Woodsey Weviews: Max Payne 3

Woodsey Weviews

Preface: As with my previous reviews, criticism of my opinion and my actual writing is welcome - it's nice to see people feel it's worth their time to write a response. As someone who decidedly hates spoilers of any kind, I always try and avoid them as much as possible; at most, I will reference plot setups.

Max Payne 3 was played on a PC. This is a review of the single-player only.

Max Payne. Hugh Jardon.

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I was promised a journey into the night, but any promise made around me is bumped off almost as fast as the women I meet. I'm a walking omen, the Devil's Joker, with a one-way ticket to purgatory. Promises are for chumps and I'm the biggest one going. I pursued an existence that was as dead to me as my wife and kid. Times had changed. The wheels of fate continued. A bloody symphony awaited me.

Hopefully my poor (albeit legally-required) Max Payne impression may have clued some series fans in on the first thing which should be established about this latest entry, but for those of you who are out of touch with Max's drug-and-booze-induced antics, let me explain: Max's world has changed. No longer is he a man who exists in a perpetual nighttime New York coloured by the trappings of Norse mythology, nor is he in cohorts with a leather-clad female assassin. It's roughly a decade later for the poor bastard, and this time around he's dodging bullets against the backdrop of a baking sun, and the only women he meets are dressed in skinny jeans or cocktail dresses.

Rockstar's Max Payne is one who lives in the 'real' world; fictional, obviously, but very much familiar and less fantasised than before. In spite of this, the man himself remains largely unchanged; less of a lovingly-crafted, deadpan pastiche and more a rounded character than before, yes, but instantly recognisable nevertheless. Time and tide have done little to quell his love of verbose narration and conveniently-abundant painkillers, his fondness for the latter reaching the point of addiction by the time we meet him again.

'I dreamed of being a plastic surgeon. A one-stop chop-shop for fat old men. Dreams are for the good guys.'

Similarly familiar are Max's attempts to pretend he's in The Matrix; whilst everything's a little more well-rounded (including Max's waistline, it seems), he still prances about in a fashion that'll be an instant-fit for the series' old-timers. No less a stranger to the five rules of dodge-ball than he was in 2003, his visit to São Paulo gives him plenty of reasons to be running and leaping around the environment in slow-mo and cappin' baddies in the brains (and balls, if you're so inclined). Any changes have mostly been made in a highly-successful effort to emphasise Max's uhh... increased physicality, as he prances about like a drunken hippo. Dive into a wall and he'll crumple convincingly; catch his foot as he goes over a railing and his entire body will contort in reaction to such clumsiness. Best of all, attempts at sprinting result in a hilarious display of breathlessness and panting as Max plods along corridors and walkways in an effort to avoid hails of automatic gun-fire and sniper rounds. (You'd think a bunch of hip, young gang members and paramilitary-types would be able to hit a fat old man plodding along like a penguin, but apparently not.) It's astonishingly-well realised, crafted with an unprecedented degree of fluidity and realism - the only cracks you'll find will be Max's when his trousers start falling down. (Maybe in Rockstar's next game, eh? A man can dream.)

Perhaps a more drastic decision, one which no doubt inspired a chorus of concern amongst some, was the decision to limit Max's arsenal to two single-handed weapons and one larger boomstick. If you want to dual-wield (such a thing cannot be resisted), you'll need to drop the bigger gun. Gunfights are scrappy, sloppy affairs because of this; you may need to sacrifice your larger weapon mid-firefight (if only to look cool whilst dual-wielding), but then you'll have to consider the increased reload times, the enemies you're against, ammo availability (which I found to be mostly pitch-perfect; always just enough to shoot the last nut or two off in a fight), and so on and so forth. We are reminded both visually and via Max's narration that he's never getting himself into these situations with any kind of a plan, and of the fact that, ultimately, he is just a human being. Whilst he's not quite John McClane as seen in the original Die Hard, he still looks as rough-as-shit by the game's climax. Baldened, bloodied, broken. So, if you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be a bald, middle-aged man with a drinking problem stuck in the middle of a gun-fight, here's your chance. We all have our aspirations.

Careful consideration has also been applied to the lavish details of Max Payne 3's visuals. From the sweeping vistas overlooking Brazil's favellas to the dirt, sweat and grime which accumulate dynamically on Max's clothing once you get down into them; great pains have been gone to so as to create environments which you'll want to wreak havoc upon at least a couples of times over. Sweat glistens, cover splinters apart, and individual mosaic tiles are cracked or absent. So complete is the world's detailing that to be told they were directly stripped from photographs and recreated in-engine would be entirely plausible. As with every other facet of Max Payne 3, it's all done to imbue everything you see and do with a life-force; a sense of reality and tangibility.

Thankfully, Rockstar have apparently fired the baboon-and-monkey duo they left in charge of their previous PC ports and hired someone in to do things properly, with the game mostly running incredibly smoothly, albeit with one rather persistent detractor: cutscenes mask load screens, meaning that cutscenes spend half the time stuttering and getting stuck whilst the level loads in the background. The grievance would be less deserving of a mention if the stuttering didn't then continue into the next 10 seconds or so once you're back in control, and if said cutscenes weren't so well-crafted.

Max Payne 3 leaves little doubt that there is at least one person at Rockstar who has quite the cinematic flair, as cutscenes are imbued with a distinct and ever-present sense of style. Spoken phrases pop up on screen for emphasis (although sometimes for completely banal sentences, which rather cheapens the effect) whilst the screen itself is often cut-up and distorted (the latter a little too much on occasion), proving reminiscent of the previous games' comic-book chic, although remaining consistent with this latest iteration's setting in the digital age. So proud of his work was this team member however that it seems he somehow convinced everyone else to let him crowbar a cutscene into the game virtually every time Max enters a door. It certainly begins to grate and it can intrude upon the pacing of the gameplay itself, although the game at least has the courtesy to be very well written and acted.

'They said it was a death sentence. I said it was just a flesh wound. Like always, I was wrong.'

Whereas Grand Theft Auto IV's Super Serious Story was akin to a 15-year-old in a poorly-fitted tux thinking he looks like a gangster, Max Payne 3's is closer to James Bond in a dinner jacket. Slick, unwaveringly adult, darkly humourous in places, and all extremely well-acted; even in incidental moments, like Max's justifications for needing all the painkillers he picks up, the lines are often chuckle-worthy and exceptionally well-delivered. Perhaps the only thing worse than taking on another writer's character and ruining them is taking the character on and doing nothing absolutely with them. Rockstar have done neither, instead advancing Max's character convincingly towards the middle of the game with great aplomb, deftly avoiding the pratfall of creating a plot-contrivance by which to set his character back to where he was at the game's beginning come the story's conclusion. Likewise, the game's darkest hour is not just for show, but a means by which Max's character development can be spurned on, subtly, but at the same time enjoyably so.

Max Payne 3 proves that ultimately, it's not the film-noir game Rockstar tried to convince people it would be, and the rather jarring use of the previous game's cello theme-tune does little to hide that. What's impressive is how unlikely it seems that even the most adamant Max Payne fan will care, however, as Max Payne 3 proves itself to be an expertly crafted, alternate interpretation of the series. This is a Max Payne game as envisioned by Michael Mann; whilst it ultimately does very little to drive the medium forward or revolutionise the genre (not that anyone else has particularly managed that in recent years), it's still one of the best at what it does - and what it does is bloody great.

 

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