Somebody fucked up. This should have been a no-brainer. All you had to do was not mess with the tried-and-true control scheme and free-flow combat that has been well established by Arkham and its ilk for the last decade... Why, oh why, did someone decide they knew better for the control layout and timing during combat? -- That said, the car and world are worth the trip.
+Satisfying car-building and driving
-Obnoxious control scheme
-Poorly conceived combat system
-Frustrating timing issues
Anticipation and hype are the sharpest of double-edged swords. Unfortunately, the modern PR form wield their power haphazardly with zero regard for the public that they are supposed to be representing. Such begins the tale of Mad Max, Avalanche Studios and WB Games joint venture to ride the tails of one of the best movies to come out this year; heck maybe in the last decade.
I've spent the better part of 2015 getting excited for this game. Long before the movie release I was foaming at the mouth for a beautiful hybrid of Arkham and Burnout. The gameplay videos featured showcase a robust character and car upgrade system that would allow you to build your very own "Magnum Opus" and Mad Max. Everything would be unique and beautiful and feature a tried-and-true flow-combat combo system with epic counter attacks and take-downs.
I felt justified in my hype, due in no small part to my love of Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios.
Somewhere along the way the wires got crossed though. What should have been a walk-in for my short-list for Game of the Year became something dark and upsetting. Look, I get that I'm spinning a lot of hyperbole here... The game isn't TERRIBLE. What it is though is disappointment at the highest levels of "what the hell happened?"
Let me give you a few reasons why I'm disappointed, first, then I'll spend some time letting you know what the game does right that might make it worth your while to pick up (after being thoroughly warned what you're walking into, of course).
Since the inception of third-person action titles there has been a pretty standard button layout that gamers have gotten used to. Batman, to continue an obvious comparison, has utilized the basic concept for years and it made sense. X (or square for PS fans) to punch a guy Y (or Triangle) to counter. Mad Max gets that much right... then things go sideways.
My favorite metagame with the Mad Max title thus far has been inviting people over to play a game of "find the jump button." The obvious choice would be the standard bottom-button layout (A/X). Max tosses tradition to the wayside though and relegates the action to the least likely candidate: Left. Trigger.
One friend brought up the completely valid question: "Well, is it a game that doesn't use jump? It would make sense to hide it away if you're not using it."
However, Mad Max DOES use it. In fact you will be FORCED to platform at times to complete bases or 100% loot the scavenging locations... making this one of the most egregious oversights in gaming I've encountered since Mass Effect forgot what made the game popular in the first place. I wish, oh GOD do I wish, that was the worst offense the game offered on the control front through.
You see, not only are the controls absolutely bonkers, making use the B (Circle) button as your fire instead of right trigger (in conjunction with the left bumper or R1 for aiming)... but it offers a time-sensitive counter system that can only be described as "janky."
In theory it makes sense. Like Batman and a host of action titles to follow in its wake, you want to hit Y just before being hit to "parry" the attack and counter with one of your own. What Avalanche has done, to up the ante as it were, is to include a timing-ring count-down effect. The closer you come to hitting the parry button at the last moment before impact the better chance you have of obtaining a "perfect parry." At the game's humble begin it just mean a cool zoom and harsh hit. Upon upgrading Max, you'll get to do things like disarm people or break their limbs during the counter-attack.
In practice, however, this doesn't function nearly as well as any other action title's more "simplified" or straight forward system.
Over 15 hours of gameplay under my belt and the timing continues to feel "off." It's like playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band without your TV/Guitar properly synched. Everything is just a bit... wrong. For my part I decided to forego the need to perfect my combat skills and instead opted to rely on the less visually impressive standard parry, negating my interest in "perfect parrys."
That would have been fine too... if the game would let me get away with parrying and fighting at the same time.
Again, abusing my daily usage of the word "unfortunately," Mad Max has broken would should have been a "give me." Instead of the bad guys attacking you in order, waiting their turns (as ridiculous as a complaint this may be) they will attack you two at a time, or during a combo string, or even during another counter attack, or even while you're mid-swing with a standard punch. That means that your ability to counter is exactly NIL. There is no way to understate how insanely frustrating that is. Hours of gameplay in and it became an obsession.
I was convinced I was just "doing it wrong" and there must be some kind of flow, some kind of rhythm to combat that I just hadn't worked out yet.
I spoke with other gamers who were playing as well, and found that they were relying on "mashing the counter button" as a last resort to defending themselves. I went the other route and stopped attacking all together. The only way to make SURE that you can counter is to not be attacking anyone else when it comes... therefore in a fight of five or more I would sit and wait like a jackass, countering everyone in sequence until enough were downed (strictly by counter hits) that I could feel safe about throwing out a punch at someone without immediately being clocked in the back of the head.
Let's get onto talking about what the game does RIGHT.
By now I'm sure you feel like I have nothing positive to say about the game... when really the truth is I've been enjoying the majority of my time with the game. It would just be a disservice, in my opinion, to not lead with the major, glaring issues the game has.
Mad Max is visually stunning. It is a gorgeous game that is representative of the cinematic marvel that George Miller created. The desserts are wide and open and highly detailed. Cruising across the ocean-esque sand-scapes is one of the best feelings you'll get this year in gaming. I'd liken that aspect to the first time we set out to sea in Assassin's Creed. This is adding Pirate ships to Assassin's Creed good and I hope that statement carries the weight it's intended to have!
Now I know, for most of us, looks aren't enough and I've spent a long while here ranting about how a lot of the game feels broken at the core of its design. Not to mention the fact that when you start out, your car is going to handle like a ton of scrap... That's because it is.
Through progression of the game and a thorough looting of the wasteland you'll be able to upgrade your car and make it less of a "shit box." Again, speaking with others that have played through, the experience was similar: At the game start everything feels terrible. Clunky, slow, hard to control. As you progress however, fine-tuning your four-wheeled 9th symphony, you'll feel the improvements. It's a visceral experience and one that makes sense for what the game is intended as: a character progression of Mad Max as well as his car.
I've fallen in love with my car, which is the feature that I was most looking forwards to when the game was announced and the subsequent trailers released. I knew that the car would be a big part of this game, like the all-too-popular four-legged best-friend mechanic that is now in every game. Mad Max makes you fall in love with an inanimate object as it becomes more than just your transportation across the wasteland. More than just your shelter from the (very literal) storm. It becomes something of a family member as you and your mechanic cohort, Chumbucket, scrounge for parts to make her the beauty that is to replace Black-on-Black (Mad Max's original, previously thought irreplaceable, Interceptor).
While the story of Mad Max: The Video Game has nearly nothing to do with the cinematic thrill-ride that released earlier this year, the game does hold true to its ideals. Throughout the story you'll face similar themes, obstacles, and of course be handling the same base mentality: survival in a post-apocalyptic hellscape via four wheels and as much "guzzoline" as you can humanly horde.
The positives and negatives of the experience might, at surface level, seem to even the game out to something in the range of "mediocre." But cruising across the wasteland in your custom-built ride and surviving the beautiful red and orange hell by ensuring a ready supply of water, gas, and food is rewarding enough that I'd have to say this game's good moments tip the scale over the nitro-fueled rage I feel when "You're Dead" flashes after some a-hole cold-cocks me mid-counter animation.
No amount of anger the game can dish out is unable to be countered by the sweet zen of cruising a V8 muscle car across the open gold plains of a wasteland devoid of humanity and then hitting the nitro to launch yourself towards the heavens, using a perfectly curved dune as your ramp towards to the Gods. So yeah, it's pretty fun at the end of the day... just, be prepared to get angry at a lot of dumb mistakes that were made on the way to those glory moments.