Mad Max: The Kotaku Review

Mad Max: The Kotaku Review

A little more than 10 years ago, not long after I quit my job to become a freelance writer, a colleague warned me that sometimes the work could be gruelling and unrewarding. "I want to talk to you when you're writing a story only for money," he said. It took a decade, but I finally found that assignment: reviewing Mad Max for Kotaku. I never would have finished this game if someone wasn't paying me to do so. If this were Thunderdome, I would have let Mad Max win.

Not everything about Mad Max is awful. The wasteland is austerely pretty, and driving through it can be pleasant. The car combat is reasonably engaging, especially once you unlock the Thunderpoon, a shoulder-fired missile used by Chumbucket, your mechanic and near-constant companion. Moments in the plot surprised me. There are five campaign-based achievements/trophies in the game, and I kind of enjoyed working to get the last two.

Those modest satisfactions are not worth the time it takes to complete the journey. It begins with a series of dull multi-minute cutscenes — before the menu, then after you press start, then the opening credits, then some more narration — involving an antagonist known as Lord Scrotus. (A silly name, yes, but this is a movie franchise with a character who goes by the Doof Warrior.) Things go downhill from there. One of the very first missions is to run about 20 feet so that you can watch another cutscene.

Once things actually get underway, Mad Max is a sprawling and bloated open-world game with story missions and side missions and to-do lists — destroy some enemy towers, invade some enemy camps, collect some items — that would take scores of hours to complete. It's not a Ubisoft game, but it feels like one: Watch Dogs in the desert.

When you do get to interact with the world, the game is larded with short animations that play when Max takes important actions: when he fills his canteen with water (which he can drink to restore his health); when he bends down on one knee to eat dog food or maggots (another way to increase his hit points); when he refills his car with gasoline (which he must do to avoid being stranded); when he ascends in a balloon to scan a new region with his binoculars (which marks new locations on his map).

This commitment to realism is sort of impressive but also a little silly. Drinking water and eating dog food don't actually make you more impervious to violence, after all. Nor do these animations make the game more "cinematic." Mad Max: Fury Road was not filled with dozens of identical shots of Tom Hardy emptying a gas can. Instead, they interrupt the action and repeatedly break the player's identification with the game.

Mad Max: The Kotaku Review

The controls are even worse at making you to feel connected to the world. I played on PlayStation 4. You use L1 to aim and the O button to shoot, which is off-putting but reasonable, given that you spend so much time driving, and the triggers are used for braking and acceleration. Except, of course, when Max is using the sniper rifle. Then you use R2 to fire. (Why?) Most frustrating, the X button is used for almost everything. You break down doors with it. You loot for scrap with it. You mash it to jimmy open lock boxes. You destroy winches with it. You pick up weapons with it. You start climbing up or down ladders with it. You drop your gas can with it. This led to repeated moments when Max was carrying a gas can and I wanted him to go up or down a ladder with it, but instead he put the can onto the ground. He also loses his grip on the fuel can or his melee weapon when he refills his canteen or picks scrap up off the ground.

And yes, you will be picking up scrap off the ground, over and over. Max needs scrap to upgrade his car with better armour, weapons, tires, and the like. For much of the game, you collect the stuff by getting out of your car after you've destroyed something, often an enemy vehicle. Thankfully, you don't have to do this once you've collected the parts to build a "cleanup crew" at various strongholds; they will come along behind you and pick up the scrap off the ground. Except it's slightly more complicated than that: You must go collect the parts to build the cleanup crew, then return to the stronghold, then wander the interior of the stronghold looking for the transparent outline of the machine that serves as a metaphor for the cleanup crew, and then press a button to build the cleanup crew. You must do this for each of the game's four territories that have strongholds. (If some interactions in a game are so annoying that one of the rewards for labouring through the game is to remove those interactions, maybe some fundamental elements of the game should be rethought.)

