So, I’ve been smashing words together to write this review for about two months. It’s been mostly complete for at least 6 weeks of those two months, but I haven’t posted because… reasons, or something. So here it is, presented to the internether (that’s internet/ether, you with “but that’s not a word” shut up), no more screwing about.
Max Payne was modern gaming innovation incarnate. The noir story and gritty, graphic novel presentation, coupled with solid over-the-shoulder shooter mechanics and oh-so-awesome bullet time, won Max Payne a place in the heart of many a gamer. The sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, expanded on the series and earned a proud place beside the first. Years later, a very different Max Payne is released to a much changed gaming world…
Max Payne 3 sees our titular anti-hero come stumbling from the personal tragedy of his first two videogame outings in a boozy haze. The gritty noir cop on an unintentional drug bender is swopped out for a bald, angry gringo carrying the baggage to make the ugliness of the man understandable to boot. I find Payne to be a believable character, not so much in the feats of gun-wizardry he pulls off but in that I could see how this train-wreck of a man could conceivably exist given his story.
The campaign sees Max working private security for a wealthy Brazilian family. An easy job of
keeping watch drinking too much at his employer’s various high-life parties. That is, until all hell breaks loose and he fails to protect his charges. The story follows our one-liner quipping “rent-a-clown” Max as he bullet-time-dive’s his way through assorted nightclubs, favela neighborhoods, fancy offices, luxury yachts, flash-back Noir New York, and others in an effort to rescue the still-living members of his employer’s family, and exact revenge for those a little less alive. The story plays a familiar beat for Max, given his history, but it’s played well and there’s an improvisation or two to be heard – even if Max’s cynical narration can get a bit much at times.
In terms of presentation, the grainy comic-book narrative stylings of the first two games are gone. The narrative is now presented with a bloom-happy cut-scenes-in-panels approach. Considering the change in scenery that MP3’s Brazilian setting brings to the party, the new approach works. To have rehashed the old methods, excellent as they were, would have felt like a shoe-horned throwback. Rockstar needed to make their mark or risk outing an underwhelming effort by not using their creative license.
On the game- and gun-play fronts, things are superb. Often did John Woo’s Stranglehold come to mind (an under-appreciated gun-play gem), with enough input from the previous Max Paynes to make things feel right. The great animation engine powering character movement really also helps the gun-play stand out. While making for the occasional lol-worthy moment as characters stumble about trying to find footing, Rockstar’s use of NaturalMotion’s Euphoria engine, which powers GTA IV’s character movement though is much improved here, lends a physicality and unpredictability to character movement that is an immersion-builder of note. Performing side-lunges through doorways while dual-wielding SMGs in sweet, sweet bullet-time like only Max Payne can do is a blast, perhaps even more so than before (gasp!). There’s a cover mechanic, of course, but it’s simple enough to use and doesn’t get in the way if you don’t.
Visually, Rockstar’s Rage-engine is easy on the eye. Environments look like places that actual people might frequent, with the expected detritus scattered about and moving appropriately in response to the player, and pretty good views can be had. The visuals also serve to highlight Max’s typically-intoxicated view of the world, with blurry outlines of scenes briefly lingering in front of you now and then. Sound wasn’t especially noteworthy, but it’s far from poor (I’m no audiophile, but there was nothing bad enough for me to specifically notice it).
One particularly jarring issue, however, is Max’s seeming inability to protect people despite being the superior gun-fighting machine that the game lets you make him. This is a necessary aspect of the overarching narrative but it can really feel like there are things that Max should be able to achieve given the acrobatics and gun-slinging the player has had him do not moments ago.
Level design provides a further gripe: while not bad, there’s typically only one path through most areas which hurts replayability. Sure, there are side-rooms and dead-end passages hiding story clues, collectibles, painkillers (yes, those are still present and this new-fangled health regen only goes so far, like before), weapons and ammo, but those remain just that: side-rooms and dead-end passages.
So, how’d Max do on his Brazilian vacation? Pretty well, I say. Rockstar delivered an excellently designed and presented, albeit guided, gaming experience. I had my reservations about how this classic property would be handled, but Max Payne 3 is worthy of the name and I’m glad to have bought it. Bullet-time may not be the newest spectacle on the block anymore, but this release has studied its old man’s tricks and learned them well, capably incorporating them into its own solid act.
Pro’s: excellent gun-play compliments the “cinematic” (sorry) bullet-time; well-handled and presented narrative; animation is teh sekz (also lulz, at times); well-built environs; dat theme :3.
Con’s: linear design feels guided and hurts replayability; cut-scenes divorce narrative and gameplay; narration can get overbearing.