For tedious desert jaunts, Lawrence of Arabia’s got nothing on Mad Max

mad max

Mad Max (2015)

A few years ago, I happened to see the new Tom Hardy flick, Mad Max: Fury Road in cinemas. It seemed to have drummed up a fairly substantial amount of hype, so on we plodded to see it. It had all kinds of rave reviews, looked destined for quite a few Oscar nominations, the lot.

Four hours later, having watched a man and a few hangers-on exchange dialogue that didn’t make any kind of sense, drive across a vast desert and keep teasing a big action sequence without ever delivering, the credits finally rolled. Myself and my pals were pretty much left speechless, wondering was this just a fake-out before the film actually began, before one flat Dublin accent behind me opined, “All that for a bit of water?!?”

He summed the whole thing up far better than I could, but I’m still gonna hit you with it: what an appallingly boring piece of cinema that was. There are people who will sit down and watch The Godfather for the first time, and say it’s mind-crushingly tedious and that nothing happens.

Now, I can understand where they’re coming from. I enjoy that film more with each rewatch, but I can well understand people dismissing it after an hour. After all, it’s even longer than Mad Max, and full of all kinds of nuances you won’t have caught the first time round. And anyway, when it comes down to it, it’s just a load of men in suits mumbling to each other, and the occasional ropey fist-fight.

Things didn’t have to be ropey 40 years later. When a huge convoy of loud, rusted V8-engined cars start speeding across the desert, vanguarded by a beastly looking guy shredding an electric guitar that shoots flames, you think this surely must be the coolest thing on earth.

They could have just had that lad getting chauffeured at high speed through the dusty, apocalyptic wasteland, screaming out a few tunes on his Flying V, and that would have been great. I’d have given Fury Road a perfect 10 for that, even if the guy’s set only lasted 45 minutes.

Instead what we’re treated to is an admittedly rugged looking Tom Hardy mutter under his breath a lot and not a single other character matters to the plot. The whole thing was as dull and devoid of life as the desert surrounding them. There is probably a plot behind the scenes of Fury Road, between the pages of hundreds of comic book issues or somesuch. Or maybe, shudder, we had to go back and watch the Mel Gibson efforts just to have a chance at understanding why any of this mattered.

Seemingly from under the radar came an openworld, next-gen Mad Max game, released several months after the film and hitting shops here on the same day as another open-world shooty extravaganza, Metal Gear Solid V. If every one of Fury Road’s 120 minutes were tedious, and they were, then surely an open-world of dozens of hours, taking you over sand, rocks and dunes and nowt else would have been torture. You’d have preferred to be one of those poor unfortunate barnacles begging for death in the arid desert. After all, even Red Dead Redemption gave you a bit of respite with snowy mountains and lowland marshes. Mad Max PS4 gives you yellow and brown.

But the game could hardly have been any different from the movie. Starting off action-packed and only getting more boisterous from there, Max Rockatansky, on the cusp of madness in this hellish new world, has his vital car taken from him. He needs new wheels, and quick, so that he can reach the Plains of Silence, whatever that might mean. Fortunately, he meets the wonderfully characterised and voiced Chumbucket, whose religious devotion to all things automobile make him the perfect foil to Max’s austere, Australian demeanour.

We mustn’t kid ourselves here, though: brought to us by Avalanche Studios, the game brings more than an element of Just Cause to proceedings in the way you liberate basecamps by finding and destroying every little thing you can. There are also fine elements of wheel-to-wheel combat in there, as you upgrade the Magnum Opus (your shiny new set of wheels, although the shine is actually rust) and ram opposing bottom feeders off the road. In true skanger fashion, I was also hoping to pull a few handbrakers through the desert, but I couldn’t seem to find the right button. I couldn’t get air condition to come out of the PS4 controller either.

The fistfighting is pretty much directly lifted from the Batman Arkham games, possibly as a result of Warner Bros’ involvement. It might explain why the parry function doesn’t always work correctly, although the melee fighting as a whole tends to be a fair bit better than the car combat, where you’ll be boosting like crazy and just barely missing cars, structures, and a whole lot besides. The result is that you’ll be inadvertently firing your car off cliffs or over landmines, until the whole thing goes up in flames.

Not to worry though, because the real hero of the story, Chumbucket, just hops out into the line of fire and does running repairs on the car, free of charge. My total inability to control the Magnum Opus could just be that I have no understanding of the physics of a conventional roadcar on a sandy surface, being far most accustomed to either Grand Prix machines or Mario Karts, but I’m just going to chalk this one up to the game being a little bit janky. Do try not to die though, because the loading times are a bit bush league after a death.

But most of all, the game borrows liberally from The Last of Us, all the way down to how the world has gone to pot, Max is basically Joel in another dimension, and you gather scrap and find shivs wherever you can. The whole experience may all tie together to give you something passé, something you’ve played at length before.

But what is fabulous about Mad Max PS4, and where games like The Witcher 3 can sometimes fail, and where Fury Road definitely failed, is that while this game may borrow liberally from others in the genre, it doesn’t try to be something it’s not. It doesn’t have a zillion stats to get bogged down with, the map isn’t the size of Russia, the story isn’t filled in by nine million letters and other pieces of lore lying around, the voice acting can be funny and not always full of stilted dialogue, and if you came back to it after a few months you wouldn’t be completely lost.

It is a game liable to become a little repetitive and it’s a pity that there’s no gardens or giraffes or Mile High Clubs in this particular dystopian wasteland. I would have particularly enjoyed a few cameos from the Clickers or the loopy characters from Just Cause 2, for sure. But for rough and ready action that anyone can get involved in, Mad Max is your man.

If nothing else, I guarantee that even after one hour with this game, when you’re still finding your feet and you keep pressing the wrong button that accidentally fires off your incredibly loud shotgun, you will enjoy proceedings and have a lot more motivation to get involved in Max’s quest than you would do watching that dirge film.

And they want to follow the film up with a number of sequels? I’ll tell you what, why not bury your head in the sand and wait for a sequel to this game to come out instead?

June 11 2019

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