By now, it’s probably not surprising to share the opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action movies in recent years. George Miller’s first new addition to the film series in 30 years is fantastic for a lot of reasons. There are the memorable new villains, like the hulking, nightmarish Immortan Joe and his paint-huffing War Boys. There’s Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy’s excellent portrayals of Imperator Furiosa and Max. But, most of all, there’s the momentum of the story itself, which essentially consists of two or three constantly escalating (but wonderfully measured) action sequences. Though there’s proper exposition and a cast of characters who develop throughout the movie, Fury Road manages to consist almost entirely of a prolonged high-speed chase. It rarely lets up at any point, keeping its viewers invested by almost never giving them a chance to catch their breath.
This refreshing approach makes Fury Road stand out from other recent action films. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of movies emulating it in the years to come—but is it possible for videogames to be paced this way, too?
Avalanche Studios’ recently released Mad Max title would seem like a good fit. Like Fury Road, the game is centred on automotive combat. As Max, the player drives around a desert wasteland, trying to secure essential survival supplies while coming under attack by groups of vicious post-apocalyptic gangs. There’s hand-to-hand combat, sure, but just as much attention is paid to putting cars up against each other as mechanical fighters. The player can ram other vehicles, shotgun marauders who’ve jumped onto their hood, and rip apart their enemy’s ride with a harpoon.
All of this is good and, most importantly, essential to capturing the feel of the Mad Max films. But the car combat is never sustained enough to match the pace of Fury Road—or The Road Warrior’s final scenes. Each encounter is a miniature battle that plays out over a handful of minutes. The player makes it through the car-to-car fight then continues on their way. While I’ve only played its first few hours, it seems like Mad Max never makes a real attempt to stretch its action sequences over a period of time even close to its film counterparts.
That’s not its fault. The game certainly has problems, but, since it isn’t trying to be Fury Road, comparing the two isn’t meant as a criticism. Instead, it’s an observation: games have never really managed to provide long-form action that’s paced as exactingly as Fury Road.
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted—especially Uncharted 2: Among Thieves—comes closest. Many of its most famous levels (like Drake fighting his way across a train as it rolls through the mountains or shooting his way through a series of collapsing apartment buildings) manage to pack a ton of action into lengthy, uninterrupted scenes. The Call of Duty series accomplishes something similar in its best missions, seamlessly moving the player from tense stealth to all-out gunfights in a single sequence.
Just the same, even these games are forced to slow down at some point for the simple fact that they’re far longer than a typical movie. Even the most relentlessly-paced titles force the player to pause during loading screens or restart sections because the protagonist has been killed. The structure of the medium means there’s no easy way to create action scenes that can stretch throughout the entire length of the experience.
Nonetheless, Fury Road’s structure is sure to have impressed action game designers who, consciously or not, will keep its lessons in mind and attempt to emulate its pace in their work. And, more directly, a developer working outside of the mainstream—not committed to matching a long hour count with a retail price point—could create an action game that focuses on nothing more than maintaining the same momentum as Fury Road over a similar length of time.
Regardless of the form, I’m hopeful that games will find ways to pace their action in a manner as unique and gratifying as Fury Road. Maybe it won’t come from an interactive take on Mad Max, but the cultural impact made by George Miller’s film is large enough that it seems like only a matter of time before its influence is felt in videogames.