we playing up to a certain point, like with ZombiU?


#9

Going forward on these the plan is to play about ten hours worth. Once I get there I can give a good idea of where that stopping point is! If someone else here has played, would be open for suggestions, too.


#10

I think you at minimum have to get to Gastown.


#11

I’m so down for this. You’re so right though Austin, it’s release timing and it’s “7/10”-ness lead it to just being forgotten, but I’ve always wanted to try it out - having it be one of the PS+ games last month makes it a perfect pick. Plus, I almost feel culturally obligated as an Aussie to dig into it? Anyway, I’m keen :smiley:

When roughly is the plan to drop the pod on this one, guessing a couple weeks?


#12

For anyone looking to give this game a look on PC, it’s recently been added to EA Origin Access which may be a good way to get a hold of it. I think you can sign up for $5/month or $40/year and get access to a bunch of other games too. Worth looking into for PC folks wanting to participate.

*edit- Just to clarify, you only retain access to any Origin Access games so long as your subscription is active.


#13

Also gets you access to Titanfall2 which is worth playing for the story mode IMO and it isn’t very long either. Fingers crossed that it will one day be a Waypoint 101 :crossed_fingers:


#14

Probably close to end of month or early June!


#15

titanfall 2 should get a 101. Great single player campaign and the multiplayer is great too. Shame it was buried between battlefield and COD that year.


#16

I’ve played three or four hours but I might already be a little tired of taking out forts. That 100% loot thing is stealing my focus and I run around the, not very fun, map with confusing corridors looking for cogs, instead of just getting it over with.

Putting loot on hold X instead of just X makes it such a task to do a thing you need to do a lot.

Otherwise, I’m enjoying the combat so far, it’s simple but fun enough. And the driving.
The roads, the sands, the sky, it’s all very beautiful.


#17

I got MAD MAX when it came out and I enjoyed every part of it. Yeah, it gets repetitious, but a lot of it is just fun. AND it looked beautiful! The game was really well optimized and ran incredibly smoothly on my fairly old PC.

I really only have two complaints: considering Avalanche was making it, I was expecting the game world to be MUCH larger. With Just Cause 2 as a comparison, the wasteland of Mad Max seems tiny. Which is a shame. You’re required to keep track of your gas, but there’s pretty much never any danger of running out. Every location you can see on the horizon, and it’s rare you have to drive for a long stretch without stopping. The game does a good job at feeling big, but when I play Just Cause 2 and it takes forever to go from one end of the map to the other EVEN IN A JET, suddenly Mad Max’s world feels tiny. Before release there were reports that the game would have an endless wasteland. Meaning you could drive off the map and just keep going. This sounded awesome, but it was more or less abandoned by release. Now the game will automatically drain health if you drive off the map too far. But the mode is sort of still there, because with a trainer you can keep going, and the map does extend really far off the sides. And there is some stuff to discover off the map. One or two tiny enemy locations, plus one rather large one that is incomplete but is populated by bad guys. Maybe they just couldn’t find a way to have the wasteland procedurally generate, but it would’ve been cool.

The second complaint is that the convoy missions don’t respawn. The convoy missions are super fun, but there aren’t many, and you do them and that’s it. I was hoping they’d release a patch like Ubisoft did for FarCry 3 so that you could repopulate outposts, but in this case reset the convoys. The only way to play them again is to start a new game. There’s also no New Game+, which would’ve been nice. I think if you complete the game and start a new one you do get to keep the jacket (and maybe shotgun) you unlock, BUT I’ve heard it’s glitchy (possibly just on PC) and you should backup your save because there’s a chance you won’t have the items with the new game.

Anyway, yeah, it’s not a perfect game, but I thought it was better than people were saying, and I really wish it had done well enough to get more post-release support (if not a sequel.)


#18

Question for the thread: Is it worth playing Mad Max if you have zero interest in the movies that it’s based on?


#19

It’s a direct adaptation of the vibe of the middle period mad max movies. Unless you like the idea of a poorly balanced Ubisoft game with cars, you kinda need an affection for a gestalt of Mad Max stuff.


#20

I’m not sure I’ve ever both loved and loathed a game in equal measure as much as Mad Max. I’m also not sure I’ve written anything this pretentious sounding or long at 6 A.M. before work, but I guess it’s the proper English teacher thing to do.

I played it ~6 months after it came out and even came to it with tempered expectations because of the mixed critical reception. Like everyone else, I was head over heels in love with Fury Road (a poster for it is hung to my right as a type this…) and getting a bit sick of radio towers, outposts, collectibles, and the like as the Ubisoft Open World archetype was taking hold.
Then the game started, and I was enamored. The desert was gorgeous. The desolate ruins of the broken ship was a haunting centerpiece to the opening section. I could almost feel the magnum opus shake when I turned it on. Expecting to loathe Chumbucket, I instead found his religious fixation on cars to be clever and, as goofy Mad Max characters go, quite believable. If your car is the lifeline to survival in the wastelands, is it that much of a reach to find purpose and divinity in the car itself?

