On this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog: I shoot people whilst diving through the air, become numb from taking too many painkillers and monologue
I played the previous entries of the Max Payne franchise years ago and I remember seriously enjoying them both. They played well and had a story that was tragically funny in spots. Plus, when it comes to video-games, the noire ‘style’ was still unexplored territory. So I came to Max Payne 3 with a great deal of expectation, especially since Rockstar were developing it and I loved Red Dead Redemption. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no. It controlled and looked great, the story was very cool and it went to some places I wasn’t expecting. But, I dunno, something felt lacking when compared to the previous entries and in general.
Shooting people in this game is superb. The Uncharted series should’ve learned a lot from Max Payne 3. Each gun feels powerful, especially the pistols and shotguns. This is down to three things, first the aiming – unlike Uncharted – is snappy. It doesn’t take much effort to aim at someone and pull the trigger. Secondly, the guns are loud. You fire a pistol in Max Payne 3 and you sure know about it! And finally it is incredibly gory. Almost to an insane degree for a modern game. You shoot people and blood explodes out of them. But the ‘real’ gore comes from when you kill the last man in a combat encounter: the game goes all slow-motion and lingers on the dying enemy as you watch gouts of blood gush out and their face deform from all the bullets. What makes this even cooler is that you can keep on shooting which does nothing but cause even more gore. It is gratuitous and tonally inconsistent, but a lot of fun to do.
The way Max Payne 3 is presented is also top-notch. For a game that is five or so years old, it still looks really good. Lacking in detail in a few places, sure, but everything is at such a high-resolution that you can see every detail on Max’s shitty clothes and the horrible environments you visit. Especially the faces. Rockstar have always done people well but, even when compared to Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3‘s characters look amazing (particularly Max Payne himself). The locations you visit, various parts of South America and – as an homage to earlier Max Payne games – New York, are immaculately detailed. The highlight being the favelas of São Paulo. Now, I have only seen favelas in documentaries and films like Elite Squad but it feels like Rockstar really did their research when it comes to their atmosphere, especially when compared to the upper class areas of São Paulo. There is just a tension in the air with the blaring music, the filth and the poverty everywhere. It is unmatched by almost any other game I have played in BDTB.
There are problems with the game, however. The writing, for one. The story is fairly simple and effective: Max Payne is protecting a rich and hated family in South America, he fails and goes about trying to correct those mistakes. Which would be fine, the previous games weren’t particularly known for their story either, but I found this one to be overly long and needlessly convoluted by the end. It felt padded by a couple of hours or so. ‘Course the writing itself doesn’t help matters. Almost everyone in the game, especially Max Payne, is so wordy. It is a style that other Rockstar games like the Grand Theft Auto series has, but it felt out-of-place in an otherwise very tight game. Minutes of dialogue go by in long cut-scenes without anything note-worthy being said. It just killed the pacing. Also, Max’s dialogue can get very overwrought at times. There are some seriously tortured metaphors that just made me roll my eyes. And I have to say that I miss the slightly goofy noire premise of the earlier games. Max Payne 3 is gritty and depressing which would be fine in any other third person shooter, but not a Max Payne game. I get that this is Rockstar’s interpretation of the character…but even then, they are well-known for their humour and it would’ve been nice to see some of it here to break up the unremitting grimness.
There are other, more minor things I could mention. Like the over use of Michael Mann-style woozy camera effects, the monotone of Max Payne’s inner-monologue or the way the game commits the same mistake that Uncharted made by filling the final levels with enemies who take almost an entire clip to kill. But there is one glaring problem with Max Payne 3 and that is the redundancy of the slow-mo mechanic. In an homage to John Woo films, this game and the previous ones have a mechanic where Max Payne can, in slow motion, dive through the air whilst shooting. It is AWESOME. Problem is, in this game, you can get behind cover. This makes the slow-mo almost useless. Sure, you could dive through the air guns a-blazing, but you are really fragile so why bother? It just puts you in an unnecessary risk, especially at the end of the game where you can die in an extremely short amount of time. Much like the different writing style, I understand why Rockstar have done it, I just feel like the game is less of a Max Payne game for it.
Even with all these criticisms, I still enjoyed my time with Max Payne 3. It was fun, gorgeous and frequently gripping. It is just a mediocre Max Payne game. But I don’t really expect anything to really be a ‘proper’ follow-up to those two games. They were a product of their times and game design and technology has come so far that it would be misguided to go back. But I would love to see a fourth one.
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