Mad Max is bursting with this kind of busywork. Upgrading your car must wait until you've completed a checklist of tasks, like driving around an area with a dog to look for mines to defuse (which you do, naturally, by exiting your car, pressing X, and then watching a short animation). There's an RPG tree, but in order to use it, Max must drive across the map and listen to a character called Griffa spout philosophical mumbo jumbo about Max's identity and relationship to violence. Doing something — like taking over an enemy camp or ascending in a balloon to unlock the map — is often delayed by obstacles that are not worthy of the word "puzzle." Once, I drove back and forth between a gas station and a balloon outpost three times while trying to select the gas can that wasn't half empty, which I needed in order to refuel the generator that powered the balloon.

The fights are simple parry-and-punch encounters, cribbed from other, better Warner Bros games, especially the Arkham series. Once Max has landed enough blows, he enters "Fury Mode" and overpowers everyone.

The connection to George Miller's Mad Max series is loose. You play as a driver named Max in a dusty, barren wasteland that is filled with enemies who prefer a fashion aesthetic that combines mismatched athletic equipment with the look of grease monkeys and World War I pilots (and, unlike George Miller's movies, maybe a little Gears of War). There are some misguided attempts to imbue Max — who is most compelling as a drifter, loner, and cipher — with pathos and longing, especially when he comments on the game's "historical artefacts", which are photographs and documents from the world before the wasteland.

If anything, this game is hurt by its licence. The ecstatic, transcendent sensation delivered by the car chases in The Road Warrior and Fury Road would be difficult, if not impossible, for any video game to match. But games have their own pleasures, and Mad Max has too few.

Chris Suellentrop is the critic at large for Kotaku and a host of the podcast Shall We Play a Game? Contact him by writing [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @suellentrop.


Comments

    I will get back to you when I've spent more hours with it, but after about six hours - I could not disagree with this review more and I'm genuinely surprised by a lot of the distaste going around for this game.

      I will still be giving it a shot as well, wasnt expecting Fury Road: The Game

      Picking it up today, big max fan - you give me hope! This article was hatred from the first paragraph :/

        The first few hours are a bit repetitive in that it's very much "Go here, get this." But I still found that fun when I am normally bored mindless by those things.

        I think being a big fan of the series is probably part of the reason I love the game so dearly. Where most people see 'boring scenery' as I often have in the cons section.. I just see it as faithful to the source and it builds immersion for me.

        I think the Steam reviews are up around 98% positive. Go read some of them, if you want a pick-me-up for it =P

          Got to say I agree with you... I'm loving the game. Played about 12 hours so far, and sure there's some repetitive stuff but in what open world sandbox game ISN'T there repetition?

          The complaints about controls in the article is sort of questionable too, just because it doesn't stick to the pre-set control scheme of say Arkham games it gets punished? Seems sort of like mocking up a review first then taking points off because the game doesn't fit said review, instead of the other way around. There's definitely a slight adjustment period because it's NOT Arkham controls or such, but when you do get used to it then it functions perfectly fine.

          There's been an odd amount of hate for this game from even before release. I blame releasing at the same time as MGS5 partly, the amount of "OMG this game is going to be shit compared to MGS5!" I've seen is fucking ridiculous.

          On PC especially it was doomed before it even came out solely because of the Arkham Knight PC ordeal. Even though it was a completely different developer, and is apparently performing incredibly well for most people on PC, being attached to Warner Bros condemned it from the word go on an entire platform.

          Honestly, the PC version of Mad Max gives me huge hopes for Avalanche's PC version of Just Cause 3 now... Because it really feels like my PC is punching above it's weight limit with just how well this runs on it.

            Shadow of Mordor had a very similar combat system to the Arkham games, albeit the parrying/counter attacks were -just- different enough in their timing to throw me off completely. I found that once I got used to it it was perfectly fine.

            I'm not fussy anyhow, I find I like games others either love or abhor. Since I love mad max I'm sure I'll quite enjoy it. Given the game's steam/user ratings it seems reviewers like Kotaku have approached the game with a bit of angst in trying to pick out "faults", for whatever reason.