And oh, what a car! What a lovely car! The Magnum Opus’ design was just right at the start of the game to feel like a powerful car in need of some fine tuning. Slightly awkward turns, occasionally spinning out in the desert, and a pervasive sense of genuine fragility made driving the opus feel like a dangerous adventure. Raider cars had to be handled with care, inasmuch as smashing your speeding hunk of rusted steel into theirs can be called careful. In the early game, even with several initial upgrades, the car combat retained this edge. And the sandstorms! Not since S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (which Austin should really, really play) have I found a game’s storm system genuinely interesting. A strong core combat loop started to take hold, trying to give my car enough health to outlast my opponents in side-to-side grinds and slams.

Of particular note were the games convoy missions; these were an open-world staple ever since Far Cry 2, but for the first time since then, I actually LOVED them. Convoys show this game at its best: your opponents are driving away from you, utterly disinterested until you disturb their route. The defenders are trying to remove you from the road so that they can return to the convoy, and your goal is to systematically destroy them so that you can get the scrap on the move. This is where the game finds the most common ground with Fury Road and, unsurprisingly, is where it shines the most. I even found myself muting the game’s lackluster soundtrack and blasting the Junkie XL songs from the movie specifically for the convoy sections. It’s telling that the game structured a large piece of its supposedly epic climactic battle around this convoy structure.

It’s just too bad that, by that point, you have your hands on the game and tension-breaking “thunderpoon.” Did you enjoy the sense of desperation and weight as you slammed your car into your opponents, pushing as hard as you can to get them off the road, smash them into another car, or crash them in a ditch? Well the thunderpoon is here to let you just press B instead. I cannot overstate the negative impact the thunderpoon has on this game. Car combat is functionally removed, and the best option becomes pressing B to remove cars – always. The harpoon was a great idea (pulling people out of cars is fun! Removing tires is lovely! Pulling down gates and towers is awesome!). Adding explosives to it undermines the game’s combat so fundamentally that I will never understand why it wasn’t cut other than the cynical answer of the commercially viable power fantasy, which was already served in spades without this.

Worse than even the thunderpoon, however, is when the game pushes you to leave your car. Which it does constantly. In a game fundamentally about the Magnum Opus both thematically and ludically, it’s a bit jarring how much the developers want you out of the car. The mediocre Arkham-lite combat has Max pulling off moves far too acrobatic for this universe, and does little to make time spent in outposts compelling. Outposts use Far Cry style enemy marking, but the only plan it ever impacts is what you are going to shoot with a sniper rifle before you enter the outpost (I guess it’s just like Far Cry at this point). Worst of all is the requirement to find every last scrap and insignia in every outpost (maybe this wasn’t a requirement, but I remember feeling compelled – perhaps the game incentivized it heavily?), which resulted in my spending untold hours scouring the same, boring, cookie cutter camps for the few glowing items instead of exploring the sprawling desert in the Opus.

The amount of time spent outside the car becomes truly egregious, and never feels dangerous. For a setting in which the car is supposedly your lifeline and can rise to a deity-like symbol, it sure does a lot to make getting out of your car OK. I didn’t realize the scope of this issue until I had thoroughly lost a fight in car-to-car combat, and pulled off the road to repair. I was sure that this was over, that the war boys were just going to run me over and call it a day. Instead they pulled up, stopped their car, and got out.

They pulled up, stopped their car, and got out.

In the desert wasteland of war rigs and monster trucks they stopped their car, and got out.

To fight me.

With fists.

When they had a screaming pile of deadly scrap ready to remove me from the land of the living, they instead chose their fists. My shotgun made quick work of them.

The game never really felt dangerous again after that. This is a bit inevitable in power fantasies, sure, but it never should have been to this extent. I realized that losing a car fight didn’t really mean losing – it meant pulling off to the side and baiting enemies out of cars. You could usually even pick them off with the shotgun as they got out.

I eventually took on personal rules to make the game more palatable – for the last several hours, no Thunderpoon allowed, and I would just let my car explode if I started losing a fight rather than resort to the (hopefully) degenerative strategy of baiting enemies out of the car.

Past that, I found most other aspects of the game to be perfunctory. While the premise of putting together a car to cross the wastes was a good setup, the game’s story is ultimately forgettable, and deserved the thorough roasting it has received for its treatment of women. This was especially egregious given how much the game invoked Fury Road but left out the main character, Furiosa.

The gas system was a nice touch, but I really wish it had mattered more. Fuel always felt ludicrously abundant for an apocalyptic desert, but that’s an understandable compromise when I’ve already griped about getting out of the car too much. I disproportionately wrote about things I liked in the game when I found quite a lot of my 45 hours with it to be a total slog. But those first 10 or so hours chasing convoys without a thunderpoon, braving sandstorms, sincerely dangerous combat, and the Fury Road OST on iTunes in the background had me chasing the high of a game that only partially existed.