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Mad Max (PC) review: Where worn-down rubber meets road

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 10, 2015
It's better to burn out than it is to rust.

Mad Max

If you were to ask me "Is Mad Max a bad game?" I would, immediately and adamantly, answer "No." If you were to ask me "Is Mad Max a good game?" though, you would see me pause, maybe blink a few times, and then—again—answer "No."

I'm stuck in this limbo, this grey area, because here's the hard truth about Mad Max: None of it is bad. All of it is familiar.

The definition of insanity

It's an important distinction to make because the two are not mutually exclusive, least of all when it comes to Mad Max and other open-world action games. Mad Max is clearly a hodge-podge of elements from other games—the map and "tower-climbing" of an Assassin's Creed or Watch Dogs or any other Ubisoft game, the requisite Batman combat, the compulsive box-opening of Borderlands.

Mad Max

Put another way: This is Shadow of Mordor, one year later and minus the tech behind the Nemesis system—a piece of "Don't look behind the curtain" trickery I'm convinced saved Shadow of Mordor from similar ambivalence. The best/worst thing you can say about Mad Max is "It's another Ubisoft-style open-world game with a lot of stuff to do."

I frame it as "best/worst" because it's entirely dependent on your own circumstances—how many of these games you play every year, how much you love the Mad Max setting, et cetera.

But give due credit to the developer, Avalanche: Mad Max is one of the smoothest open-world experiences I've ever played—not least because it's incredibly well-optimized, running on Ultra at a rock-solid 144 frames per second on my 980 Ti at 1080p.

Mad Max

And moment-to-moment it's a fun game. Player feedback is excellent, whether it's gunning nitrous and watching blue flame blow out the end of your car's oversized exhaust pipes or ripping a sniper from the "safe" confines of a nearby watchtower by shooting a harpoon through his chest. It never quite reaches the same heights of absurdity as Avalanche's other open-world series, Just Cause, but you can tell the two crawled from the same primordial ooze.

Unfortunately the two share more than just a penchant for fast cars and explosions and fighting The Man. Just Cause 2, while one of my favorite games, is not something you play for the story. Nor is it, really, a well-designed game. It mostly consists of "Go here, blow everything up, repeat."

Mad Max is similarly shallow. At the beginning of the game Max's Black-on-Black Interceptor is stolen by the cartoony villain Scabrous Scrotus (who has an enormous spike sticking out of his groin) and Max left for dead.


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