Monday, January 04, 2016

Mad Max (The Video Game, not the Movie)

Mad Max was released in September of 2015, and it was a game that interested me a little bit before it was released, and a lot more after the reviews turned out to be quite favorable.  However, it had the unfortunate luck of releasing in the same year, and just two months prior, to a far superior open-world post-apocalyptic action game.  Open world games are a substantial time investment for someone who doesn't have loads of that precious, fabricated commodity.  Therefore, I refrained from buying the game at release.

Fast forward to the holidays, and the Steam winter sale.  Mad Max was 66% off, and John picked it up for me.  I've not technically finished Fallout 4, as I haven't done all of the exploring, but I've finished the campaign and quickly ran out of things to do after that.  So it was certainly a good opportunity to start a new game, at least until the Fallout 4 DLC starts popping up.

I will admit that I know of the Mad Max franchise, but I have not seen any of the movies, not the original Mel Gibson trio nor the newest Tom Hardy incarnation.  I think that I would like to see that newest one, mostly because I've heard it is excellent and I like Tom Hardy.  I haven't gotten around to it yet, though.  So, in going into this game, I really had no expectations in regards to tone, or setting, or anything of that nature that a fan of the franchise would have.  This isn't the same experience for me as when I started playing Shadow of Mordor.  (I bring SoM into this conversation because they are both WB published titles, and the design of the open world is very similar.)

I'm going to start with my problems with the game, because those will be a lot easier for me to conceptualize into words.

Chumbucket talks too fucking much.  I like the character and I think he's well voice acted.  I just feel he's way too much of a chatterbox.  I appreciate when he warns me about impending storms, or the location of a minefield, or the approach of a war party.  And, some of the other random tidbits that he says, insane as they may be, are rather humorous.  I thoroughly enjoy how cars are his religion, and how his statements reflect that.  It's really well done, but it's a bit OVERdone.

It was a stupid idea to default you to the Magnum Opus when you fast travel.  Let me give a bit of explanation on this one.  Most of the time, you drive the vehicle called the Magnum Opus with Chumbucket in the back.  (He fires your harpoons and thunderpoons, and repairs the vehicle.)  However, there is one activity in the game that requires a different vehicle.  There is something called "Chumbucket's Buggy", and it has a little doghouse on it where your dog can ride.  The dog is used to identify mines out in the wasteland, so that Max can disarm them on foot.  You can find minefields with the Magnum Opus, but you cannot disarm mines without the dog.  So, you need the buggy to do that.  This is all well and good, except that every time you fast travel, you're put back into the Magnum Opus.  So, you have to drive across the entire freaking map to get to the minefields manually.  It's boring and bad design.

Speaking of the minefields, I hate them.  There is a means to identify all points of interest on the map for easy navigation.  You can identify all the scarecrows, camps, strongholds, and snipers from the hot air balloons.  You can identify all the salvage points with a constructed project within the strongholds.  But there is no way to mark all the minefields on your map.  You have to discover them by driving across the wasteland and hoping you get lucky.  It's boring and bad design.  I would not complain about this at all if this activity wasn't linked to map completion.  But it is, so it annoys me.  To make matters worse, it's also linked to upgrades for your car.  You cannot get the max level harpoon without getting all of the minefields.  It sucks.

It seems that some dubious decisions were made regarding when to lock off fast travel.  I found myself at a lack for resources (ammo mostly) after a particularly hectic scenario to blow open a gate.  After getting through the gate, I wished to fast travel out of the area so that I could restock.  Not only couldn't I fast travel, but I couldn't even leave the area (IN THE OPEN WORLD) without failing the mission and being teleported back to where I didn't want to be.  I had to struggle through another scenario with no supplies in order to continue.  It sucked.  Granted, this has really only stood out to me once.  Fast travel also gets locked out on your during sandstorms, but that feels logical.  This one section, it just didn't make any sense.  The two areas weren't connected at all.  They didn't feel like a continuation of one another.  It felt like there was absolutely no reason why I was not allowed to leave and go restock.

I've only had a few performance issues.  There was one section, in some tunnels, where I'd crash to desktop due to what I assume was my GPU overheating.  I had a similar problem with another WB game, the aforementioned Shadow of Mordor, and it's the reason I didn't finish it.  I couldn't play it longer than 15 minutes without it crashing.  After I slogged through that particular section, I haven't had the issue happen again, yet.  My fingers are crossed on that one.  The crashing of my video card has been a problem that has plagued me quite a bit in a multitude of games, so I don't necessary blame this one fully on Mad Max.

Those are my major complaints.  It's a lot of words, but really not many issues.

The game looks great.  It's bright and glaring during the day, as a desert would be without trees for shade.  It's gloomy and foreboding at night, and requires you to need a flashlight even when you're just out in the open world during those hours.  Underground areas are equally creepy with how dark they can be, and with the ambient sound and set dressings to go along with that.  Open world games tend to suffer a bit in the graphics department because of how large they are, but this game looks great.

Since the flashlight is attached to your chest and not held in your hand, it's a bit awkward to shine the light exactly where you want it to go.  While this may seem like an annoyance, it actually makes the darkened areas more tense, because you're a bit slower than usual in shining your light towards that creepy sound you just heard.

The combat is fun.  It's rather basic at first, but as you learn more executions and special moves, it becomes much more interesting.  It feels brutal, like Max isn't a trained fighter but merely a guy who's throwing everything he has into his punches because he knows it's a life or death situation.  It doesn't have the smoothness of the Arkham games or the fancy style of Shadow of Mordor.  It's jarring and violent.  With what little I know of the franchise, this seems to be exactly how it should be.

The open world is very well realized.  It offers plenty to do, and it also tracks your activities very well.  This is important for me, because I love that feeling of accomplishment.  Of completion.  This is something that I think Bethesda open world games could benefit from.  Fallout 4 does update the map with "CLEARED" beside some locations.  But you have no idea what the requirement is for this to happen.  Do you just have to walk through the place?  Do you have to kill all the enemies?  Do you have to complete a quest?  Loot a certain item?  I have no idea.  It also doesn't do this for ALL locations.  In Mad Max, you can toggle a list of what is contained within the location at any time, so you can see what you're looking for and how many you have left to find.  When you find everything, you get a satisfying on-screen prompt letting you know.  This is probably the thing that I enjoy most about the game.  It not only makes the game more enjoyable for me, but it saves me from wandering around an area aimlessly wondering if I've gotten everything.  Huge kudos to Avalanche Studios for making a completionist's journey through their game more enjoyable.

The checkpoint saving is probably the best I've ever seen.  Almost every notable activity that you perform triggers an auto-save.  It's fantastic.  I think this is the first time I won't criticize a game for not allowing you to quick save.  It just isn't needed, because the game saves every time that I would quick save myself.  It's perfect.

These are my thoughts after about 25 hours.  Anything I didn't cover, such as voice acting, sound design, DRM, and controls have all been fine.  I covered the things that I thought were exceptional, both positively and negatively.  The game has exceeded my expectations, and I hope that Avalanche continues to make great games like these.  


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