FBT tucks into some Dinki Di. One man enters, one man doesn't leave.
Games based on films usually fall into two groups; the first, ‘tie-in’ games supporting a movie release – cheap, quick and nasty, there’s a special hell is reserved for them alongside child molesters and those who talk at the theatre (When is that Firefly game coming out?) The second, games based on past movies fare better but generally we get less The Warriors, more Jaws Unleashed and middling exceptions such as Enter the Matrix, Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza and Avatar; you had to really love the film to forgive those. There is a third way, games acting as spin-offs, but The Thing, Stranglehold, Butcher Bay etc. worked only because they reference the original then do their own thing; but again, for every Alien Isolation there’s an Aliens Colonial Marines. And don’t get me started on TV-series tie-ins; 24, X-Files, CSI even The Shield and Sopranos have been digitally ruined. Movies based on games don’t fare much better and there’s a reason both fail to emulate the other; the experience. Games can be cinematic but they’re not cinema. Films can be involving but you’re not involved. They should just leave each other alone.
If the game-based-on-a-movie tag wasn’t enough reason to avoid Mad Max the video game, the bigger problem is we’ve already played it - not the 1990 NES game, that was Max in name only, but we’ve gamed as Max-by-proxy for years; any apocalyptic wasteland game is Max-inspired the same way a rain-soaked neon future is Bladerunner (which had two games). We’ve never gotten to be Max, never driven the Pursuit Special while acting out Fifi’s immortal line ‘People don’t believe in heroes anymore? Well damn them! You and me Max, we’re gonna give ‘em back their heroes!’
Plus, do we want to play Max? He’s not exactly the kind of character you want to inhabit. He’s too complex -for all his simplicity- to be reduced to a game perspective, and even the movies played fast and loose with the continuity and motivations, which makes a game adaption tougher; what kind of game is it? It can’t be a driving game, it can’t be FPS, that only leaves RPG - Which makes sense in that Max lives in a wasteland, but still, he’s the very definition of linear; he drives in a straight line, always away from his past - he doesn’t make a home, he doesn’t join guilds and he’s not the kind of guy given to helping Randoms. Max on a side mission? Sacrilege! Yet that’s exactly the genre that developers Avalanche decided on. And the bad omens continued; it was delayed for nearly a year then a teaser revealed Max with an American accent. Later trailers announced in full-screen text ‘you are Max’ – If a trailer for Mad Max has to spell out you’re Mad Max, it’s in trouble and the gameplay looked like it was Fury Road based but they couldn't afford Tom Hardy. This is a tie-in isn't it. Shit. Looks like we’re headed for another Rambo The Video Game.
But the thing is, while Max never thrives, he does survive; survived Toecutter, Immortan Joe, Lord Humungus and even Tina Turner. Can he survive a Tie-In?
Fittingly, we first find Max behind the wheel of the V8 PS Interceptor. Eyes locked on the horizon. Like Fury Road's opening, Max is ambushed by Warboys - but this time led by a giant called Scrotus, who wants a V8. Left for dead and without his Interceptor, Max inherits a dog, thrown from Scrotus’ War Rig for failing to tear Max’s throat out. The two scavenge along until meeting a deformed and clearly unstable mechanic named Chumbucket; Chum has been designing the ultimate wasteland car, his Magnum Opus, and after seeing the fight with Scrotus, believes that Max is a Saint sent by the Angel of Combustion to make Opus soar. Okay then. We can go along with that if it means getting a new car.
Problem is, not only is the Opus unfinished, she’s not a V8. Chum explains there’s various local strongholds under threat from Scrotus and they will have the tools he needs to finish the Opus; and we’ll need the Opus battle-ready to reach Gastown, the only place we’ll find a V8. It’s standard RPG to create a situation where various hoops must be jumped through to gain the final prize, but those hoops, this prize works for Max. It’s minimalist, there’s no distractions and it justifies tearing about in the Opus. We slide behind the wheel. Cue engine roar. Cue shiver-down-back as I, Mad Max, drive into the wasteland.
A Fury Road prequel of sorts, we’re in what’s left of a world ravaged by a resource war, that triggered an environmental collapse, which lead to a worldwide plague, resulting in a societal breakdown. Now that’s an apocalypse. Huge rusted ship hulls litter the land as we drive through bleached coral, dusty seaweed and the occasional whale skeleton – we’re in a dry ocean bed; the Grand Canyon meets the Great Barrier Reef, and it has a sickly sense of death to it; whereas Fallout suggested humanity was at least surviving, rebuilding, all we find here are bodies; things are not going to get better. This is the end. But the end looks great, it’s a detailed, believable-looking game.
And as a game, MM is as stripped back as it’s possible to make an RPG. Max travels light. There’s no backpack full of junk to sell, no wardrobe choices beyond upgrades; he takes only what he needs and gets it by scavenging derelict camps – but stepping outside the safety of the Opus comes at a cost. The wasteland of Max is incredibly dangerous; not Borderlands gimme-a-break dangerous but you’re never going to just wander like Elder Scrolls. Factions run rampant in the wasteland and will come running when they hear the Opus pull up; leaping, punching and kicking at Max, throwing stones or worse. Others burst out of the sand in sneak attacks or wait in the shadows; expect to fight for that tin of Dinki-Di.
Strictly speaking, MM is a brawler game; he does have a rudimentary shotgun with a few shells and a couple of one-stab shivs but he’s mostly a fist man. He can also momentarily arm himself with a melee weapon, including the ‘Thunderpoon’, a type of bang-stick that can be thrown or melee’d with awesome and messy results and uses gas-cans as explosives but most of the time Max is battering heads into walls or the Opus’ hood if not throwing some mean WWE moves; the fights are desperate scraps but it’s not a button-mashing scrum. Reminiscent of WB’s Arkham City (Okay it’s not reminiscent, it’s blatantly the same mechanic and Max has a ‘fury mode’ to unlock quick finishes ending in slow-mo take-downs – I’m Batmad), it’s more of a ballet than a brawl; it’s all about anticipating and timing the beatings you throw down.
Besides the two-legged risks in the wasteland, there’s obviously the four-wheeled ones. The Opus isn’t invincible, but this is where MM becomes something really special. There’s raiding parties patrolling and they don’t just ram, they work together, clamber out of their cars to leap onto yours or lob things to make you crash. It is the most thrilling drive experience in an age, better than any 5-star wanted moment in GTA. It’s terrifying, exciting and random; you get that panic as cars appear on the horizon while you’re scavenging. You race back to the Opus and they give chase; suddenly the Opus is damaged, you’re out of shells, you’re trying to ram one into a cliff-face while avoiding another adorned with spikes, there’s a raider on the hood and you’re running out of road. The Opus bursts into flames and you’re rolling in the dirt trying to avoid them making you their hood ornament, then they pull up, jump out an