Miscellaneous

Laro: A Love Letter to Mad Max

 

This is my first blog post dedicated to an entire game, but only because I feel that it deserves it. Also, this was supposed to be a video, but my lazy ass can’t be bothered to record a voiceover for my gameplay footage. And finally, I’m not satisfied with my lapel mic’s quality, so here’re some words about the 2015 Mad Max game instead.

Mad Max was released in the same year as the movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the game borrows a lot of the lore from the film. The story itself is pretty simple, Max’s car gets stolen (again) by another of Immortan Joe’s sons, Scabrous Scrotus, and he must get it back. Along the way, he gets some assistance from a dog and a faithful mechanic named Chumbucket. Max and Chumbucket have to build another car in order to get into Gas Town and settle the score with Scrotus.

Building a strong car is the main objective of the game, and to do this, Max must find car parts and scraps all over the Australian wasteland. In his journey, he will meet multiple enemies and allies, go to different kinds of locations, help multiple strongholds, and lower the threat of Scabrous Scrotus in the area.

The visuals are honestly breathtaking for a 5-year old game

Gameplay

The gameplay can be divided into two: On car and on foot. However, these cannot be strictly separated with each other as Max has to use any strategy he can in order to survive the wasteland. For example, when Max’s car reaches critical health, Max has the option to go out on foot and defend it while Chumbucket repairs it. This can be challenging when being attacked by 2-3 enemies in their own cars, but Max has his shotgun and dodge roll to fend with.

It can get pretty wild sometimes

On car gameplay is fun. There is fast travel available, but most of the map has to be explored by Max via his car. Driving can be a challenge at first, but the more you do it and the more you upgrade your car, you will get used to it. Don’t expect the driving mechanics to be as butter smooth as racing simulators; you really feel the difference when you’re driving in the sand compared to other terrain. I loved this challenge because it made me feel like Max was adjusting to this new car along with me. Take note that you can also hijack and drive other cars and that each type of car has its own unique features and way of handling as well. This variety is really something I found admirable.

Your combat options when you’re in your car are mainly the shotgun and the harpoon. However, you also unlock the sniper rifle, the thunderpoon, and side burners (flamethrowers for your car). With these, you have multiple options on taking down enemies and forts. Yes, you have to take over multiple forts that are owned by Scrotus to lower his threat in the particular region. Most of these forts are heavily guarded by sniper towers and thunderstick launchers as well as flamethrowers, so plan accordingly before attacking and make sure your car can handle the challenge.

Perks of having a companion with a rocket launcher

Some forts also have hidden entrances that can be found by talking to wasteland survivors or by simply exploring. These entrances are usually accessible only by foot and it is here that we go to the second part of the gameplay. On foot exploration doesn’t feel like a last minute addition, but goes hand in hand with vehicle exploration. Once you reach the vicinity using your car, going on foot is always the next step. There are so many places to explore and loot but Max must always be careful because where there is loot, there are also enemies.

On foot combat is mostly just fist fighting. The combat mechanic is pretty simple. One button to attack, one button to block/counter, and one button to dodge roll. I really like the impact and roughness of the combat. From Max taking a hit to him giving a hit, you can really feel the ferocity that only wastelanders can have. I really enjoyed the combat and when you get better at it, you can string combos together and destroy groups of enemies without taking a hit. However, you shouldn’t get too complacent because there are also different kinds of enemies present. In the later stages, you can get overwhelmed with these and if you make a mistake or block too late, you’ll have a large chunk of health taken from you.

Combat is fun and hard-hitting.

Now if you’re low on health, there are also multiple ways to recover. You can run away from combat and once enemies can’t reach you, you can drink from your water bottle which replenishes health as long as you keep drinking. Your water bottle can be refilled in multiple locations in the map where there is a water collecting device. I suggest you keep your bottle filled as often as possible. Another way to gain health is by eating. This happens when you find a can of dog food or a dead body with maggots in enemy camps or abandoned settlements. Eating food is instantaneous and also refills a large amount of health, but the health item is instantly depleted. The only renewable source of food are random lizards and rats but you have to chase and kill them before they can be eaten.

Max also has his shotgun and shivs which are instant kills, but they use ammunition so use them wisely. I mainly save them for boss battles. Boss battles are unfortunately just one type of battle. Basically, it’s a big enemy with slow hits you have to dodge and attack them while they’re recovering momentum. However, the type of arena and numbers of enemies still make them challenging at the very least. Finishing blows are very satisfying and once I finished the main story, I eventually missed beating down a large number of enemies in one session.

Use whatever weapons you have at your disposal

Activities

The map of the game is huge, as it should be because you’re travelling via vehicle. You start off at the very bottom of the map and you have to reach Gas Town, which is at the uppermost part. You go through three different regions, each with a stronghold and a leader that you have to appease in exchange for them sheltering you. The missions aren’t really difficult, and I had a lot of fun with the variety. From fetching a convoy truck filled with explosives to retrieving an old, rusty store sign, the missions and the world-building go so well together that you wouldn’t really feel the things getting too repetitive.