            My biggest problem with it and MGSV being released at the same time is I already suffer from a lack of free time off work :P

              Yeah I don't think holding x for drinking, eating and bashing down doors is a real deal breaker. I'm enjoying the game immensely, chumbucket is pretty funny with the fanaticism of his religion! As for Mad Max lore they've done a pretty good job

                Agreed. Its quite fun, and the vehicle combat reminds me of RAGE, which I enjoyed. My only gripe might be that the steering feels a little unresponsive, not sure if upgrading the car will fix that but in general I am finding turning rather difficult... a delay after I move the analog stick.

                Chumbucket is pretty rad :P

                  Haha yes normally I'd have thought I don't stink that bad at driving, always careening off/into a cliff face, enbankment or debris. Yes hopefully upgrading the magnum opus will rectify these issues. I am yet to get the V8!!!!! Sidenote Rage was atmospherically stunning

                I know what you mean. I have played driving games and am not usually too bad. But that first segment when you are approaching the car body through all the mines was horrible! Was veering all over the place. Reminds me of bikes in gta v, car handling was fine but bikes felt a bit off.

                Agreed, RAGE's atmosphere was incredible. Very pretty scenery, and a skybox alongside the likes of Destiny :)

                Seems kotaku has a reply limit! lol

            Just quickly, on the topic of the PC version.. right up there with GTA V, this is the best PC port of all time. Ultra on all settings, looks brilliant and runs easy at a smooth 60fps.

            My rig is quite beefy, but I have heard it runs just as well on ultra with lesser setups.

              Yeah my PC is barely sitting at recommended specs for it... But I have everything on very high with a few things on ultra and it hasn't skipped a beat. It's how I set it up when I first launched the game, and I honestly figured I'd have to lower a few things.

              Just never tried putting everything on ultra because I was more than happy with what I got when I first set it up.

      I agree with tofuzombie. It seems to me that the reviewer and those whom also have distaste with the game have a. Never seen the Mad Max movie series, and b. Weren't cunning enough to flow through this realistic post-apostolic world as some of us hehe. I mean look at the review. If you cut out only the "bad parts" they make up a small percentage of the work and aren't very sound reasons.

      I agree. 9/10 on Steam - 4962 Positive reviews vs 278 negative...nuff said.

    A shame, I had some hopes for this game.

      Don't let this review put you off. Between other reviews, comments, metacritic (yeah I know) and Steam reviews, there seems to be a lot of love for this game.

        Yeah I am still considering getting it at some point, but now all my attention (and money) is on MGS V.

        If you look at metacritic, most reviews are mid 70's to 85.

        That's not a bad game in anyone's book

          75 MC is pretty awful. The Holocaust got a 74.

            75 is a above average, a score of 10 or 20 is awful.

    This is weird it conflicts with the other reviews I've read

      um... this is certainly one of the more harsh reviews out there but the highest one I have read is 7/10.

        Highest I saw was ign's 8.4. I'll definitely be picking this up reminds me of rage which I loved we need more games like this one and rage. Get sick of the A typical style of post apocalyptic games

      That was exactly what I was going to say. The other reviews I read did say there was some repetition but not with the levels of hate from this review...

        It's not "hate".

        Lets not get all emotive about it, the guy is entitled to provide a professional opinion.
        It’s not entirely consistent with all the reviews I’ve seen (although it has received less than excellent reviews from a few places), but his criticisms are well explained and don’t seem unreasonable.

          Agreed. And lets not forget, review is actually a very subjective thing. People may not like or agree with Chris's review, but it is HIS review.

          Last edited 02/09/15 12:45 pm

    Looks like this game is a really divisive one, critically-speaking. Every review I've read for it has been radically different from all the others. I've pre-ordered it (partly for the Fury Road BluRay inclusion), and will have to see for myself.

    IGN made all its weaknesses sound like strengths.
    No story = Make your own wasteland adventure
    Dull melee combat = familiar controls
    Repetitive missions = plenty to do

      That's IGN's strength, they make bad games seem good if it'll get them a paycheck.

