Due Diligence: Diary of a Madman
Leigh Harrison braves the wasteland.
I was somewhat inebriated when I purchased Mad Max at about midnight. I slept on the sofa for a number of reasons, and now it’s six in the morning. I’m feeling rough, though still don’t regret that decision. My brain is mush, you see, dripping out my nose and onto my oversized plaid “hangover shirt”. I’ve chosen to pair it with no underwear, so my bare bottom is sticking to the chair as I write this confession. It’s clear I’m not able to do anything more involved than roam mindlessly around a new open world. This is unfortunate because I’m due at work in three hours.
I’m not going to be hungover forever. Once I do recover, I’ll soon tire of whatever stuff Mad Max thinks constitutes a videogame. I know this dismal premonition to be true. I can feel it in my very bones. Thus, I’m taking the radical step of keeping a diary of our inevitably doomed relationship. I can’t know for sure, but I think this might become somewhat fractious.
Day 1 — Thursday
Do you know how many different versions of the David Bowie song Changes I have in my record collection? Seven at last count. There’s the original from 1971’s Hunky Dory. Three standard live renditions from David Live, Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture, and Bowie at the Beeb. I’ve a confident, pouty, theatrical live recording from 1972 on the special edition of Aladdin Sane. Then there’s the unique arrangement found on the legacy reissue of Station to Station. This one features synths, keyboard, pounding bass drum, and, best of all, cowbells. And not to forget the version from A Reality Tour, which sees a jovial Old Man Bowie having a lot of fun with a song he first recorded three decades prior.
That’s seven versions of the same song. Five of these sound, even to my own Bowie-obsessed ears, like one another. I mention this only because I’ve the feeling Mad Max might be akin to my Changes hoarding. The game seems both gratuitously scoped and samey, and I’m only 90 minutes in. One might say it fails to offer enough ch-ch-ch-ch-changes to its formula. But it’s early days, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Day 3 — Saturday
Didn’t do any Mad Maxing yesterday because it was Friday and I had to socialize and get drunk again. Remedied that today by shutting out the sun with curtains and my loved ones with headphones.
There is something about it, but I’m still not sure what it is yet. The familiarity might help, because it’s just bits of other games smooshed together. It has the brown, empty world of Red Faction: Guerrilla, where my only real goal is to break things. There’s the satisfying punch-block-counter combat of the Batman Arkham games. And of course, it’s got the compulsion-inducing “complete 18 more side activities” structure of Far Cry. Oh, and I have a car to drive around in and upgrade, which I suppose the self-promoter in me should liken to The Crew (totally already written about it). It’s a funny mishmash, but it’s stirring something within my admittedly already churning stomach.
Day 4 — Sunday
After a weekend of nothing but Mad Max, I’m finally getting a grip on what I like in it. It’s a dull picnic, one featuring only pots of plain hummus, eight tiny sausages, and unlimited cheap fizzy wine. That is to say, there’s lots of it, most of it is bland, the good bits are fleeting, and while it gives you a headache after a while, it’s there so I may as well continue consuming it. I’m finding enjoyment in its unashamed mediocrity, basically.
Even after an entire weekend, I’m still working my way through the game’s post-tutorial opening area. Called “The Great White”, it’s the big old expanse where the sea used to be before the apocalypse, and it makes up about a quarter of the gameworld. It’s divided into five smaller districts, each of which I need to “clear of Lord Scrotus’ influence”. We all know what this means, don’t we? Lord Scrotus is the game’s rarely seen or interacted with Big Bad, and he’ll relinquish his grip on the land once I’ve done a laundry list of repetitive activities.
These distractions include tearing down scarecrows and sniper towers with my car-mounted harpoon (hummus). Fistfighting my way through enemy camps to blow something up (fizzy wine). Murdering one of the two copy-pasted, recycled bosses in their castles (limited-supply sausages). And chasing down and eliminating a convoy of vehicles with my weapon-toting super car (a sausage/fizzy wine cocktail). There’s also an endless supply of collectable currency called scrap to pilfer from the world, and minefields to clear. Neither of these fit into the picnic metaphor because they are beyond horrible. “Force them in,” you say? Fine. They’d be the soggy ground atop a septic tank you unwittingly pitched your blanket on. Better?
I’m off to bed.
Day 10 — Saturday
Spent most of today dutifully doing as I was told. Did I do the vacuuming, the bathroom, and the hob at the behest of an overburdened loved one? No. No I didn’t. I spent my second weekend in a row in Mad Max’s Wasteland.
I’ve developed a solid strategy for dashing through the game with maximum efficiency. Turns out The Great White is made up of two areas (so 10 districts; roughly half the game), and a plan is necessary to avoid wasted time. Here’s my routine so far, with District No. 8, Chalkies, as a guide:
- Unlock fast travel location (1) through tedious climbing/fetching/killing — 5–20 minutes
- Destroy scarecrows (5) and sniper towers (2) — 15 minutes
- Take down convoy (1) — 10 minutes
- Attack camps (4), fight through them, blow something up or a kill boss the developers lost interest in designing — 60–120 minutes
- Leave minefields (2) alone because they are enjoyment poison — 0 minutes (16 minefields banked, 3 mines each. 48 mines and counting — 160 minutes overall)
- Drive between all of the above, fighting off enemies and turning in quests — 45–90 minutes
Like an overworked cleaner in a budget hotel, I’m finding this checklist invaluable. Even at maximum efficiency I’m looking at about 220 minutes per district, which, when extrapolated out over all 16 in the game, is at least 59 hours. Imagine how long I’d take without a bit of direction? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Day 11 — Sunday
Now I have my flow I’m totally into it. It’s a lot like all those years I spent making DVDs, actually. While I never really enjoyed it, there was a sense of satisfaction to be had. I used to encode audiovisual files for translators, so I’d take endless reams of films, TV shows, and bonus features and squeeze them down to be worked on. There was all sorts of technical knowhow needed, but it all boiled down to me performing innumerable variations on the same few tasks really quickly. Mad Max is a lot like this, except I don’t have to deal with reprehensible medyah types.
