Contemporary games have escalated into a tendency to stack multiple gameplay systems on each other. I have been playing Mad Max for the first time since I got it from PS plus and I wanted to write something about it for a while, I found this to be a very good time to go over this game since it has been announced that the new Rage game will be developed by Avalanche, the same team that made Mad Max (2015).
In a small detour, I should talk about the first Rage (2010). I got it for my Xbox 360 with few expectations, knowing that whatever it was it should be at least a fun game, since it was developed by id software, one of the few developers I knew by name in those times. Remembering it now, years without revisiting it, except through videos on YouTube, Rage was a strange game, its design and graphical qualities were pretty obvious but it always seemed as an unfinished game. Even though these words (unfinished) seem to be thrown around a lot by the hordes of frustrated video game enthusiasts, it is very true to Rage. It was a beautiful and interesting game, but it never appeared to be more than a tech demo or something of that kind. Rage lacked mechanical complexity, with its limited set of enemies, guns, and a boomerang (that was by far the most innovative gameplay in the whole game) it could only do so much. Its car handling and story missions were also strangely lacking any personality. In its most interesting elements, Rage was a nice promise of a game, one that had clearly taken influence from the world of Mad Max to create a linear, repetitive, but beautiful desert landscape. The narrative of Rage was so forgettable that I can only remember that the player’s character awoke in a kind of vault/spaceship at the beggining of the game. From that moment on, I have forgotten every bit of story there was.
So, getting back to Mad Max, in my experience it’s a similar game to Rage, not only in its themes and landscape, but in the sense that it lacks personality and complexity. Of course, it is a much denser game than Rage. It has multiple gameplay systems, like upgrades for your characte, your vehicle and to allied strongholds . It is definitely influenced by a certain Ubisoft open world game formula and that hurts the game a lot. Everything becomes a number on the menu, from the “scrap”(the game’s currency) you collect to the power of your car, in an intense attempt to make the game not about its mechanics but about seeing bigger numbers on the screen. The game’s tasks become mundane and repetitive very early, like taking down “scarecrows” and enemy camps. Ever since I started playing Mad Max I kept thinking how it seemed as if I was playing Shadow of Mordor all over again, or even Far Cry 4 in some ways. Even Just Cause 3, made by Avalanche, already had its fair share of boring repetitiveness, contrasting with the fun and more chaotic style of the previous installment.
Those, however, are not the same “flaws” as Rage had, of course, instead of lack of systems, Mad Max sins for overusing formulaic solutions to keep its map populated by activities. This tendency for open world games following the same sets of mechanics (climbing on tower or balloon to reveal the map, take out enemy outposts,unlock upgrades, etc.) is taking a toll on interesting games. I can only imagine what a game Mad Max could have been if it were stripped of these gameplay loops and became a more constrained and deep experience. In the bigger picture, these overcrowding of open world games seems to come from the attempt of publishers and video game developers to answer the angry consumers that define a game’s value based on the number of hours one can spend playing them. I’m not saying this is an illegitimate request, rather, it seems to be transforming games into aberrations, squeezing hours of repetitive chores into games that could have been much more interesting if only they were smaller. It is this kind of opposition between use value(represented by the hours played) and exchange value(the 60 dollar standard price for triple-A games) that is hurting the industry. Developers are more and more pressured to create games that are bursting with hours of content, even if that means hours of boring content. A clear example of this kind of pressure was the absurd upgrades and collectibles put into Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, transforming a minimalist game structure in a systematic and repetitive nightmare.
Well, to finish off, I turn to the news that there’s a Rage 2 in production made by the same developers that made Mad Max and the Just Cause series. After hearing this news, I was divided, a part of me was really happy, because Rage had a lot of potential and because Mad Max is, in some ways, a fun game to play, especially in its combat and vehicle gameplay, on the other hand I was concerned of what this game can end up becoming, a messy sum of trending game mechanics that ends up being not very good. In a last note I really hope some balance can be reached and we can get a complete Rage we never got and the smaller, better Mad Max we wish we had.