So over the Winter Break, I finished Mad Max, a video game based on the Mad Max character and world, but not based on the movie Mad Max Fury Road. It is an original game using the character of Mad Max and the apocalyptic world that he inhabits as the focal points to tell a unique story. While I did finish it, I did also feel that it was a bit of a slog to get through (more on that later), but more than that, I had real issues with the way the story was told, or perhaps more accurately, how the story unfolded. According to my year-end Playstation stats, it was the 3rd game that I spent the most time on this year, clocking in at about 124 hours.
Part of my issue is that the story was really very good up until the final missions of the game. Essentially, (without massive spoilers) the game is essentially a massive “rebuilding” operation where you do various missions for various “faction” heads and then “build” up that faction. The missions were side missions, but they also acted as “gating” missions, meaning that your progress was locked (i.e., “gated”) until you completed the side missions/story mission for that faction. The way it worked seemed to imply that at the end of the game, these “factions” would aid you in your story after you had done all of the things you could to help them–alas, this was not the case.
The “Circular” Story
In the last few missions of the game, your character (again, no spoilers) makes several choices in the cut-scenes of the game that you as the player probably would not have made and you’re left with the ramifications of the choices that he’s made. For an open world game that is all about player agency and choice, the story oddly takes the narrative out of your hands in the most unsatisfying of ways. In games like this, there are sometimes multiple endings (InFamous series springs to mind), but most often than not, the ending is the same, but little things are able to be changed here and there so that even though the ending is the same, the choices that you made seemed to have mattered (even if, in truth, they did not). MM doesn’t even give you the illusion of choice–you see the moment when the creative director rips control from your hands and see the results of the outcome and then the game gives you back control. Worse yet, the character doesn’t learn anything from the experience. He goes back to being the exact same character that he was in the beginning of the game, which leads to a Why does this even matter question after one finishes the game.
The Audience changes, but the Character Does Not
In this game, the story wants the audience to feel for a character who doesn’t feel at all. I can understand that narrative, but I also question it. One of the reasons Hamlet works is because we see that Hamlet, the prince, is conflicted. Hamlet isn’t dead inside like Mad Max, but Hamlet feels–one might argue that Hamlet feels too much and that because he doesn’t just kill the king when he has the opportunity, he sets in motion his own downfall. MM falls into that nihilistic category that modern storytellers seem to love so much: let’s not change our character, but let’s instead change our audience. Let’s tell them this really (insert adjective here–gory, sad, disgusting, etc.) story and then destroy everyone except the hero and then watch him or her ride off into the sunset. This will wring pathos from our audience. I was really disappointed with the way the story turned out–if it is an open world game, then please give me, the player, agency over the story. That’s what video games are all about and that is the strength of the medium over other mediums, say books or movies. Let the player decide the outcome of the story, rather than the other way around.