    Sounds like it’s got Far Cry-it is, the bane of the open world genre.

    ‘OBJECTIVE: Clear out the enemy camp’
    Oh cool, well I’ll just drive over the other side of the map and blow it all up. AWESOME!

    ‘Stop and collect health plants’
    ‘Get attacked by a snake’
    ‘Go and get more health plants’
    ‘Stop and collect novelty masks’
    ‘Stop and collect posters’
    ‘Chase down that convoy’
    ‘Get attacked by an eagle’
    ‘Stop and collect health plants’
    ‘Stop and open some chests’
    ‘Get attached by a vicious honeybadger’
    ‘Go get more health, now you need ammo too, go get those….’

    40 minutes later you finally arrive at the enemy camp with health and ammo. It’s fun. Rinse and repeat for 80 hours.

      Oh man this made me laugh because it's so true!

    seems to be getting mixed reviews. I'm sure I'll enjoy it (love the franchise) but I might wait and try and grab it later in the year on sale.

    Last edited 02/09/15 12:39 pm

    It's not a Ubisoft game, but it feels like one ...

    Such vitriol. We'll just take games like Black Flag and Child of Light and jam them up our collective bums then, shall we?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I found Watch_Dogs 'OK' and platinum'd it without complaint, but I'm aware of the commonly held issues with Watch_Dogs regarding the character of Aiden and some general gameplay elements. This doesn't align with the issues described. Collecting widgets was never part of the core WD experience.

    I don't know if Mad Max is a good game. Frankly, I don't care - I have too many games to compete for my time at the moment. But I imagine one can express dislike for the game (a) a little more objectively and (b) without drawing long, unnecessary and out-of-context bows.

      I actually like Watch Dogs as well. Yes it has its issues but I had more fun with it than I did with GTA 5.

      “Such vitriol”

      Are you one of the people sending Jimmy Kimmel death threats for laughing at Youtube gaming?
      You seem a little touchy there.

      Assassins Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs (which I haven’t played admittedly) are all Ubisoft titles and they’re all renowned for being full of hundreds of different pickups (note pages, song books, feathers, invisible markings, chests of varying types for AC alone… don’t even get me started on FarCry 4) that make up dozens of hours in gameplay which is essentially diversions to pick things up.

      The criticism he has here is that large chunks of gametime are spent stopping to pick things up. It was a light hearted jab and probably a well-deserved one.

      You should chill a little. It’s a game review.

      Last edited 02/09/15 12:53 pm

        Nothing touchy about it. The review language is vitriolic, my use of vitriol as an abstract noun is appropriate. I'm more upset that it's taken me three attempts to post a reply as my internet keeps dropping out. In fact, the only disruption to my day has been putting down my skinny latte to write a reply. It's probably gone cold .... no, still OK.

        The review is attempting to write with humour. It not only fails, but makes incorrect comparisons - which is my main issue.

        You're correct insofar as saying that the listed Ubisoft titles have collectibles. I agree. But they are far from the core game, and the 'large chunks of gametime' are often something you can do to extend life out of - what are normally - punchy, action-packed short narratives. If you strip away the busy work, each of them are great games for different reasons.

        The connection made in this review is that this busy work makes up the core part of the experience. That's a fair enough criticism, but surely there must be some other rhetorical flourish that can be applied before slapping down an entire studio that has produced some good stuff.

          I see your point, but I think the vast majority of people understand that it’s a criticism of Ubisoft’s open-world titles, of which there are quite a few and which almost unanimously (I can’t think of an exception) share the same trait of around 50% core gameplay time and 50% disruptions to collect-random things time.

          Working out how long it’s going to take to play an Ubisoft open world title is like working out how long it will take to play a game of cards with a particularly immature mate. You’ve got to factor in how long it’s going to take to reach the conclusion of the match, but then you also have to guess at how many times he’ll yell “52 CARD PICKUP!” and throw all the cards on the floor.

