Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Game Review: Max Payne 3

Max has given up on New Jersey. Moving to Brazil on the advice of an old colleague he becomes a bodyguard for a wealthy Brazilian family, the Brancos. When terror strikes the family under Max’s watch and the people he was supposed to protect are abducted, Max goes on a mission to free them from the captors and kill every man along the way. Told through flashbacks to New Jersey and the present, Max battles his way through an unfamiliar country where he is no longer a man of the law but simply an outsider, a gringo.

The plot is fairly interesting as it boasts a new locale for the Max Payne series without completely removing the familiar land of New Jersey. Max’s history with grief has taken its toll on the man causing him to rely heavily on alcohol and painkillers to live day by day; the game does a great job of demonstrating his depression by showing how much of a mess Max is at home when he is by himself. There aren’t much in the way of twists that are as shocking or as interesting as past iterations of the series but it was a curious enough story that I wanted to see how it ended.

The story does get very idiotic through its flashbacks however when you realise that your experience with this family facing a militia horde on their own property is not a new experience! In the last act of the game you are shown a flashback where the family yacht is infested with these thugs and Max is left to fight his way through. It made me wonder that nobody thought to hire an elite security force that consisted of more than just Max and his partner Passos after their private vessel was hijacked and armed goons literally massacred most of the passengers? This is one of the many points in the game where the writing does not match up to the original Max Payne (which was penned by the writer of the excellent survival horror ‘Alan Wake’).

The game suffers greatly from its controls. The controls are not very tight and often get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish whether that be something simple like going to cover or more complicated like diving across a room and nailing a headshot. The cover system in this game is one of the worst I’ve seen in modern games, it is never a sure thing that you will latch to cover once you’ve pressed the button and most times you will find yourself dead simply because you didn’t double check that the game would indeed follow your command.

Where combat is concerned Max Payne 3 becomes a really enjoyable experience, there’s no feeling like jumping through the air whilst firing two handguns in slow motion. Unfortunately you are confined to firing from afar as there is no dedicated option for melee aside from the automated response from firing your gun 2 inches from a man’s skull, this doesn’t serve as a suitable alternative though since you’ll get butchered trying to run up and perform it on an enemy.

One of Max's more cinematic kills.

The very unrealistic aspect of video games is quite evident in Max Payne 3 whereas it is cleverly hidden in others, for example on your second death from shooting at 2 enemies wearing nothing on their upper body but tattoos who seem to take less damage sucking up your gunshots with their midsections than you do with catching a stray bullet to the leg. Another notable unreality is that no matter where Max goes there ALWAYS seems to be an army of goons ready to risk their lives to kill him, whilst I am aware this is rampant in video games I did notice it a lot more when I was coming up against literally 100 enemies in a place where I expect there wouldn’t even be 10 people with guns. It’s these nagging annoyances that really get in the way of some of Max Payne 3’s cinematic set pieces and action-packed fight scenes.

Max Payne 3 is cinematic as hell. The thrill you get from seeing your bullet twist through a goon’s eye socket or tearing across their face is damn near orgasmic. Make no mistake, this game knows how to deliver some great set pieces and it does throughout, you’ll see Max through the thickest action you could imagine in his quest to protect the Branco family, everywhere from fashionable nightclubs to a modern business office to rural fishing docks. Max is a one-man army against the endless waves of scum in bad need of a bullet in the teeth, a request which Max is very willing to oblige. A particular action favourite of the game for me was the first time I came into close quarters with an enemy, having no room to shoot I panicked by pressing the weapon fire button,  I was incredibly satisfied to see Max kick the unlucky pawn away and fire a bullet (in slow motion) that shredded his neck to pieces.

Throughout the playing of the game there are times where you will truly feel like the badass that Max Payne is. However, more often than feeling unstoppable you will feel very…um…stoppable. Be prepared to die in this game. A lot. Due to being an old series it retains its controls from previous games, whilst it is always good to keep what works and not alter a winning formula I did find the gameplay quite dated. Its controls are from an awkward era of Playstation 2 games when such things were not as refined as they currently are, this resulted in frustrating sequences where I found the controls getting in the way of killing enemies and clearing an area altogether, silly mistakes that have been dealt with in the modern age of gaming. The awful memory of past gaming design nightmares rear their ugly heads within this game due to its older design, namely falling into water resulting in instant death, being left at a checkpoint with no way of getting ammo resulting in your having to restart the entire level and the horror of infuriatingly far spaced checkpoints.

Some of the game takes place through flashbacks to New Jersey.

Max Payne as a series has always been ahead of its time but I think finally it is firmly of the present, its once revolutionary mechanics and story devices are no longer as original as before, the features that made the series unique are no longer able to fulfill that purpose, in Max Payne’s nine year absence from gaming they have become a mainstay in third person actions games. Newer series’ such as Uncharted have built upon the cinematic nature of Max Payne and delivered an evolution in the power of video game stories, which this iteration was not able to keep up with. Even with its new stylistic cutscene animations Max Payne 3 just looks like any other game on the market, its past comic visuals for the telling of its story had more quality to them than simply flashing up text on the screen during scenes. Whilst the addition of this text proves useful in highlighting story points I often found it to be incredibly indulgent at points as if the writers were trying to alert the audience as to how impressively profound their one liner was, truthfully they were mostly a cheap imitation of the almost poetical narration of the previous games.

My advice would be to not buy this game, especially if you’re a Max Payne fan since it will ruin your opinion of the series has a whole as it unfortunately has mine. I felt like a beaten wife whilst playing this game to be perfectly honest. Each time I went to it I was abused horribly yet I still crawled back thinking “It’s Max, he used to treat me so well he wouldn’t be bad to me”. Well Max can’t hurt anyone anymore, seriously though, once I finished with this game I was certain I’d never play it again, its flaws obstruct what could have been a return to form for this iconic series, yet now it stands as a disgusting blemish on the shining reputation Max Payne once had. Disappointing. 

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