Find out what it feels like to be an utter failure in your job and life while comitting mass murder!
Max Payne is a terribly pathetic character. Typically in action games you play some kind of lovable rogue, or all-out action hero with a strong sense of patriotism or honour (however misguided). Max Payne is an alcoholic painkiller-addict hypocrite whose self loathing is only topped by his misguided sense of self-importance. In the past this was part of what made the series stand out; Max was always a misguided fool in a terrible situation, but you couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. Nearly a decade since the last entry we’re more used to fleshed out characters, and Max suddenly seems more ridiculous than tragic.
Max Payne 3 is a third person shooter. The first entry in a pre-established series to be made by ‘everything we touch turns to gold’ Rockstar, it has kept much of what made the series intact. Bullet-time can be used to slow everything down to a crawl as you dive gracefully through the air, planting bullets into the skulls of anyone in your path. At least in theory, in practice you often dive gracefully into office furniture or a dustbin, and thanks to Rockstar’s incredible animation system you get to watch Max untangle himself and get back on his feet, shamed and probably filthy. You plough through area after area through the ten hour campaign killing hundreds of thugs, paramilitary soldiers, and hired police.
The reason you’re committing this mass murder is much less clear this time round. It’s a criticism that has been levelled at many other games this generation, but it’s a valid one. In a story and character-based game, we need to understand the motives of the character we play. In previous Payne games you were avenging the deaths of your family at the hands of drug addicts and the corporations that created them. Much of it was questionable, but you could understand what he was doing. In this game Max is horrified by a number of acts of cruelty and murder perpetrated in front of him, and then he runs into the next room to shoot literally everybody in the face. In slow motion. At one point somebody threatens you in a bar, so you kill everybody. It just doesn’t add up, there’s very few levels in which you’re on the defensive and so I found it incredibly hard to sympathise with Payne.
The game is wonderfully stylised and although it eschews much of the noir-esque grittiness that was so pervasive in the first two games, broken camera effects and sinister characters keep it feeling like some kind of rough crime flick. Rockstar’s usual attention to detail is out in force and much of the world can be destroyed or interacted with. Fights in offices, graveyards, and on a luxury yacht quickly lead to the utter destruction of the environment and everything reacts as it would in a John Woo film. That is to say, it explodes and tumbles into a dusty confetti. The graphics engine itself creates some impressive scenes at times, but often chugs along when things get busy in certain areas, and nothing looks quite as sharp as in other games this generation. Faces in particular lack the realism of LA Noire, and due to the corridor-nature of the outside scenes the world doesn’t feel as spectacular as games like Red Dead Redemption. Sadly the mixture of a hyper-detailed world and the aforementioned animation system causes some unfortunate glitches, such as when I dived onto a bollard in a graveyard and Max curled up into a tiny ball and then sprang through the world to his untimely death.
Death is something you’ll come to experience a great deal in Max Payne 3. I played through the game on normal and many sections found me restarting five or more times in order to get through. Loading times aren’t too bad after the initial screen when you start the game, but checkpoints are often placed quite far apart and you can find yourself going through the same fights repeatedly. Sometimes this encourages you to think of different tactics but more often than not it frustrates, and completely breaks the immersion created by the world as you start seeing it in terms of available cover and enemy spawns. It’s not even that the game is particularly difficult, it’s just difficult if you play it in a fun way. If you take your time hiding and retreating, conserving your unusually previous and rare ammo, it’s easy. If you want to use all of the fun toys Rockstar has given you, you’re going to be looking at the game over screen as much as you’re actually playing.
The cover system itself is an unfortunate addition to the game. Many games have it nowadays and I can see why, in real firefights I imagine I would hide behind something. Cover is realistically shredded an d hiding behind a small wooden bench isn’t going to last very long. But then nor will you if you dive about in the open like you could in previous games. My fond memories of Max Payne revolve around diving into room, and then getting up and diving again, the silliness of these hyperactive gymnastics irrelevant in the face of how awesome it was to leap through the air firing two pistols. In this title you’ll be decimated if you don’t hide behind cover 80% of the time, and that’s just on normal. I managed to get through the more difficult checkpoints by just hiding and slowly picking each enemy off when they stopped to reload. It might be realistic but it sure isn’t stylish. There’s also the issue that Rockstar have still not managed to get cover systems right. In Red Dead, LA Noire and GTA IV at least you rarely have a need to move about quickly, but in the close confines of Max Payne, being stuck to one piece of cover is a nightmare. In order to switch between two pieces of cover, such as you are required to do in a boss fight, you need to manually detatch yourself from one piece of cover, stand up straight, move or dive over to the other, stand up, and then go back into cover. By then you’re usually dead. To it’s credit, there are some masterful touches, like if you get knocked to the ground by nearly being killed (if you have painkillers left over you stumble back and have a chance to shoot the one who killed you, if you succeed the painkillers are used and you’re saved, albeit in a broken heap on the floor) you can get back up and into cover in one (nearly) smooth motion.
Multiplayer shows some innovation with some Killzone-esque mode-changing on the fly and a brilliant implementation of the bullet-time mechanic, but the shooting still feels unresponsive and with short respawn times it becomes frantic and frenetic extremely quickly. I’m a fan of games in which people are encouraged to take their time, in Max Payne you are encouraged to rush out and fill people with bullets in your short lifespan before respawning and doing it all again. There’s a great progression and unlock system, and the much-lauded new Rockstar social club added in too. The Social club allows you to form cross-platform ‘crews’ (clans) and it tracks your stats on a website. If there are two or more of you in a game and you kill people from another clan enough it will also start a vendetta where you will get extra experience if you kill that crew, and will track your overall wins/losses. This is a fairly straightforward feature but it adds a lot to the fun of the game, providing you’re in a crew with enough people to make it worthwhile. The feature seems a little barebones at the moment, but we’ve been told it will transfer over to GTA V, where we can expect to see it really take off.
Overall Max Payne is a fun game, but a missed opportunity. For a weekend you can blast through the campaign (and I recommend going through on easy if you want to enjoy the story), and dip into multiplayer to see how it all works. I highly doubt it will last you much more than that, there’s little reason to replay the single-player when the difficulty is frustrating rather than fun. Max Payne doesn’t have the same storytelling hooks that GTA IV, Red Dead and LA Noire had to propel them to being unforgettable games. This is a competent third person shooter with a whiney protagonist. Have fun!
+ Amazing animations
+ Still feels at times like Max Payne
+ Nice range of locations
+ Innovative multiplayer
– Ridiculous story
– Sluggish graphics engine
– Unresponsive shooting
– You’ll die a lot