          We can argue about wording all we want, but at the end of the day it’s a critics job to be critical and that’s exactly what he was doing. If he feels that the game, like Far Cry 4, is burdened by the constant requirement to stop your vehicle, get out and pick things up (in Farcry’s case that’s masks, plants, posters, containers and notebooks among other things. Here it’s vehicle parts) then I think the analogy is perfectly reasonable.

          Calling it “vitriolic” makes it unnecessarily emotive and personal, calling it “hateful” as someone did above is even worse again. To be fair to you I am having one of those days that reminds me I how thin-skinned and indeed, vitriolic, the gaming community can be when someone says anything they disagree with no matter how mild.

          Sorry to hear about your latte. Hope it was still good!

            Wait ... are we having a mild disagreement while being civil? Didn't you know we're gamers? That shit just doesn't fly. :P

      I see where the reviewer is coming from. Ubisoft open-world games often lack interesting worlds to explore.

    So just another Ubisoft-like open world game. Kinda getting a bit tired of those.

      Thats like saying "oh another shooter"... there are only so many game types we can have

        Oh another game where I control a digital avatar in an electronic playground, collecting items that improve my prospects of victory and removing obstacles such as enemies. How bland and familiar. Call me when my consciousness can envelope the entirety of existence and I can be rendered insensate by the overwhelming input of sensory data so that when my mind butterflies flap there wings here, a thousand years ago a baby cries for it's mother, resonating with the echo of creation and forming 最終的には、文字通り何の調和のとれた追求で一緒に私たちをもたらし、愛と陰謀の広大な有機ウェブ。

        Last edited 02/09/15 4:36 pm

    i played it from 230pm yesterday afternoon until 1130pm last night and enver had a single issue. found the game to pretty damn fun great.
    And i know why the game is getting weird reviews. it because the game has nothing to do with fury road and some some reviewers actually wanted it to connect into to fury road but avalhance had said time and time again that it had nothign to do with fury road.

    edit: i do have one major issue with the game though chumbucket keeps on saying Dinki Di as Dinki Dee instead od the correct way of Dinki Die

    Double Edit: Jesus after reading this review its almost as if the reviewer went into with his mind already made up that it was shit. Im pretty certain that half the stuff he mentioned as tedious busy work would be the best thing since sliced bread in TPP or any other none licensed game

    Last edited 02/09/15 12:59 pm

      The expectation that the game would be greater than the sum of its side-quests seems to be the common differentiator between a good review and a poor one. If people are expecting a focused, Mad Max themed single player story they just aren’t going to find one here.

      Have a look at Gamespot’s review round up: Even reviews like GamesRadar’s 4/5 have lines like “forget the main mission, the wasteland is the game” or Game Informers 7.5/10 “Was it worth the effort? That ultimately depends on how much fun you had in performing these basic, repetitious open-world activities”.

      Those are both positive reviews going by the final scores, but you can easily see how if you didn’t like the open world activities that the game could easily be a drag. You could easily take those same comments, whack a score of 5/10 on the game and nobody would think there was inconsistency there.

    No one wants to comment at all on the weapon called the "Thunderpoon"?

    Really?

      I think they missed the opportunity to call it the HarpBoom

    The connection to George Miller’s Mad Max series is loose. You play as a driver named Max in a dusty, barren wasteland that is filled with enemies who prefer a fashion aesthetic that combines mismatched athletic equipment with the look of grease monkeys and World War I pilots...
    You may not have noticed, but this is true of Fury Road, also. It has a guy named Max who is probably Mad, but apart from some comments about people he failed to save, the connection to past movies is pretty tenuous.

      That is an excellent point. Fury Road could easily be considered just as loosely connected to the series as the game is.

      But hey, it's cool to use a complaint against one thing but not against others doing the same thing right?

      Last edited 02/09/15 6:13 pm

      I think all the movies are very tenuously linked to each other, though.

      I think of Max as more of Australia's answer to James Bond. He's more of an icon, a subject of myth and legend (as in The Road Warrior), on a series of unconnected adventures through an indistinct and quite probably contradictory timeline.

