Welcome to part one of my Seven Gaming Heroes series, looking at great video games that you are likely to be aware of but yet to experience. For this first part I’ve been taking a look at 2015’s Mad Max, developed by Avalanche Studios, who made the incredible first three Just Cause games. (Also the fourth, but we don’t count that here.)
I recently completed my second playthrough of Mad Max, despite originally not planning to play more than the first hour or so when I re-installed it on my Playstation 4. I was very surprised to discover upon my last login that I had accumulated almost 40 hours of gameplay over a fortnight, but as not a moment of that wasn’t spent having a lot of fun with it I have no cause for regret.
Mad Max was doomed commercially from the start, launching three and a half months after the success of arguably the best film of the decade, Mad Max: Fury Road, and on the exact same date as hotly anticipated final entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, The Phantom Pain. Scoring an average of 69 on Metacritic compared to The Phantom Pain’s 93, every critic worth their salt was recommending the new Metal Gear Solid game over every other game on the market, with IGN awarding it a ten out of ten score and ‘Masterpiece’ status.
2015 was the year the Playstation 4 and Xbox One were really hitting their stride with big new games releasing much more frequently than they had since the consoles hit shelves in late 2013. Both releasing on the 1st of September 2015, not only would Mad Max and The Phantom Pain compete with each other at launch, they would also have to battle for shelf space over other big titles launching in the following weeks. Triple A titles such as Destiny: The Taken King, Forza Motorsport 6 and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate dominated game stop display stands, and digital storefronts were largely taken over by the final episode of Life is Strange.
I pre-ordered both Mad Max and The Phantom Pain, with no intention of playing the former until I was finished with the latter. As it turned out, I was lucky enough to receive my copy of The Phantom Pain three days before its official release, and while it meant I ended up spending almost my entire birthday on 31st of August glued to my Playstation I have no regrets whatsoever.
My early access to Metal Gear Solid 5 meant that when Mad Max arrived on its release date, and as I was in need of a break from The Phantom Pain by this stage, I could play it straight away. Within an hour of gameplay I was completely hooked and the weeks that followed were comprised of the incredibly difficult decision as to which game to play at the start of a gaming session.
As promised in its promotional material the hand to hand combat in Mad Max was crunchy, dramatic and visceral. The driving was hectic and positively brimming with exploding cars and V8 engines, that provided simply driving from point A to point B with one of the best driving soundtracks of recent memory.
I have always been a sucker for seabed exploration and unlocking the secrets beneath the waves as to what looms in the dark depths just out of sight. While there are no leviathans or treasure troves to be found here, a significant chunk of Mad Max’s map is a dried up sea floor which you can drive a supercharged muscle car across, which is an experience I never knew I wanted from a video game until I had it.
Of course it wouldn’t be Mad Max without an insane amount cars to drive, and Max’s main ride, the Magnum Opus, is fully customisable and upgraded throughout the story very much like a character would be in an RPG. There is also a large selection of cars you unlock throughout the story that you can take out for a spin, but as very few of them come close to the joy of driving the Magnum Opus, I’m not sure why you would.
Moment to moment gameplay is packed full of vehicle combat and battering the thugs of antagonist, Scabrous Scrotus, to death for their audacity of coming in the same postcode as our anti-hero Max. A large selection of weapons make Mad Max’s vehicle battles the best I’ve seen in a video game, including a car mounted harpoon for tearing off armour plating, tyres and sometimes drivers out their seats, a rocket launcher (referred to as the Thunderpoon in game which is the best name for anything ever) as well as various other methods for causing as much vehicular madness as possible.
The story is fairly basic though nobody is here for that, so the developers were happy to let a simple narrative connecting the dots between fights play out, which is interesting enough to be engaging but not so intense that you really care what happens next. There is a real gut punch towards the end of the story that I’d completely forgotten about from my first playthrough which I wasn’t ready for, but works well in raising the stakes for the cinematic final showdown.
Mad Max was a free game on Playstation Plus for April 2018, back when the subscription wasn’t the waste of money it is today (*cough* Farming Simulator 19 *unconvincing cough*) and so it is very likely that most PS4 owners who haven’t played the game will already have access to it if they saved it to their library during this time.
Thank you for reading the first part of the Seven Gaming Heroes series and I hope I have persuaded you to play Mad Max if you haven’t already. If you have then do let me know in the comments or on Twitter @MaliceVER how you found your experience of it. I will be back next week with part two, where we will be looking at arguably the best rhythm game on the market, Aaero.