5 Ways To Build A More Perfect Mad Max Video Game

5 Ways To Build A More Perfect Mad Max Video Game

The 2015 Mad Max game is back in the conversation around the release of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. TikTok virality has propelled the game back into the conversation, with deciding to feed it straight into the cultural reappraisal machine. Here’s the thing, though: are those people wearing nostalgia goggles? Perhaps cherry-picking specific mechanics they liked and overlooking their place in the game’s wider experience?

Yes, they are (sorry). I reviewed Mad Max shortly before its launch in 2015. At the time, I gave it a 6.5 rating, and I still stand by that. It’s an open-world game that is content with being merely fine. Though I liked the decision to make Max’s car a central pillar of the game’s design, there were many other aspects that felt undercooked. Its use of Batman: Arkham combat felt appropriately heavy but also more calculated and precise than a post-apocalyptic brawl should feel. The open world was vast but also very empty — and yes, okay, before any of your wise arses gets in the comments: I know it’s a desert and deserts are empty, but it’s also a video game, and there should also be some shit to do from time to time.

But because I kept seeing it pop up on my For You page, I found myself thinking about Mad Max again. I started thinking about ways I’d improve it, and I think I have enough to spin into a bit of Content if you’ll indulge me. (Yes I know the US did a similar type of piece the other day but whatever I’m doing my own one.)

1. Let’s really drill down on the car

As I said, I think the focus on Max’s car is one of the smartest decisions Avalance made during the development of Mad Max. Taking Max’s beloved V8 away from him and asking him to build a new car (dubbed the Magnum Opus) from scratch is great gear. I think we can go further with it, however. I want a truly bonkers amount of customisation. I want to feel like every scrap of metal, every spare part I find, can be used to turn the car into a monster. Let me cover it in spikes, let me bolt forklift arms to the front. I want to craft a flamethrower and then attach it to the roof. There’s so much to be lined from a crafting and customisation-led approach, and it allows both mechanics to feel weighty and meaningful. It also means that no two cars will be the same. In a perfect world, I’d like to take my heavily customised car into an online Destruction Derby-style lobby (though that is another pretty significant job developmentally).

2. We gotta do something about this open world

Like I said, the open world in Mad Max was a bit … empty. I get it; deserts are empty. This is also screen-accurate — all of the movies, including Furiosa, depict the Wasteland as being a big empty desert with only pockets of civilisation. That’s fun world-building for a movie, but for a game, it leads to long periods of driving over dunes with few points of reference. I think the open world should be a little busier. You could find a story reason for it to exist — maybe Max has found his way further towards the coast, where most of Australia’s population historically lives. Perhaps that buys you a license for a slightly more crowded version of the Wasteland.

Keep me on my toes while I’m driving around out there, too. I want to use my car for stuff—jumps and stunts. Maybe I can lay traps on the Fury Road to catch travelling conveys and yoink their resources. Maybe I get set upon by dune raiders, and it kicks off a car fight. There are loads of options for in-transit entertainment.

3. Bring Back The Nemesis System

Zooming in a little, I think (like most open-world games) that Mad Max could benefit from Monolith’s Nemesis System. The way Nemesis worked in Monolith’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War games was it created hierarchies among the orc ranks. Eliminating lieutenants on the lower end of the chain of command could draw the higher-ups out of hiding, giving you an opportunity to kill or capture them. You could use this to take territory from Sauron’s forces and put it to use for yourself. This isn’t necessarily a great fit for a Mad Max game — Max mostly just wants to be left alone — but it would be useful for making the territories of Wasteland warlords feel more reactive.

One of the most loved aspects of the Nemesis System was that it made your more powerful foes feel a little bit more alive. Each of them would have innate strengths and weaknesses — some were highly superstitious, and so barricaded themselves in heavily fortified bases. Some had specific fears, like wargs, that could be preyed upon. It also gave your foes a long memory. If you attempted to stealth your way into their stronghold and eliminate them quietly, only to fail, your enemies would remember it and make changes to their defences to stop you from trying it again. It made the open world feel reactive in a way others frequently fail to do.

Mad Max could benefit from this because WB Games, owner of the IP, owns the Nemesis System. It patented it so that no one else could use it. But if it owns Mad Max, and it does, that puts Nemesis back on the table. Imagine grappling with insane Wasteland denizens that are wise to your bullcrap? That is as determined to stop you as you are to stop them? That sounds great to me.

4. Local Cryptid Max Rockatansky

A point that I think gets overlooked in the Mad Max canon is that Max himself is a bit of a mystery. No-one really knows anything about him, but he seems to be involved in anything. He’s the closest thing the Wasteland has to a folk hero or maybe a cryptid like Bigfoot. People speak about him in campfire stories, the tales getting wilder and wilder. I think it would be cool if the games leaned into this inherent bit of mythmaking by tying Max’s character progression or skill trees to the growth of his Wasteland legend. As you topple Wasteland generals, your legend and your notoriety grow. The spreading of tall tales about your adventures translates to higher and higher branches on the skill tree. Max’s moveset could become more outlandish with every new unlock to match his legend. At the very least, I feel like this is one way to make a skill tree more interesting, as opposed to simply being there for the sake of it.

5. Do we even need to play as Max at all?

Given the popularity of Furiosa as a character, there’s a question worth asking: do we even need Max as a playable character? Everything I’ve described could be as easily accomplished with Furiosa herself in the lead. She even gets a cool mechanical arm you could upgrade, opening those crafting opportunities up even more! Or you could potentially have both Max and Furiosa, and have them play very differently from one another — both survivors, but Max more of a direct brawler and Furiosa more calculating.

Anyway, there you are—an incredibly loose and far-reaching list of things I’d love to see in a potential new Mad Max game. What did you think of the old one? What would you like to see in a new one? Get in the comments, and let me know.

Image: WB Games, Warner Bros Pictures, Kotaku Australia

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