I had two very different experiences playing Mad Max. When I first played the game, I was surprised by how good it was. The graphics of the wasteland are beautiful, the fighting is visceral, and the driving is nicely forgiving (no matter how much damage you do to the car, your sidekick can fix it quick!). I found myself enjoying the outback, driving around with my hunchback mechanic and raiding enemy forts whenever I spotted one on the horizon. Then, after about twelve hours of sidequesting, I hit the Wasteland Classic glitch and had to start all over. This time, I stuck to the main quest, closely following the story, and was surprised at how bad the game was. Characters are lazily written, Max is the worst, the plot is haphazard, the quests are frustratingly one-note, and the ending is the worst in recent memory. Mad Max is a fun game to play, but a terrible game to win.
The story starts out like any Mad Max story. Max is driving across the wasteland when he gets attacked by the local warlord and has his car stolen. The game takes the unusual step, though, of having Max actually drive a chainsaw through the Warlord's head before his car is stolen, leading you to wonder whether you'll really face off with this Warlord later or if his minions are pulling off a Weekend at Bernie's style trick (spoiler: they aren't). Anyway, you spend the game building a new car with your sidekick Chumbucket, one of my favorite sidekicks ever. He's funny, he's cute, he's bubbling over with enthusiasm and adoration, and he'll fix your car whenever you park (even in the middle of a driving storm). Gameplay is divided between driving sections (in which you can harpoon other drivers and yank them out of their cars) and brawling sections (in which you chain together combos to build a rage meter, very similar to Arkham and Mordor). Both work well and the game is largely fun to play.
So if the game's so fun, why isn't getting higher ratings? Well, Mad Max turns out to be a series of bizarre contradictions. The wasteland is beautifully detailed, but the people look like they wandered in from the the PS2. Your sidekick Chumbucket is one of my favorite NPC sidekicks of all time, but Max is sour and boring with none of Mel Gibson's wizened charm or Tom Hardy's moments of levity. Gameplay is largely very fun and rewarding but the story is so superficial and the final act so horrible that you'll regret advancing the plot. Some of the random camps around the wasteland hide hidden tunnels that are fascinating to explore while the "allies" you meet around the map waste your time with pointless advice. The sudden lightning storms that spring up add diversity to gameplay by forcing you to take cover but then there's nothing to do when you're in cover (and these storms are LONG). There's one long sequence in an abandoned airport that expertly stretches the suspense of an impending trap out only to have the trap be a few of the same guys you've been beating up throughout game. The game hints at greatness repeatedly but never obtains it, always balancing a great gameplay idea with one that's superficial or pointless or irritating. Whatever enthusiasm you build in those first few hours, keep it in check; the game never gets better than that.
The external environments are all pretty amazing and the empty interiors and drab characters suffer in contrast. Voicework also ranges between impressive (Chumbucket) and irritatingly one-note (Max).
The basic gameplay is fun. Raiding bases, brawling with minions, and harpooning drivers never gets old but it also never evolves. The plot starts wafer-thin and ends in a rushed heap. This is a fun game to play as long as you don't pay much attention to what's going on.
I could see spending more time in Max's wasteland. The map is littered with small bases to raid making this a great title to spend half an hour with to blow off some steam.
Again, Max is a series of contradictions. This is a great game to rent, but not own. You should play it but not beat it. And while this is easily the best Mad Max video game ever made, I'm still hoping for better next time.