        I agree. Prior to Fury Road, I might not have but I definitely do now.
        And with that opinion, there's sort of a freedom to enjoy the series without having to connect all the dots like other franchises.

    Considering I picked it up for $30 on the PC, it worth more than I paid for it. I've certainly spent more on worse.

    It actually not a bad diversion from what's out right now. It's not a main meal. It just a snack game.

      Yeah I scored a PC key from OGS for $30 and have the exact same feelings as you. Well worth the price considering.
      Plus it gives me a Batman combat system while I wait for friggin' Batman to get patched, grrr. :)

    Not to pull the 'race card', but Mr. Suellentrop here is a Seppo. He's not going to intrinsically get Mad Max on a cultural and genetic level like we do. So take any negative review from a Yank/non-fan with a cultural grain of salt.

      I suspect that the Swedes may not understand desert wastelands at a cultural and genetic level, either.

        Yeah, that was my fear early on when Max was revealed to have a Yank accent. It was a small misstep, but a significant one.

    Reading between the lines, it doesn't seem all that bad. Won't pay full price, but still keen to give it a go :)

    Just saying this reviewer lost all credibility the moment he bagged out Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs was a fun playground of a game when you took your time with it (which someone trying to crunch out a review obviously can't do)

      What game were you playing? Watch_Dogs was one of the most boring and forgettable games I have played in a long time. Not to mention the glitches. My favorite was when five cars spawned inside each other, before springing out and crushing me against a wall.

      Last edited 15/09/15 11:55 pm

    I will hold off getting this, probably get it on PC in a couple of months

    Picked it up on the XB1, a few hours in and I'm loving it.

    As somebody mentioned above Dinky Dee seems weird when it should be Dinky Di.

    Weren't people eating cans of Dog Food in Mad Max 2?

    This review falls into my ignore section, it's too outrightly negative to be taken seriously. It's like the reverse of somebody who gives something 5 stars and their review is asking for a copy to review it.

    Last edited 03/09/15 1:02 am

      Yep. Dog food was the only food Max ate in that film IIRC.

    I read the snippet on the news page describing that article and came here to just say if i was the boss at kotaku i would sack this writer. I would be very much interested in an unbiased review, Completely turned me off from the get go because who wants to read someone writting an article where opening sentence describes only reviewing it for the money, poor form

    I'm enjoying it so far! Love the amount of Aussie accents! Only thing is, it's "Dinki DIE" not "Dinki DEE"! :)

    Last edited 03/09/15 1:16 am

      Even the Australian voice actors say Dinki Dee. Clearly, it has been a forced action for the American audiences.

      I was genuinely shocked that the driver's side was actually put on the correct, right side.

        lol! Me too! To the point where I get confused and run around to the left side of the vehicle to get in ... Damn you all american games with cars!!

    Gee, a licensed movie game sucks balls. Whoever would have seen that coming.

    Even if this review is exaggeratedly negative, I still see no reason to even bother giving this game a glance. Aside from the fact that opinions are heavily divided so there's at best about a 50/50 chance I'll actually like it, aside from the fact that it costs AU$60 because why the fuck wouldn't it, aside from the fact that I have literally HUNDREDS of games waiting for me to get around to them already (no hyperbole), what does it do that's so amazingly unique and special that I would really need to play it so badly anyway? Completely disposable.

    Sounds like I should pull out Borderlands instead if I want to play a Mad Max game that is just hooning around in a desert shooting fuck-off big guns at psychos and blowing stuff up.

    I'm ok with that. Borderlands does that really well. And that's pretty much all I want from a Mad Max game. Pathos? No thanks, just give me an extra serve of explosions, please.

    I wonder if I can get a Furiosa skin for my Siren?

    Last edited 04/09/15 12:22 pm

    I am having a heap of fun with this game. Don't take the review too seriously. It sounds like the reviewer was having a bad day and took it out on this title. Like any game the buttons are intuitive once you get use to them and saying this game isn't like that game so it's bad it pretty poor. Yes the mine quests suck but unless you have OCD you don't even have to do them.
    Give it a try.

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