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Max Payne 3
Max Payne, you leave me conflicted.
I’m a huge fan of your grittiness, your edge. I love the gore, the violence, the slow-motion satisfaction of a well-earned kill. I enjoyed the story, the gameplay, the experience of this tale of a beaten man being beaten even further. I should be ranting and raving about how this is Max Payne’s triumphant return to video games, how he should never leave us again, and more…
…yet something just feels off. The label on your box says “Rockstar,” but you don’t feel like a Rockstar game. Rockstar Games are giant, open worlds with people to meet and missions to accomplish. You, Max, are a story, broken into chapters, with little to no deviation. I can’t explore the mean streets of Sao Paolo on my own. There are no vehicles that I can just jump into and joyride. You are a completely different experience than what recent history tells me I should expect. Is this a bad thing? Yes and no.
Let’s start with the positive: Max Payne 3’s presentation is incredible. The story plays out in a motion comic style, paneled scenes with cinematic effects and key words flashing on the screen as a character speaks them. This aesthetic gives the game a flair that few other games match, a flair made even better by the voice acting of James McCaffery. McCaffery’s sarcastic, somewhat detached tone give Max a whole new layer of depth. Max is a tortured soul, a man who has seen plenty of trouble in his life, and McCaffery made me believe it.
Playing Max Payne 3 felt like I had played it my entire life, not just the three days since its release. Anyone whose played Red Dead Redemption will feel the same way, as the control scheme is virtually the same. Max does have some tricks that Mr. Marston never got to enjoy, like Shootdodging and Last Man Standing. Shootdodging hasn’t changed a bit, but Last Man Standing is brand new. This allows Max to attempt a one-shot kill on any enemy that dealt him a killing shot, at the cost of one “health pack” (for lack of a better term). Most of the time, Last Man Standing saved my hide in a gunfight, however there were times where the camera didn’t line up right or I ran out of ammo in my clip, resulting in my watching Max slowly die. This new perk makes collecting those “health packs” more important than ever, as without them Last Man Standing doesn’t even activate, just a “DEAD” screen.
The story, while excellent, is also one of the most linear I’ve ever played. The game literally played out like this: start mission, walk to bad guys, shoot bad guys, slow-motion kill following bullet to last enemy in an area, move to next area, repeat across fourteen chapters. The environments and landscapes varied of course, and every once in a while I’d have to push a button in order to open a door, but the cycle never really changed. Furthermore, this story only took me seven hours from start to finish, and it felt like the blink of an eye. The game basically held my hand from one group of enemies to another, which is not what I anticipated.
I say “held my hand from one group to another,” but once I got to that group of enemies the game let go and stood aside. These gun battles can be frustratingly hard, either due to overwhelming numbers or environmental hazards the game gives no warning about. One particular section of the game took me six tries to get to the final enemy of the level, but once I got there I took too long, the roof collapsed around me, and I had to start again. I should have known that was coming, given the circumstances, but it didn’t make dying that way any less frustrating.
Speaking of death, there’s a ton of it in Max Payne 3, and all of it is brutally violent. I watched a bullet enter a man’s skull and create a hole from which blood showered the room. A few cutscenes show the aftermath of explosions, none of which are pleasant. Even Max himself died a bloody death every time I was killed, adding to the overall shock value. It’s one thing to show countless enemies be killed, it’s another to show my character suffer the same fate.
While my single-player experience could span another thousand words, I need to mention the surprisingly excellent multiplayer Max Payne 3 offers. Standard deathmatches are available, even a rookie deathmatch class for those just starting out, but Gang Wars is the definite main event. Two teams compete in four rounds of objective-based gameplay with a fifth and final round being straight-up deathmatch. However, the performance of each team in the first four rounds will impact the perks that team receives in the final round. There are some interesting perks to collect, including my personal favorite that makes opposing players see their teammates as enemies, so optimal performance in the first four rounds is key. One round of Gang Wars made me want to play it again, and I’m confident I’ll want to keep experiencing it for months to come.
Max Payne 3 tells a fantastic story with excellent presentation and solid gameplay, despite its quick and linear storyline. It’s a return to form for Max Payne, who hopefully won’t take as long to come back. After all, he says it himself:
“When had I ever needed to invite trouble in? It always found me, no matter where I hid.”
Here’s to hoping it finds you again soon, Max. I look forward to our next adventure.