On a whim, and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I bought Avalanche Studios’ 2015 game Mad Max when it was on sale on for eighteen dollars. Here’s what I found. All screenshots taken on a Playstation 4.
Out of nowhere, breaking the wind-swept, sand-covered landscape, appears a plane fuselage. Half of it is buried in the ground, the other half protruding out over a small dirt road. The interior of the rusted structure has been converted into a shelter. Ladders installed, storage and bedding laid out. Even some rudimentary pots & pans are hanging up, albeit in disgusting condition. The mattress at the back of the shelter is putrid and stained. A coffee cup and can of dog food are the only recognisable comforts in this “home”. I’m not sure how long this place had been inhabited but it must have been a while.
I suppose I could have asked the lone resident however I shot him in the face as soon as I arrived. He had a sniper rifle but it was no match for my speed and double-barrel shotgun. It was only after his corpse dropped to the ground like a sack of oranges did I discover the life he had carved out for himself. This wasn’t part of a mission or something I set out to achieve. There was just this man living out here all by himself. Even with his tally of 28 kills scratched on his bedroom wall, I felt a pang of remorse. This desperate soul was just protecting what was his. Trying to survive one more day in this bleak, endless desolation. And I never hesitated in murdering him and ransacking his home. I even ate his dog food.
I found some decent scrap metal in his home though. Scrap that will help me build better armour for my car or wrist-guards for my arms. Every little bit helps. It all makes me more durable for the dangers that this gutted land presents every minute of every day. Everything I do is necessary for survival. To try and live in pain and despair a little longer to get a new engine or build that water purifier or gather enough materials for a maggot farm or find more fresh food or refuel the car or seek shelter from a lightning storm or choke a local gang’s gas supply or murder a camp of War Boys or destroy a 8-car convoy until there’s nothing left but carnage and flames. Or kill a lonely man living in a plane fuselage because he was going to kill me first.
Avalanche Studios are best known for the maniacal chaos of the Just Cause series which features increasing levels of violence and lunacy that fans eagerly devour with glee. So a quick detour between instalments for a movie-licensed game doesn’t seem like an ironclad lock of success. Also, its development didn’t inspire confidence. Suffering delays and redesign (including retooling the main character’s voice), Mad Max: The Game was released in September 2015. Coming four months after the world embraced the rebirth of the Mad Max film franchise with Fury Road, it didn’t even have some ever-reliable hype to coast on. Reviews were mixed, sales were somewhat positive. But it had the unmistakeable aura of a game that everyone just forgot to play.
Which was a mistake because Mad Max is quietly terrifying. The wasteland that Max inhabits is peppered with the remains of civilisation. Whether it is rusted structures or vehicles, memories of a life that made more sense are everywhere. However, the real knife in the stomach comes in the form of ‘History Relic’ collectables. Dog-eared faded photos of families, pets and suburbia captured just before the collapse can be found throughout the game. Typically accompanied with scribbled notes dripping with fear for the future or denial at what has already happened. A world before this beautifully depressing sand-covered apocalypse became reality.
Our world. The one we live in now. Max has all but forgotten it because survival has become his life but regret fills his eyes for the few moments when he stops moving.
Of course, this is nothing new for anything related to Mad Max. George Miller’s original film established this ruined world way back in 1979. But the key difference with Avalanche’s game is living in it. The day/night cycle presented here is one the longest I’ve ever encountered and as a result, time sometimes seems to slow to a crawl. That’s where this game sets itself apart. It forces you to embrace the day-to-day life of someone forced to traverse this oppressive, destroyed universe. Once you’re set in your ways and the story settles in, the routine of survival becomes monotonous. However, not in any way that seems unpleasant. It is vital to search for more water for your canteen. More outposts to destroy to reduce threat level in that area. More reasons to grow a beard and more reasons to talk to your trusty friend Chumbucket.
