Why the New ‘Mad Max’ Game Is Not as Good as ‘Fury Road’

Source: Warner Bros.

Source: Warner Bros.

Did you see the movie Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year? If so, you’d be forgiven for expecting a similar experience from the Mad Max game on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. You’d be forgiven, but you’d also be disappointed. The game is nothing like the movie.

For all its high-octane style and flash, Mad Max: Fury Road is a simple movie with a rock-solid core. It takes a few minutes to set up a hellish post-apocalyptic world and establish the major players, then it turns into what’s essentially a 90-minute car chase, with the good guys trying to get away from the bad guys. It’s a very simple story that hinges on what happens when a character turns her vehicle left instead of going straight.

Things become only slightly more complicated from there. The vehicle’s cargo turns out to be something unexpected, and some of the characters change and make surprising decisions as the movie hurtles toward its conclusion. But every part of the movie, from the cinematography to the editing and the actors’ performances, work together to deliver a singular experience. Movies don’t get much more tightly controlled than Fury Road.

Mad Max the game, on the other hand, is a much sloppier construction. Not only does the game sprawl out in all directions in a literal manner, with the open world stretching for miles every way you turn, but the gameplay systems feel tacked on as well. Upgrades abound, whether you’re speccing out Max’s car, giving him new abilities, or building up the strongholds you’ve captured. Loot and collectibles dot the landscape. Story segments are locked behind gateways you may need to grind scrap to complete. The game feels padded and bloated beyond what its plot can handle.

The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max is brutal, so survival is everything. It’s not surprising that the game’s story would be barebones, but it creaks and splinters under the weight of the open-world freedom. The story mostly centers around assembling a cool car, which might support a two-hour experience, but not a 35-hour one.

The movie felt like a rocket ride, pulling viewers along with interesting characters and a propulsive narrative. The game can’t pull off this same feat, so more often than not you’d find me sitting back, wishing a cutscene would end, or idly puzzling through which upgrade to pump points into. I know I’m supposed to build the ultimate car, but for what?

Source: Warner Bros.

Source: Warner Bros.

That said, the game has a few hooks to keep you coming back. You’ll seek out pieces of scrap, building your way toward 100% clearance rates for each camp. You’ll topple scarecrows and overtake fortresses to chip away at each area’s “threat level.” There’s plenty to do, even if it ends up feeling hollow.

It’s not an incompetent game by any stretch. Despite its long development cycle, it almost feels like it could have turned into something special with a little more time in the oven. But where Fury Road felt special in the best possible way compared to other action films, the Mad Max game feels like just another open world filled with endless missions and upgrades.

In fact, Mad Max comes off as a Frankenstein’s monster of recycled gameplay mechanics borrowed from better games. It takes Batman: Arkham Asylum’s fist fights, but with more more button-mashing. It has enemy strongholds like a Far Cry game, but with fewer ways to topple them. It has these almost adequate systems in place, but no substantial core to wrap them around. Nothing to make them add up to more than the sum of their parts.

These are not the worst problems a game can have. There’s enjoyment to be found in Mad Max. And just because it comes up short against Fury Road doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. But it’s nowhere near as enjoyable to play as Fury Road is to watch. It doesn’t compare.

If you’re in the market for a new game to play, choose Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It came out the same days as Mad Max, it’s available on all the same systems (and more), and it costs the same amount. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot better of a game.

Mad Max isn’t a bad game. It’s just a bland one. And when it comes to the franchise that gave us Fury Road, that simply won’t do.

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