After almost a decade, Max Payne
is back, popping caps in fools and complaining about it. But has the genre moved on?
Some years after the less than happy events of Max Payne 2
, the title character has shipped out to Sao Paulo, working private security for a local businessman on the recommendation of former NYPD colleague Passos. The actual events which lead to Max fleeing from New York are slowly revealed by a flashback structure as our grizzled hero finds himself caught up in his bleakest situation yet.Max Payne 3
starts with kidnapping and murder and just gets darker from there, ending with a sinister plot that makes the characters and narrative of the previous game seem positively Disney
by comparison. There’s little doubt that new developers Rockstar Studios are intent on making the most mature entry in the series to date and the overt violence, bad language and exceedingly grim encounters are certainly persuasive, if not entirely convincing.
Partly that’s down to the fact that no matter how serious the endeavour is trying to be, the game is still centred on an overweight ex-cop in his 50s who nonchalantly defies the rules of physics a couple of times a minute while also commenting on his every insignificant action with a spew of overwritten voice over.
The incongruity is difficult to ignore but it’s also often irritating. The bullet-time mechanics make a fairly welcome return but mis-align yourself before another balletic dive through the air and make contact with a wall or desk and you’ll snap out of slow motion, gracelessly tumbling to the floor and becoming a prostrate, and imminently dead, bullet sponge.
Max Payne 3: Die A Lot More Enlarge
Bullet-time is still fun – here you’ll have the chance to engage it directly for a cost to your meter (refilled by time and capping fools) or perform a snappy bullet dodge – sailing through the air as you headshot suddenly static enemies. The super-power itself may make no sense but it certainly leads to many stylish moments, forcing players to engage with enemy encounters as some kind of hyper-kinetic puzzle – searching for the most efficient bullet to carnage ratio as the meter drains rapidly.
But the ready availability of slow motion has another effect – it makes the game damned hard. Under the assumption that you’ll use your John Woo spiced skills at every possible opportunity, Rockstar
has peppered areas with an unusual number of foes, often wearing body armour and intent on sending you to an early grave with extreme prejudice. Add in some poorly laid out levels with little cover and the fact that cover itself degrades under fire, and you’ll find yourself taking a bullet to the brain more times than is generally considered entertaining.Max Payne 3’s
main new addition to the character’s repertoire is a cover mechanic – something we’ve seen plenty of in other third person shooters. But it’s use here feels awkward, essentially taking away from the marvellous fluidity of the previous games in the series. Max is a lumbering brute at the best of times and becomes even more so when glued to a piece of scenery. Mantling is slow and there’s no easy way to transition from one piece of cover to the next, while I’m frankly astonished that there’s no way to shoot dodge out of cover.
The result is far too much time spent trying to get the better of the aggressive AI and level design by finding useful corners and waiting for them to walk into your gunsights, stripping away much of the appeal of bullet-time in an effort to remain not dead.
Admittedly, there are times when device and design come together in glorious harmony, when your ballistics find their fleshy targets like you were channelling Chow Yun Fat and the whole endeavour ends with the flourish of a kill cam. But even here Rockstar has gone too far. Your final bullet can not only be slowed down on its way to its target to truly enjoy the kill, but Max can continue to pump round after round into his already decidedly deceased enemy, reducing his head and face to meaty mush.Max Payne 3
is a frequently nasty experience, taking in low rent strip clubs and the squalor of a sprawling favela, and that’s before people are dismembered, set on fire and despatched with many, many headshots. Earning an 18s rating is not the same thing as actually making a mature game.
And throughout it all Payne jabbers away like some kind of narration junkie, high on syllables and tortured metaphors as much as the painkillers he keeps popping. The voice over is nicely delivered by series vet James McCaffrey
but there’s simply too much of it, taking the Noir inspiration and making it a dull frame for increasingly redundant pronouncements and streams of consciousness that threatens to break the fragile self reflexive bent of the series.
Rockstar marries this abundance of verbiage with a new presentation, doing away with the comic book panels of previous games. Instead we get comic style cut scenes, layered with moving panels and hyperactive subtitles which dance around the screen, a laMan on Fire
. They’ve clearly been watching plenty ofTony Scott
movies, also paying homage with frequent improbable lens flares, colour bleeds and artefacts. It’s no doubt intended to relay Max’s damaged psyche, the inebriated haze he uses as a buffer between his mind and the increasingly cruel world. But the effect is overused and irritating, a fact that’s compounded by the often excessive length of non interactive moments. And don’t get me started on cut scenes that dump you suddenly with no cover in the middle of a hail of bullets. At times it feels like Rockstar
have forgotten what made the Max Payne
games so enjoyable.
There’s an attempt to add some new gameplay elements to the mix, some token stealth and cinematic action moments which gives you unlimited ammo and a roomful of thugs to take out. The additions are fine but can’t mask the fact that the moment to moment gameplay is overwhelmingly repetitive. Max doesn’t even get grenades for god’s sake, despite the enemies flinging scores of them in your direction.
At least the considerable difficulty (aided by some poor design) means the game runs a healthy 10 hours – and that’s before you get stuck into score attack and New York minute modes which add extra challenges to the mix. And of course Max Payne 3 also sees the addition of multiplayer for the first time. Given the legacy ofRed Dead Redemption
and GTA IV
has done a solid job with the co-operative and competitive modes. The third person view makes it stick out a little from FPS offerings and the chaotic pacing feels less punishing than the single player. Regular modes, like deathmatch, are available but Gang Wars provides a unique experience – chucking in a sense of narrative with evolving missions and adding a sense of teamwork to the fray.Max Payne 3
is a bigger game than you might expect and those looking for copious violence and a halfway engaging multiplayer experience might find it worth the purchase. But the game also spends far too much time raving at you like a drunkard through an irritating haze while also replacing gameplay challenges with clunky mechanics which make progress more difficult than it should be. A disappointing return then, though bullet-time remains ineffably cool.