Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Max Payne 3

Post-Launch Review
Max Payne 3
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Released: May 2012

Note: this is a review of the story mode. I didn't touch multiplayer.


Rockstar takes over from Remedy for the third entry in the series, several years after Max Payne 2. After the events of the first two games, Max is now working private security for a family in São Paulo. Since this is Max Payne, everything goes straight to hell, and the people he's supposed to protect get into some serious trouble with the wrong people. The full story, including how Max got himself into the current mess, is told through investigation and flashbacks as Max begins to realize that the stakes are higher than they seem.

At Launch

Max Payne 3 averaged review scores of 85%. Most critics were impressed with the game's themes and story, and found the gameplay to be much improved over the previous games. Some reviewers were a little less impressed, citing a few design problems such as difficulty spikes and pacing.
Many critics who played the first two Max Payne games were surprised at the shift in tone and style from the games developed by Remedy.

Post Launch

There have been a bunch of updates, mostly focused around multiplayer bug fixes and balance changes.
Max Payne 3 received 5 major DLC packs, all multiplayer-focused. The Local Justice, Disorganized Crime, Hostage Negotiation, Painful Memories, and Deathmatch Made in Heaven packs all include multiplayer maps, as well as various customization options and the occasional new mode. These packs are available individually or at a discount all together with the Season Pass. The Gorilla Warfare pack is a free update that includes a few new items.

The Good

Bullet Time
Of course, you can't have Max Payne without bullet time. The slow-motion ability is a limited resource that you can recharge by pulling off skillful, creative, or crazy maneuvers, rewarding you for good shots, fast takedowns, and insane stunts. It lets you pull off a lot of cool (and reckless) moves that other games just won't allow.
There are a few sequences where a cutscene is interrupted by a slow-mo shooting segment. Typically these involve Max pulling a crazy leap (like off a roof or something) and needing to shoot all the guys before he hits the ground. Pretty cool.
Voice Acting
Everyone's pretty good overall, but James McCaffrey as Max Payne is fantastic. He does a great job of portraying Max's self-loathing, cynicism, rage, and confusion, while still making him sympathetic. Max's constant voice-over gives you access to his thoughts and emotions as you run through the game, and they advance both the plot and his character.
Character Animation
There's some really impressive stuff going on here. One of the most noticeable features is the care that's gone into making Max's movements believable and realistic. As he turns to aim, his body pivots and moves as you'd do in real life. Even cooler is when he's laying on the ground after a shoot-dodge - he'll lean and rotate and shift into a position where he could realistically aim at the target, and it's all done smoothly and without interrupting your mouse movement. Another neat touch is how Max reacts to enemy fire: he'll flinch and pull away from shots that hit his cover, instead of just ignoring it like in most games.
Graphics & Environments
Max Payne 3 is a game with a lot of detail. The environments are packed full of props and stuff that make them feel lived in and not just empty rooms or contrived sets. And there's a lot of variety in environments, too - Max visits plenty of places. Characters' faces are highly detailed and mostly look pretty great. Max, in particular, has one of the best-rendered beards I've ever seen in a video game - in close-ups, it looks like each individual hair is modeled.
Checkpoint Compromise
There's no save-anywhere, but Max Payne 3 makes an interesting compromise. It's possible to hit a checkpoint with almost no health or ammo and have a really hard time progressing. The more you die on a single checkpoint, the more the game refills your resources, to ensure that you never get completely stuck. At least, that's how it works on normal difficulty; I imagine the higher difficulties pull back on this feature for the more hardcore.
Max is not a healthy or optimistic person, and mostly things just don't go well for him. He makes mistakes and people die. This is one aspect of the earlier games that Rockstar has carried through, and it makes for a more suspenseful narrative to know that the protagonist isn't a flawless action hero. Max can't save everyone; maybe not even himself.
I may be biased here, but I think the flashback levels to New York - the story of how Max meets security buddy Passos - are the strongest levels in the game. They're an excellent update and homage to the heavy noir style of the previous games, though I suppose they might fall a little flat on explaining Max's past to new players to the series. They also tend to be a little easier than the rest of the game, which encourages more of the run-and-gun approach of the old games than the more cautious use of cover required by the "present" levels.
Hidden throughout the levels, you can find bits of evidence that'll give you more information as to what's going on with the twisty plot, or provide some background information on the setting and the state of affairs. Each of these clues is accompanied by Max's voice-over telling you what he's learned. They also fit into Max's background as a police detective. I like these way better than the audio logs you find in most games.

The Neutral

A Little More Generic
The opening cutscene is pretty hard-hitting for fans of the first two games, and the flashback levels set in New York do an excellent job of capturing and updating the noir feel from the previous games. Otherwise, though, Max Payne 3 feels a little more generic than its predecessors. The Norse mythology is gone, and the cover mechanic is basically the exact same thing you see in every other game with cover.

The Bad

Too Big and Impersonal For Max Payne
The plot is, I think, a little too big in scope compared to the first two Max Payne games. Despite getting into gang warfare and drug cartels, the previous games felt very personal in that Max's involvement arose out of his own motivations (mostly revenge). Max Payne 3's plot deals with political aspirations and betrayals, institutional corruption, human trafficking, and themes of rich vs. poor. Max is only involved because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because he has a personal stake in things.
This might be a weird complaint, but here goes: I think the cover system detracts from Max's character. He's a drunk and a pill-popper who actually expresses the desire (or at least thinks he does) to go down in a gun fight. He's reckless and doesn't care too much about the consequences to his own body. He's always pulling ridiculous stunts and leaps in the middle of combat. So if that's the case, why is it that he'll duck behind a wall to avoid getting shot? Granted, Max does go through some character development through the game, but at the very least, I think you shouldn't be able to use cover in the New York levels, when he's still in the depths of his pain and cynicism.
Occasional Difficulty Spikes
There are a few levels where the game's difficulty shoots right up for no good reason. Typically this happens when you're thrown into a room with a half-dozen bad guys who are all in cover, and no easy access to cover yourself. You can't take them all down in one shoot-dodge or slow-mo run, and they'll shoot you up pretty good before you can make it to cover. These bits can be frustrating.
Golden Guns
The second type of hidden collectible, but these are kind of dumb. The clues fit into the narrative and Max's character, but the golden guns are nothing more than cosmetic collectibles. What's worse, there's no reason for the pieces to be in most of the game's environments. Most egregious is the airport in the final level. Airports have very tight security for weapons, and you're telling me that there are shiny golden pieces of a freaking rocket launcher just lying around the airport?

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
I feel like my review is a little bit harsher than it would have been if I'd never played the first two Max Payne games. I'm aware that Rockstar made a conscious decision to move down the line and show a different Max than we'd seen in the previous games, but at times the shift in tone and style feels a little too drastic.
That complaint aside, Max Payne 3 is a solid game. The writing is mostly pretty strong - characters are distinct and humanly flawed, and the plot is twisty and intricate. The visuals are strong, particularly the fluid and realistic character animations. And Max's constant reflection on just how much of a screwup he is both makes him sympathetic and lends some urgency and threat to everything that happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment