Review: Max Payne 3
You’re at a party surrounded by the kind of people that you usually wouldn’t be caught dead with. What the hell, a shot or two of whiskey will help numb your senses to the loaded pricks that surround you; you know the type – their pockets lined with money but a brain that’s as absent as a cheap hookers underwear.
Suddenly a group of hoodlums crash the gathering. It now dawns on you that a second drink was a seriously bad idea as a shower of lead shatters glass as quickly as your retirement dreams and blood stains the floor like yesterdays stagnant wine.
Fuelled by an alcohol induced haze, jumping off a roof into a fountain below, turning yourself into a human equivalent of a log flume – talk about making a splash – seems the logical next step. It’s a one way ticket; destination one dead punk and, for once, you didn’t fuck up. So begins the adrenaline fuelled ride that is Max Payne 3.
Nine years have passed since Max’s last incarnation, this time around Remedy Entertainment have passed the baton solely to Rockstar. It’s their way of ensuring they drag his ass kicking and screaming – albeit somewhat belatedly – to the current generation with all the hallmarks of their typically gritty back catalogue.
From the outset the game grabs you by the cojones. Its vice like grip only clenches tighter and tighter as you delve deeper into the seedier side of Brazil and the plot twists again and again like some hellish carousal. This ain’t no fairground ride however and Max is still the grizzled, miserable SOB that fans of the series remember; but then again he doesn’t really have much to be cheerful about. Now out in Sao Paulo to get away from the reality of the proverbial brown stuff that went down back home – namely his murdered wife and child – he is desperately trying to escape his miserable reality. Yet, over the course of the games meaty single player mode, we find that sometimes – especially with a name like Payne – there is simply no escaping your past, no matter how far you run.
Stepping into our favourite alcoholic anti-hero’s flowing leather jacket once again was thankfully a much easier task than the uphill battle in front of Max. This was largely helped by having played both previous games and, quite fittingly, Stranglehold; a game that was clearly influenced by the success of Max’s previous escapades. Similarities between these titles are obvious with both involving a hard as nails front man with a penchant for booze and astonishing arsenal acrobatics that usually involve dual pistol pirouetting in Matrix style slow motion bullet time.
In fact for the most part the gameplay hasn’t changed a vast amount in the ten years or so that Payne has been littering our screens with more bodies than even Satan himself knows what to do with. That isn’t to say that this title is as rough and jaded as our troubled protagonist, just that you can’t avoid occasionally thinking that you’ve seen it all before.
This could be seen as a criticism and inevitably the action junkies out there may find the simplicity of the game a tad unsatisfying. However, despite that unshakable sense of déjà vu, the action is anything but dull. Stick with it and there are plenty of sequences to keep you entertained – from hanging upside down from a helicopter shooting incoming rockets out of the air, to frantically taking potshots at the driver of an oncoming car in order to avoid becoming a permanent addition to its bumper while giving the office a new red paintjob.
With this iteration of the series there is also a sense of vulnerability despite the power of bullet time. Unlike many other action titles, you can’t simply hide behind cover until your energy replenishes as, in this game, there is no such luxury. To pile further misery on Max, cover crumbles around you quite rapidly, leaving you face to face with a horde of heavily armed bad guys ready to turn you into a human equivalent of Swiss cheese. To counter this weakness he does pop an occasional pill to numb the pain (read – recover a bit of energy) but – apart from that – a few too many bullets and our grizzled anti-hero will be lying on the ground with a ghastly looking hole in his head. Dead.
Like the aforementioned Stranglehold, there is also a new last man standing skill providing Max with a second chance of survival, as long as he is still packing at least one of his trusty painkillers. This is a great feature to implement but does have its issues. Sometimes instead of bringing you back from the dead, like a fly finally clawing its way out of a glass of whiskey, the game sadistically draws out your death, like a cruel bastard tipping said whiskey glass to leave you once again flitting around desperately before taking an eternal sleep – talk about drowning your sorrows. No bullets? Dead. The bad guy seemingly able to do a Wanted style bullet bend around a pillar which you can only gawp at? Dead. You have probably by now gathered that death is a frequent occurrence in the game. It can be frustrating, but then even video game characters aren’t Superheroes.
The bullet time and vulnerability therefore add extra strategy to your run of the mill gunfight. The player has to decide – is it really worth diving across a room to shoot two guys when there are clearly many more punks lurking just off camera? Certainly, after making said death defying leap to despatch a few villains, Bruce Willis never then lay prostrate on the ground like an upended turtle only to get plugged by generic bad guy #3.
You’re playing a desperate man in a desperate situation and while the action is perhaps simplistic, it’s the continuing narrative that I’ve hinted at throughout this review that kept me playing. I was Max and felt guilty whenever I screwed up. Like a Brazilian kid playing football in the favelas, I just didn’t want to call it a day. Furthermore, unless you’re fluent in Portuguese then you are – to paraphrase the man himself – just another, “dumb tourist in a place where dumb tourists are less popular than the clap.”
The bullets may hurt like hell and leave a bloody hole to contend with, but this is nothing in comparison to the black hole consuming Max’s existence. He is hurting deep, and the excellent writing and voice acting put you right in his morose mindset. Whether he is beating himself up over another fine mess “I ain’t slippin’ man – I’m slipped” (let’s just say a bloody p45 is inevitably in the mail) or cracking a warped joke about his unfortunate addictions, “I was in danger of becoming too clearheaded,” you can’t help but feel for him. This should come as no real surprise as, with Dan Houser, who was also the writer of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV amongst others, the storyline was always in safe hands. So while bullet time will always be cool – what’s not to like about killing five guys while a handily located chain whisks you to safety? This is predominantly a story driven enterprise and better for it; there are enough stop and pop games in this genre without this franchise becoming another.
Away from the action this is a great looking game, certainly a hell of a lot more attractive than the garish Hawaiian shirt Max dons around the midpoint of proceedings. The graphical styling of the frequent cutscenes undoubtedly goes hand in hand with the ongoing story arc, although it may initially take series fans by surprise. There are no comic book stills (apart from the few that greet you upon loading the game each time) but instead, distorted in game footage with key phrases repeated on screen to drill home their significance. Kill cam is also back once more giving a bullet tip perspective of the last villain despatched in an area – providing unadulterated joy for the sadist in everyone.
Unfortunately having said all that, a minor recurring graphical glitch occurs when entering the frequent cutscenes; Max will go from carrying an assault rifle, for example, to his current sidearm all without missing a beat. Perhaps a hiccup from transferring the games previous comic book still frames to in game action. This is usually done to ensure the player has the relevant weapon for a bullet time sequence the game initiates to end the cutscene, but does remind you that you are ultimately playing a game.
Overall then, while Max Payne 3 may plunge you into the depths of despair with the heavy emotional baggage it lies upon your shoulders, it keeps you marching on to the bitter end – much like the man himself – and is yet another solid game from the folks at Rockstar.