The wasteland is endless and overwhelming. Fires burn and bullets fly. Water, food and fuel are the main commodities because let’s face it, what else is there? There’s no hint of luxury or respite. If you don’t acquire the basics every day then you succumb to the dirt. So you’ll kill to do it. No laws are left and no moral requirements for people to act like anything but wild animals. Literally fighting over scraps of metal. Trying to live one more day in the unending sand.
There’s a point in Mad Max, and I’m sure it comes at different times for different people, in which surviving this environment becomes more disturbing that any number of haunted houses or zombie hordes. The first time Max ate maggots for protein I was disgusted but upon doing it again and again, it started to make sense. Maggots probably won’t kill you but starvation definitely will. Apart from the occasional can of dog food, there’s not many other choices on the menu. There’s hints of cannibalism in certain places but as far as we know, Max himself hasn’t reached that point of no return. There’s no restaurants out here. No fruits, grains or vegetables. The average lifespan of a human being must have been drastically reduced after decades in this land of desperation.
The disturbing moments start to pile up. There’s no doubt that people have gone crazy and kill each other on sight but there’s something deeper and uglier at play here. Something more plausible. An underlying acceptance that somehow, this is not only a credible road for humans to travel down but an almost logical one.
It’s more apparent than ever in the pre-apocalypse time of 2017 that humans, especially those in power, aren’t interested in preserving the future. The here and now is paramount and a selfish mindset is the most common course of action for dealing with any problems that may arise throughout the world. Not only that, but lack of foresight is very quickly making things worse. We can scream to the heavens about climate change but it’s been almost thirty years since McDonald’s stopped using styrofoam containers for the sake of the environment and we haven’t learned a thing. In fact, now we argue about whether the planet is in any danger at all. Meanwhile, we dig colossal holes in its surface and bleed its insides dry. And the sand-covered world of Mad Max creeps a little closer.
Who will witness this world? Our great-grandchildren? How many generations will it take before maggots become a necessary meal? What if, hold on to something here, what if you and I see it? At the end of our lives after seeing all the scaffolding that holds society together fall away piece by piece, what if our elderly bodies are no match to the radiation outside? Or the boiling heat and freezing cold that increases every year that humans exist? What if we spend our twilight years telling stories around campfires to young feral children about the days before the collapse? About the ways humans used to waste so much time and energy hating each other instead of trying to stop the inevitable?
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that if the planet’s global temperature was not maintained and rose to an increase of as little as two degrees centigrade, then such a collapse would begin. The extinction of certain species would naturally occur and billions of people would suffer hunger, drought and disease. The Himalayan glaciers would melt. Water supplies in Australia and South America would no longer be guaranteed. Agriculture would be severely impacted across the globe and low-lying islands would start to disappear under the ocean. Thirty percent of plant life would be decimated. All of these harrowing theories were laid out in this study. It stated that we as human beings stand a one-in-ten chance of these theories not becoming reality. In other word, very unlikely to avoid. By the way, the IPCC conducted the study in 2007. And they believed things would start to worsen in approximately ten years. Right about…now.
The dangerous wasteland roads couldn’t be carved out of the sand just because we lost a few plants. No, it requires more conviction. Governments that accelerate the end of society as we know it by taking progress out into the street and executing it in public. Widespread fascism would definitely help. Disdain for human rights and the arts. Intellectuals and independent media viewed with more and more hatred. A bigger divide between the haves and have-nots. Corruption out in the open for everyone to see but with nobody with the strength or power to stop it. Yes, all those things will have us eating maggots in no time.
All these realities swirl in the background of Mad Max much like the mini-tornadoes that need to be avoided on the dirt roads between rusted-out strongholds. A constant unease that everything you see on the horizon of this wasteland, from the bloodthirsty gangs to the lack of resources, is completely plausible. In an almost comfortable way. It’s as if we always knew that some day we would be all alone. Living inside a plane fuselage. Trying to defend what’s ours before we meet our inevitable end at the hands of a drifter with a shotgun.