Scarecrows, sniper towers, and convoys all receive the same treatment. I shoot them with my harpoon and then drive away. That’s it. The thing I’m finding so bewitching and compelling is the huge number of enemy encampments I’m dismantling. I’ve been through about half of the 60 or so in the game, and am still finding them enjoyable.
Like the rest of Mad Max, the formula doesn’t change. First I roll up in my death car and tear down/blow up an array of defensive sniper towers (you can never have enough in your open world), grenade launchers, and flamethrowers. Then I methodically comb through the place on foot, beating its inhabitants with my bare fists or a big stick, before blowing up an oil well or smashing in the face of one of the clone bosses. Then it ends, and I move onto the next one to do it all again.
I’m going through Stockholm syndrome with the camps. As with those five versions of Changes, they are identical save for minor rearrangements. The same buildings, fences, walls, ziplines, gates, tunnels—enemies, even, are used in them all, they’re just shuffled around every time. I’m now fascinated by these variations; obsessive in my search to see how the game will keep trying to squeeze out spaces from the same building blocks.
Every new attack on an outpost is a chance to see where the blue bus will be this time, who stands where, or how many ladders I’ll have to climb to reach the switch that lowers my old friend The Bridge. I love that bridge. The way it hangs there, majestically blocking my way. Its cold, hard, angled surface like the stern glare of countless disappointed teachers. It never says anything, but I know it’s silently testing my intellect. “How long will it take him to figure this one out?” The Bridge asks itself. “Will I finally outfox him?” It never does, because the switch is bright yellow and always nearby, but I know The Bridge, in its regal silence, is always, and on a deeply human level, willing me to succeed.
Thank you, dear friend. Your guidance makes me a better person.
Day 15 — Victoryday
Raise the flag and sound the horns! I’ve done it! I’ve cleared the whole Great White to 100% completion!
Even with my Super Plan I was getting bogged down, so I took a week off work to attend to my true calling full time. And now, now I am bathed in riches and warm fuzzy feelings. Hark! I am the saviour of The Wasteland: the detestable Lord Scrotus has been banished from these lands—now to finish the job and end him.
At about 3 a.m. I was finally able to return The Great White to its rightful owners, the ruthless warlord Jeet and the snake oil salesman-cum-quasi religious leader Gutgash. The Great White is back in the right hands.
As a byproduct I also received a number of vehicle upgrades to aid me in my righteous quest, and am now able to drive faster and kill more delinquents than I ever dared dream of.
Tis a sweet day indeed.
Day 17 — Death
The blood of my enemies stains my hands, their cracked bones shattering into dust and covering my very soul with flecks of victory.
I am death incarnate, riding a hot rod straight through the torso of humanity’s ills.
Scrotus: I am coming for you.
I will cleanse. I will tear. I will purge.
Day 20 — Rebirth
The impenetrable heat of the desert burns in my chest.
The malcontents who up until today “employed” me have cast me out. So too has my partner of five years. “You have a problem,” they said. “You are obsessed with a videogame representation of a fictional cinematic universe. It has to stop. We will help you.” Do I need their help? Does The Wasteland need their help? No. Only I, through gritted, furry teeth, can save them. I must only clear another six districts of the Scrotus scurge. To stop now would doom us all.
My quest is nearing its end.
Day 49 — Emptiness
My quest was not nearing its end.
Liberating the lands of Pink Eye and Deep Friah took longer than I anticipated. Where once there had been joy, I found only crushing despair. Hundreds of scarecrows and sniper towers. Thousands of faceless enemies. A million pieces of scrap. Each one swirling in my head, willing me onwards whilst also ripping me apart.
How many times must I do this? Have I already been here before? Does my quest have end, or is it cyclical; an inescapable eternal torment?
Who would build a world so vast and striking, yet so utterly devoid of variety, enjoyment, or simple choices?
Am I dead already?
Day — jergffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
Scrotus is dead.
I am alone.
I have all along been merely a tool in a much larger plan.
Nothing mattered. Nothing was real.
My quest was hollow and without reason, simply a distraction from the truth: there is no love or justice left in the world. My enemies walk once again, resurrected by the unseen hand which will rule over me for eternity. Weeks of my time spent achieving nothing. A life forever tainted by a struggle which ended by folding back on itself and becoming its own beginning.
Mediocre futility. Personified.
Someone, somewhere is laughing at me.
Leigh Harrison lives in London, works in communications for a medical charity, and owns a hamster. He likes canals and rivers a great deal, and spends a lot of his time walking. He occasionally says things about videogames on the Internet, and other things on The Twitter.