The Mad Max game (2015) is loaded with small details that make the world feel like a living breathing entity. The wasteland is full of lore and history which shows in every area. Everything in the environment was placed with gentle care. Quest items are hinted at through decorations in the world. To illustrate this, I’ve collected the top five small details that make Mad Max great.
- Thrall Rustlers: Slavery plays a big part in the wasteland. A handful of main characters are slaves. Nearly every camp has slave cages. The player hears a lot of discussion about the slave trade, yet there aren’t slave caravans or opportunities to free slaves in the game. What there is however, is a very interesting idea.
They only appear in one mission before Max wipes them out, but the Thrall Rustlers have a very cool concept. A slaving guild that only kidnaps people with strange deformities or useful skills. Had this been developed a bit more, this could have been an impressive faction. For the Thrall Rustlers quest, I would have enjoyed seeing Max use Chumbucket as bait (since he is a renowned mechanic with a deformity), then follow the slavers to their hideout. This would also better establish the relationship between Max and Chum. There was a lot of opportunity in this quest for something really interesting, if only it had been given an extra push.
- Christmas in Underdune: Upon driving into the legendary Underdune for the first time, I was floored by the amount of detail. The player is tasked with getting a garland of electric lights from this buried airport. What’s impressive is that it’s not without reason. There is a logical explanation as to why there are electric lights in Underdune.
It was Christmas time before the fall. The player can recognize this as soon as they enter the airport’s largest cavern. The lobby is decorated with hanging metal wreathes, long ago stripped of their leaves, but still identifiable because of the ribbons hanging from their bases. There’s also a large golden star hanging from the ceiling in that same cavern.
It’s one thing to send players into a deathtrap for a McGuffin, it’s another to let them know why the item is there. This is great environmental storytelling.
- Livable Camps: Every camp in the wasteland looks like a place that people could realistically live in. Care was taken to add animals cages, beds, toilets, and knick knacks to every single location. Again, the world doesn’t just feel lived in, it feels alive. At certain locations (specifically scavenger locations in Dump), Warboys can be seen gazing upon the landscape or resting in their beds. Unlike the raiders in Fallout 3, who are on constant patrol for enemies, the Warboys in Mad Max have duties (though small and scripted) beyond waiting for the player to show up. It’s a small detail, but it brings the world to life.
- Max’s Leg: You can’t have Mad Max without his iconic leg brace. Avalanche took great care with this seemingly tiny detail. When Max falls from a great height, he struggles to walk for a few dozen steps. The farther Max falls, the greater his injury. During my last playthrough, Max fell down a slope somewhere in Gutgash territory. When he finally stood up, I realized he was actually holding his brace and was unable to move for a few seconds. This tiny detail adds a lot of character, separating Max from other generic video game protagonists. Knowing that someone took the time to animate Max holding his leg, the player can tell that a lot of love went into this game.
5. Language: I’ve often thought what separates good fiction from great fiction is in-universe language and phrases. Tolkien created the Elven language for the world of Middle Earth. Frank Herbert included a glossary with Dune. Likewise, the Mad Max game reflects a world where society has collapsed and formal education is a myth. Phrases become muddled. Letters and numbers disappear as tribal cultures takes over the wasteland.
Occasionally while passing a balloon, Chumbucket will say (and this is reflected in the subtitles) “Look! A Hoddarballoon!” This is a great and subtle example of a fluid wasteland language. Chumbucket has never seen the words “hot air balloon” in writing, he only imitates what others have said until the three words become one muddled idea. This is just one instance of how the developers changed language in Mad Max; combined with other terms like “Kamakrazee” and “Lighties,” the player understand that this world is not the same Max was born into.
Furthering the collapse of the English language in the Wasteland, the player will notice that written language has been replaced with hieroglyphics. Carved into a flatscreen in Deep Friah’s temple is a sacred location described through pictures. This is the first of several treasure hunts involving pictures. During other quests, Max will hunt for treasure using images of the old world, rather than specific locations. Written English only exists on crumpled photographs and weathered road signs. This is surprisingly effective in building the theme that the civilized world is gone forever.