Max Payne sure could use a good luck charm. I mean, there’s a difference between being a little down on your luck and being stuck in a complete cyclical shit storm that one can only drown in. Max Payne does just that. Wallowing in his own tears over his losses is a main theme in Max Payne 3, Rockstar’s first official take on the franchise since being handed off by Remedy, the creators of Alan Wake. Rockstar has a unique style they pervade into all of their titles and Max Payne 3 exhibits just that, even if other areas are very stale in comparison.
With a dead wife and kid, poor ol’ Max finds himself frequenting the local bars in the New Jersey slums, developing a deep love for the brown miracle liquid that seem to flush his problems away. At least temporarily. Even after retiring, Max finds himself in quite the predicament that leads him to become wanted by the local greaseball mobs. This conflict, however, does unite him with a friendly force, Raul Passos, that offers him a job that pays well and relocates him to a place that isn’t trying as hard to kill him.
So what is this “dream job?” It’s not exactly cleaning toilets, but it wouldn’t a stretch comparing it to that in a metaphorical sense. The Brancos, a family who is eerily just as rich and “talented” as the Kardashians, needs some protection and Max and Raul are just the hired guns for the job. Babysitting a bunch of drunk, mentally unstable coke heads wouldn’t be too disconnected to what the actual job entails. Being this wealthy in Brazil attracts local gangs, which leads to many kidnappings and Max getting in way over his newly bald head.
Now just for fun, let’s keep this Kardashian comparison going. While it would be terrible if they were tossed in this situation, it might be hard to actually care deep within our hearts. We’d just feel bad on the principality of being decent, empathetic people, but since we don’t actually know them in person, a genuine, call to action response would be difficult to naturally churn up. No matter how beautiful Kourtney Kardashian is, I doubt many people would embark on a dangerous adventure just to save her from filthy pirates.
This is exactly the problem that Max runs into during the game. Max constantly describes these people as sickening within his internal monologues and he doesn’t seem too personally invested on saving their sorry asses when they get into a sticky situation. Rescuing them just stems because he thinks he should or just because he has to fulfill the job they pay him for.
The apathy spurting out of Max is contagious to the player, making it hard for the person holding the controller to care about the acts at hand as well. It’s the nihilistic approach given to the new Max that ultimately becomes a detriment to his character development and the plot as a whole. Nothing matters for him and Max’s obsession with death and self pity does become tiresome by the second hour, further subtracting any hints of the player to give any sort of hoot. There are some good plot twists throughout but had Max been personally involved with the plot, it might have led to a different, better conclusion.
But that’s not to say that the story is completely busted. In typical Rockstar fashion, the presentation and and voice acting is some of the best around. Even though all of Max’s lines are dramatic and depressing, he delivers them well in his dry, monotone voice with a script that most games can’t even touch. The same applies to other members in the cast. Animation is also really impressive, with everyone emoting well and gesticulating in a realistic way to add to their convincing performances. Extra points are also given to the seamless transition straight to gameplay, something every game would benefit from.
If you’ve seen a cutscene, you’ve noticed the odd effects given to video. Key words or phrases pop up in the screen, distortion effects are added in, and freeze frames are applied, giving the game a style that it can call its own. Some may find it to be a little overwhelming because of its frequency in every scene, but I found it to be another effective outlet that the game used to convey even more style.
Slow motion diving, called bullet time, is a piece of said style. Back in 2001, Max basically pioneered this from its inspiration from The Matrix, but what if I told you that this mechanic is now pretty stale? Think about it: how many games can you name off the top of your head that have the slowing down of time? Actually, don’t because I don’t have the time or space on this page for a list that large. Even though it isn’t new anymore, slowing down time and pulling off headshots still generates some sort of small dopamine reaction. When it works, that is.
Let me backtrack. Cover wasn’t even really a thought back in the era around the first two Max Payne games. Diving around in slow motion was sort of like your equivalent to chest-high walls. In order to stay relevant, Rockstar added a cover system to Max Payne 3. If you put your noggin to it, the cover system by nature contributes to a gameplay style on the polar opposite side of bullet time. Having cover insinuates slower gameplay because of the fragility of the player and bullet time encourages fast-paced diving around for the disposal of enemies. These two ideals are at odds.
This conflicts brings forth giant problems within the game’s firefights. In almost every conflict and especially the last half of the game, I never felt like I was using the right method. When I tried to go balls out and slow down time, I was eviscerated (via bloody killcam) more often than not. Taking cover slows the game down dramatically but can still cause issues. For one, the cover system isn’t even up to par with most other games. Animation takes priority, leaving Max to become unresponsive at times, a slave to the physics. It just doesn’t feel snappy.
Other quandaries contribute to these mentioned problems and make almost every firefight frustrating in one way or another. In the first half or so, enemies take an average amount of lead to dispose of. The latter half doesn’t back down that easily. Yes, they are wearing armor, but that doesn’t make it fun to sink a clip into each and every enemy. It becomes beyond excessive looking at how much punishment each individual can endure.
Max is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Even on Normal difficulty, it is easy to get yourself killed in a quick manner. Not only is the damage indicator terrible at being informative (expect sudden, unexpected deaths) but health can’t regenerate. I’m not opposed to the idea of health packs (see Resistance 3), but their scarcity negatively affects gameplay. Pain pills give Max his much-needed health, but since the bottles are small in nature and finite within the environment, it is all too easy to find yourself up Shit’s Creek without a pain pill paddle. You can (and will) be left 10% health with a room full of goons in most situations. Death becomes inevitable and I become angry. Automatic pill-popping is an excellent design choice, but the system as a whole should have been reconsidered or tweaked.
At least it looks incredibly sharp. Rather than putting effort in a vast open world like Grand Theft Auto, the art team has shown that focusing can produce amazing results. I don’t even know where to start. Environments are not only extremely detailed in a texture sense, but also in how many things are littered about. Cover shatters under gunfire along with most other objects, lending these locales to become dynamic in nature. It just feels full of life. Character models are also extremely impressive. I’ve already said they animate well, but the staggering attention to detail really brings them to life. No one looks robotic or rough around the edges and the gore might even make you cringe. The soundtrack works in harmony with the visual aesthetic, making a cohesive package of slick visuals and mood evoking tunes.
Even with its stumbles in the storytelling department, Rockstar assuredly knows how to make a visually pleasing game in every sense of the term. From style to cutscene drama to the human-like reactions the Euphoria engine brings, the big developer obviously knows what to do. This carried me throughout Max Payne 3 because I know actually playing it sure wasn’t the reason. Conflicting ideals with the gunplay and other niggling issues screech an otherwise good game to a halt and the package suffers accordingly for it. If the combat was overhauled and the nihilism left out, this would have been another Rockstar classic to be remembered fondly. In its current state, it’s a pretty game that is a little payne in the ass to play.
+Visually striking game with strong audio
+Environments are loaded with an immense amount of detail
+Scenes contain plenty of great acting and a unique sense of style
-Two shooting styles clash and lead to difficulty spikes
-Controls aren’t as snappy and get in the way during combat
-Nihilistic story telling makes it hard to care
Final Score: 7/10
Platform Differences: The PS3 version is one one Blu Ray disc while the Xbox 360 version is on two DVDs.