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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: 'Max Payne 3' – Now I Need Pain Pills

I'll never forget the original release of Max Payne for the Xbox. It was one of the games that in my opinion truly defined what that generation of gaming was capable of. The appearance of slow-motion fight scenes via bullet time, the gripping narrated story, and the all-too-powerful feeling of a good cop gone sour placed Max Payne as a standout title.

Then there was Max Payne 2, which was somehow equally as great (if not better) than it's predecessor. Despite having massive shoes to fill, it produced on every level. Continuing the story of Max Payne with perfection, the idea of a third game was enough to make even Ben Stein excited.

Which is why I can't seem to understand just how Rockstar managed to screw it up so badly.

Every movement feels stiff and awkward, the aiming mechanics are one-dimensional, level design is linear which creates a terrible cover system, and to top it all off bullet time is essentially useless. If you actually end up using it (example: diving while shooting), you'll almost always end up laying on your side, being shot at while Max attempts to get up as if his back is now broken.
It's a broken mess of a gameplay mechanic that really doesn't make any sense. Why Rockstar couldn't have simply used the 'Dead Eye' mechanic from Red Dead Redemption is anyone's guess.

It's like a 10-hour ad for 'Life Alert'.

The cover system, while it works well enough, is unfortunately at the mercy of the level design. Here's the typical scenario:

You go down an elevator and the doors open to a hallway about as wide as your shoulders. To your left are several windows with enemies firing at you. In front of you is a door that has now busted open, revealing yet another group of guys. While you can take cover below the windows (barely), this won't stop the enemies in front of you from shooting your face. Oh wait! There's a box in the middle of the hallway! Perfect! Except for that fact that this box won't cover you from the enemies to your left. You're a smart gamer so you head back a few feet and hide inside the elevator doors. Wait, what? The enemies have grenades? No problem, they threw it outside of the elevator so you should be safe.

You're not. Try again.

This is the standard level design found in
Max Payne 3. You can insert any number of landscapes into the above scenario as well. Instead of an elevator it's an office door. Rather than windows it's a set of office cubicles. The box can be substituted for a desk, and the elevator you hide in is now a door frame. 

Either way you look at it, every level is essentially the same thing: a ridiculous amount of enemies stuffed into a confined area with no strategic way to escape.


Making every situation more frustrating is the awkward movement of Max Payne. If you've ever played LA Noire you'll immediately understand. Remember how strangely Cole Phelps and the gang moved throughout the game? Take that same feel, add some guns, install a group of higher ability enemies, and bam – Max Payne 3. It's incredible to me that a game that relies almost entirely on it's gameplay mechanics misses the mark this badly.

Honestly, this game feels more like a tech demo for Grand Theft Auto V.

There's actually a very interesting line during one of the scenes (no spoilers here) where you are told to run. Naturally you hold the 'run' button and Max Payne jogs at a pathetic pace. Your partner at this point in the scene actually comments on how sad of a run it truly is. Yes, that's correct – the game actually ridicules itself.

Then there's the story. Which has somehow managed to simultaneously ruin not only the entire plot of the Max Payne series, but the character himself as well. Rather than completing his struggle to mourn the loss of his wife and daughter, Max Payne 3 is more about how angry Max Payne is about everything. He hates that he drinks all the time, which of course makes him drink. He's pissed that he is in private work, yet constantly reminds us of how much he secretly loves saving people. He's even angry that he's working in a country where he can't understand them.

"Hi, I'm Max Payne. I hate everything. Sure I was a good cop, but that was a long time ago. But who gives a shit. Now I get paid the big bucks to protect important people. Which I fucking hate doing. Where's my pills? God I hate taking these. Unless I take them with alcohol. Only dark liquids though, clear is for pussies. Hang on I have to throw up now. I hate drinking. Why can't I just get over all of this? Forget the past. Ha - who am I kidding. I hate getting over the past. I'd admit that I actually like mourning my wife and daughter, but that would mean I'd have to admit to liking something. Fuck salt."

At every possible opportunity we are told just how much Max Payne hates what he is doing. I understand that he doesn't like working privately for a bunch of rich snobs. That's understandable. What I don't understand is why he keeps doing it. Max Payne is painted in such an incredibly negative light that it makes the game painful to play.

Which is upsetting because the story is actually presented very well. Now let's be clear here – I am by no means saying that the story is good, because it's definitely not. It's simply presented incredibly well.

The way the cutscenes break and clip like a graphic novel. The flash of subtitles across the screen during important moments. The constant screen tear and flashing as Max Payne falls in and out of consciousness (or drunken splendor). These cinematics work incredibly well in portraying a sub-par story. It's typical Rockstar cinematic quality. No other development company in the business does this as well. So well in fact that it's easy to miss the obvious idiocracy that
is the story.


Sort of like listening to a reading of the
Twilight series by Morgan Freeman. 

I have probably tried liking this game more than a few dozen times by now. The thing that keeps me going is the beautiful presentation. I just keep thinking to myself that there is no way a
Max Payne game can be this bad. I must be missing something, right? Yet every time I return I am slapped in the face once again. Much like returning to your abusive spouse, you have to eventually realize that it's never going to get better.

Enough is enough.

Max Payne 3 is by far the most disappointing title of the year. If I were Rockstar Games I would be incredibly apologetic to Remedy Entertainment. To me, Max Payne 3 feels like an attempt to test the Grand Theft Auto V engine. Rockstar simply slapped the Max Payne title on the box knowing that it alone would make the game successful. Judging by the numbers, it looks like it worked.

Even writing about this game makes me angry.



 


Games are rated out of 5 stars
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