Post Script

Why Mad Max suf­fers more than most from sand­box shop­ping-list syn­drome

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To say that earn­ing 100 per cent com­ple­tion in Mad Max will take some time is to wildly un­der­es­ti­mate the scale of the task. There are 128 chal­lenges to com­plete, 103 history relics to find, 37 camps to lib­er­ate, 32 ve­hi­cles to steal and steer back to base, and 13 hood or­na­ments to rip from their own­ers. The to­kens you earn from com­plet­ing chal­lenges will be spent boost­ing Max’s longevity, judge­ment, vo­li­tion, at­tune­ment, mu­ni­tion, me­tab­o­lism, essence, adap­ta­tion, chan­nelling and in­tu­ition, each of which has ten lev­els. And that’s be­fore you con­sider up­grad­ing his knuck­le­dusters, jacket, wrist ar­mour, ammo belt, head, shot­gun, skills and tools. As for the 18 cat­e­gories of aug­men­ta­tions for the Mag­num Opus, well, that’s a lot of scrap to pick up.

This kind of open-world bloat is hardly new. But is it re­ally nec­es­sary? Sales fig­ures sug­gest that au­di­ences don’t mind too much, though com­ple­tion sta­tis­tics for these games in­di­cate that they would ben­e­fit from los­ing some flab. So why so many ac­tiv­i­ties? The sim­plest an­swer is that peo­ple like it. There is, ad­mit­tedly, a cer­tain neat-freak plea­sure in mop­ping up those un­sightly icons. But there’s more to it than that. Games are ex­pen­sive, and con­sumers want value for money in terms of play­time. With that mind­set, some­thing that’s ser­vice­able for long pe­ri­ods and oc­ca­sion­ally bril­liant is prefer­able to some­thing con­sis­tently great but com­par­a­tively brief.

Con­sider, too, the de­vel­op­ers’ point of view. Games are ex­pen­sive to make and fresh me­chan­ics are costly to in­tro­duce. Lit­tle won­der, then, that many opt in­stead to fo­cus on a rel­a­tively nar­row range of ob­jec­tives and re­peat them with sub­tle tweaks in the hope that play­ers mightn’t al­ways no­tice.

Per­haps, then, the trick is not nec­es­sar­ily to shed any side con­tent, but to make it more mean­ing­ful. As ever, Rock­star han­dles this sort of thing bet­ter than most: the Grand Theft Auto games briefly in­tro­duce you to a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, then al­low you to leave them alone en­tirely. Its mis­sions, mean­while, find ways to guide you to­wards ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties with­out sim­ply pin­ning yet another marker to a part of the map you couldn’t con­ceiv­ably have vis­ited be­fore.

Al­ter­na­tively, there needs to be a com­pelling rea­son to wan­der off the beaten track. For all that more re­cent en­tries have in­tro­duced col­lectibles for the sake of col­lectibles, As­sas­sin’s Creed: Brother­hood’s Lairs of Ro­mu­lus con­tained op­tional park­our chal­lenges that were en­joy­able in and of them­selves, tak­ing place in uniquely at­trac­tive en­vi­ron­ments while of­fer­ing a tan­gi­ble re­ward for their com­ple­tion.

The prob­lem with Mad Max is sim­ply that it doesn’t do any of this par­tic­u­larly well. Pulling down scare­crow tow­ers with your har­poon presents no chal­lenge and of­fers scant re­ward. Most scav­eng­ing spots see you de­feat a small hand­ful of en­e­mies for a mea­gre amount of scrap. For each new strong­hold, you’re en­cour­aged to in­stall fa­cil­i­ties that will au­to­mat­i­cally top up your health gauge, your ammo belt and your can­teen, and re­cruit a crew that will re­trieve any scrap left be­hind by storms and car-on-car en­coun­ters. Es­sen­tially, you’re in­vest­ing time in the short term so that you can del­e­gate the game’s most bor­ing jobs. It’s telling, too, that Avalanche re­lies upon the con­stant pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment of con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages. ‘LO­CA­TION 100% LOOTED’ it booms af­ter you col­lect two pieces of scrap and one his­toric item, all by hold­ing down the X but­ton for two sec­onds.

In­cred­i­bly, all of this comes af­ter an ap­par­ent early mo­ment of self-aware­ness, as Chum­bucket of­fers what seems to be a meta­com­men­tary on the friv­o­lous na­ture of side quests. “Let’s just leave all holy mis­sions,” he mut­ters sar­cas­ti­cally, “and wan­der away on some aim­less pri­vate cru­sade.” Let’s not, eh?

With­out the clut­ter of the HUD, the waste­land has a stark beauty. It’s a pity you only see it like this in Photo mode

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