Over the past year or so, we’ve been given an overwhelming quantity of open-world games. Bloodborne came into my heart and head last March, with a cryptic world of Gothicism and terror; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt became my early Game of the Year in May, and then, of course, we come to September 1st.
On the one hand, Metal Gear Solid V released as a masterpiece of stealth gaming in a war-ravaged landscape, while on the other, Mad Max offered a mundane region of repetition and chaotic, yet strangely dull, happenings. Its populace, manic; its car combat, ultimately fun. But what is not so spectacular is the general structure of its world. I can look past the flatness of the game’s story (which essentially boils down to “build a car!”) as a extension of its blank-slate protagonist, yet the makeup of what I shall call “busy work” is simply drab, irksome and unrelenting.
After partnering up with one of the most annoying characters in gaming history – a grotesque and fanatical mechanic named Chumbucket – Max is sent into the wasteland in search of parts for his V8 vehicle. In the beginning there is a certain sparseness to the land, that is until you reach the first fast-travel spot. From this point on, you’ll soon notice that which your current zone is flooded with map markers. These range from looting locations to enemy strongholds, to side missions, main missions and other points of supposed interest. While a bevy of content in an open world game may be desirable, the amount of onscreen markers before the second act even begins is overwhelmingly ridiculous. Assassin’s Creed Unity had a similar bout of clutter on its in-game map, but the size of Mad Max’s world makes the quantity, plus the travelling time between locations, even more massive. The map becomes a mash of red, blue, orange and green dots and lines, which is an unappealing sight to say the least.
Not only does this content span unendingly, but it isn’t even worthwhile or entertaining because everything thrives on repetition. It may have been fun to punch the life out of a group of pasty war boys the first dozen or so times but, come the 50th time, the joy has been thoroughly sucked out of every encounter. Picking up untold amounts of scrap and gasoline for your car becomes similarly tedious after ten plus hours of doing so. To contrast Mad Max with a superior game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, these “objectives” are completely meaningless, and add nothing to your overall experience except boredom. The Witcher treats random locations with care, by either providing some contextual storytelling through Geralt’s investigative techniques, or by giving you treasure chests full of powerful or sellable loot. Most importantly, however, the bogs, caves and farms of the Northern Realms are entirely optional.
Due to Mad Max’s dullness, I had decided to proceed on with the game to get it out of my life. This, despite my desires, was almost impossible, due to the fact that you eventually reach a nigh-on impassable stint of difficulty, requiring Max and his vehicle to be more powerful in order to progress. Not only is this frustrating for anyone just wanting to experience the story without obstruction, but it also meant that I had to go to many more ramshackle huts, find required bits and bobs, take down legions of wasteland degenerates and generally prolong my experience with an uninspired game not through my own choice, but through necessity. This artificial lengthening of the game is a far cry from the relaxed exploration of The Witcher 3. Even Fallout 4, for which I hold a certain apathy, allowed for a more plodding structure in spite of its chaotic world.
Mad Max is a game full of endless, awful and off-putting busy work. Its wastes are full of clutter and nothing feels naturally earned; all is dull, and everything is forced upon you like bad service at a restaurant handing out maggots and tinned dog food. In this world, I can certainly see why Max is mad: he can’t get the bloody red markers off his map.