In each of these regions, you go around lowering the threat of Scabrous Scrotus by taking down the forts I mentioned before. These forts are sometimes War Boy strongholds and you have to eliminate all the fighters there, or they are gas-production facilities that you have to destroy. Once you have taken down these forts, allies will populate them and you can use them as resting places when a storm comes. Additionally, they also give you scrap (the in-game currency) in fixed intervals during your gameplay.

Harpooning enemies never gets old

Aside from the forts, you also lower the threat by taking down Snipers and by destroying Scarecrows. These Scarecrows are essentially just territory markers and can be destroyed with the harpoon, thunderpoon, or by simply ramming it with your car. Another threat-lowering activity is by taking down a convoy of War Boys. These convoys are usually 3-5 enemy vehicles protecting 1 enemy truck carrying gasoline. The objective is to take down the 1 truck while fending off the others. Success means a lowered threat plus a hood ornament that gives your car a small perk.

The last activity is hunting down mines with your doggy. You have to find the couple of minefields in each region and then follow your dog’s directions to find the mine. Be careful not to step on it with your car or with Max himself. Disarming the mines gets you some shotgun shells (which are actually pretty scarce) and eventually lowers the threat. Mine sweeping is my least favorite activity, but I had to do it to free the land from Scrotus. Plus I did enjoy the abundance of shotgun shells so I basically blasted most of the enemy cars while I was doing this activity.

Nothing like getting struck by lightning during combat

Aside from lowering the threat level, you can also go on Death Runs, which are the game’s fun version of car racing. However, you don’t get to race in the car you built, but whichever choices are available for a certain race. This led to a hilarious amount of retries in my case because a new car plus an unfamiliar race map always leads to me somehow being in the last place every time. You do get the shotgun along with the ride, so if you have enough ammo, you can just blast your enemies to bits (if you can chase them). There are also different kinds of races from having to hit barrels at certain checkpoints, to free-for-alls where you can drive anywhere as long as you reach the finish line first. Personally, Death Runs are the most challenging part of the game for me, but I did like them enough to do them over and over with the different car options available.

All these activities help you in some way to progress through the game as lowering threat levels unlock some car upgrades and by exploring and looting forts, you also get project parts to upgrade your strongholds and even Max himself. The upgrades are also very applicable and don’t feel arbitrary. For example, an upgrade to the armor of your car can be immediately felt in the gameplay. An upgrade to the tire traction makes your driving immediately better. An upgrade to the shotgun gives more shots before needing to reload. The rewards are immediate and it can get addicting trying to “max” out Max.

These aren’t the only activities that you can do in the wasteland, you can even skip all these and just do the needed ones to progress through the story. But you’ll definitely miss out on a lot by not exploring the entirety of the map. The exploration factor is really what made this game stand out for me. Which leads us to our next section:

The wasteland is your playground

World-building

Let me tell you that I fell in love with this game’s world immediately. Like I said, there is a lot of attention to detail that make this game more enjoyable. The details that were made in Mad Max: Fury Road translated well into the game. My jaw literally dropped as Max entered the Underdune part of the map. No spoilers here, but the environment design was just *chef’s kiss*. For a game situated in mostly desert, the developers were able to make so much variety in the locations.

This game does explosions right

Aside from the forts, there are lots of other settlements and each has their own unique style based on where they are positioned. The strongholds themselves are visually different. One is an old lighthouse, another is an abandoned ship, and the third one is an old nuclear silo. You will also encounter settlements built on crashed planes, basements of houses, old oil tankers, subways, etc., all of which are rational places of settlement in times of a world-ending event.

Locations are well-thought out and scenic

Sometimes you will find history relics, which do nothing to the game but enrich the experience of living in a post-apocalyptic Australia. But my favorite piece of world-building in the game are the toilets. I found it very amusing. An old sofa hollowed out and a tire put on it to serve as the toilet seat. Then that entire contraption hangs off a cliff. Imagine how that was pitched during the game development meeting. While that toilet seat was repeated in other locations across the map, every time I encounter it, I can’t help but chuckle and be amazed.

Image from /u/korolija123

Simply put, exploring the world of Mad Max rewards the player with a lot of immersion points. Not only do you get a tick towards your completion status, but you may also discover hidden Easter eggs or at the very least, some interesting structures.

Image from Steam user Vaan. A reference to a scene from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Conclusion

I might have just liked the movie so much that anything Mad Max-related is immediately seen through rose-tinted glasses. However, I like to think that even as an objective gamer, this game has so much in it that makes it so good. It has it’s flaws, mainly that the gameplay is simple and thus, can be repetitive. Yes, this game is a grind, but the developers put so much heart and content into it that it makes the grind bearable and even, in my case, enjoyable. Playing through this game never felt like a slog. I had so many “just one more fort to dismantle before going to bed” moments and if I didn’t have any more games lined up, I’d be content with replaying this again. The most obvious flaw of this game is that it doesn’t have a sequel.

Mad Max gave me the experience of a good grind. Just like its movie counterpart, it doesn’t present itself as a very deep game. But if you take the time to really immerse yourself and experience what it has to offer, I can guarantee you will have a good time. This game is timeless, despite being released in 2015. Another must play game. With confidence, I can say that this is the second best game I’ve played during the 2020 quarantine era. Just a notch below Yakuza 0.

Things can get pretty wild in the wasteland

Thanks for reading and I hope you are all safe. Keep surviving.

-jgzn

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