Review by DoctorKwack101

"It looks pretty and promising, but Max Payne 3 is determined to keep you from having any fun."

I was mad. At myself. At Rockstar Games. At Remedy. Was it worth this? As a die-hard fan of the first two Max Payne games, I was understandably excited at the prospect of a third one. Max Payne 3: Bullet time and flashy gunplay on glorious modern-day consoles. It was a dream come true. I never dreamed that Remedy would entertain their stinger at the end of Max Payne 2 – “Max Payne's journey through the night will continue” teased players after the credits. I'm sure Remedy had big plans at the time, but plans fall apart, times get tough, and things don't always work out. So, selling the rights to the series off to good old Rockstar Games didn't strike me as a bad thing. Remedy was, and is, a relatively small studio. In order to properly bring the third Payne to the new generation of gamers, big production values and a well-seasoned team were necessary. Sure, I was going to miss Remedy, but I had faith in Rockstar's ability to do the series justice.

Information was released and, eventually, so was the game, but it hardly registered a blip on my interest radar by the time it came out. After reading information on the game and seeing the screenshots, my interest had waned some. Seeing the brightly lit Sao Paulo scenes with bald, overweight Max made me realize that this entry was definitely looking to circumvent the more familiar aspects of the series. I'm also dirt poor, so the hefty $60 pricetag would have to undergo a few cuts before I considered making a purchase. Lo and behold, the annual Steam holiday sale came around and Max Payne 3's price finally came tumbling down to $15. I couldn't think of anything else I was interested in, so I decided to humor Rockstar and pick up the game. I would put aside my prejudices and accept this game for what it was – give me Brazil, give me bald Max, take away the mod-friendliness – whatever the cost, I was going to make myself as unbiased as possible and embrace the new era of Payne.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The game starts off well enough. A well-written, cinematic opening full of Max's harsh inner dialogue as he spirals into alcohol abuse sets the tone nicely and leads to the main menu. The game is fairly well optimized, as even my less-than-stellar graphics card ran the game at a decent rate. Some more cutscenes establish the story and characters, and finally the gameplay begins. Tutorial prompts walk you through shooting, diving, and bullet time mechanics nicely enough, and things are looking good. Shootdodging still feels right, and slow motion camera zooms show off the carnage as enemies take bullets through the brain, chest, and other squishy areas. Expecting the old Max Payne system of weapon-switching, however, I found myself confused as a strange weapon-wheel popped up with the mouse wheel. After some experimenting, I figured it out – you can hold two one-handed weapons and one two-handed weapon at a time. You can switch between wielding a single one-hander, dual-wielding one-handers, or just wielding a two-hander. Except, dual-wielding one-handers throws down the two-hander. Sometimes. I think. And… pulling out the two-hander throws down one one-hander… sometimes? Or is it both? Which one-hander does it throw down? Never mind, I didn't figure it out.

I find it very amusing that the game step-by-step walks you through the simplest aspects of the game – shooting, cover, diving, etc – but conveniently skips over the inventory system. I also accidentally figured out that you can do close-range takedowns – another tidbit I would've liked to know. Either tell me everything or don't have a tutorial, Max Payne 3. Don't string me along! As the first level went on and I found myself in the middle of several gunfights, I was surprised how quickly the difficulty ramped up. In the first level of Max Payne 2, the big crossfires at the end of the warehouse area consisted of about 3-4 enemies running around in each room. Here, however, I found myself frantically diving into cover as 6-8 or more enemies bore down on me with machine guns. I desperately fired at the crowd, and after a few minutes, thinned it out. I didn't dare shootdodge out of cover, because eight guys with guns could turn me into flying swiss cheese before I had a chance to take them out. Once the excitement died down, I triumphantly finished the level.

DESPERATE TIMES

As this pattern continued, I began to formulate what I didn't like about this system. In the old Max Payne games, you felt like a killing machine; a walking disaster. You could jump into a room full of enemies and systematically take them all down before they even have a chance to empty one clip – diving from cover to cover with your uzis blazing and outrunning clouds of gunfire. As Max Payne 3 wore on and whittled away my patience, however, I began longing for that old sense of badassery. Bullet time went from “awesome” to “absolutely necessary to progress”. If I used all my slowy-juice in one battle and found myself thrust into another, I would begrudgingly accept that I was screwed. Max Payne 3 is merciless, even in its early levels. Enemies bombard you from all sides, and cover is never sufficient. The intelligent AI is nice, and keeps the game from ever getting too easy, but your means of stopping their assaults are incredibly limited. I often found myself dying and restarting scenes upwards of ten times, frantically taking cover and trying to formulate a strategy as mobs of enemies closed in from all sides. In Max Payne 2, the obvious strategy would be to flick the badass switch and land headshots on these fools before they had time to react to my moves. If I had no bullet juice left, I could simply combat-roll into a good position and open fire whilst running like a madman - watching and guffawing as the cronies ragdolled over railings and down staircases - and soon enough I would build enough bullet time to finish the job. No such luck here, however.

Bullet time is a precious commodity in MP3, and it goes away all too fast. One full bar of juice might get you two dives or a couple seconds of slow-motion gunplay, but once it's gone, it's hard to get back. Not like it matters much anyway, as dives are borderline useless in many situations and slow-motion is barely enough to get you through the bullet storms this game presents. Most frustratingly of all, enemies seem to have more health than Max does. A couple shots to the arm and I'm scrambling for some painkillers, but enemies can often take up to five or six bullets to the chest/head area and keep coming back for more. You can imagine my frustration as I shootdodge down a staircase, empty three or four bullets into each enemy's skull on my way down, and upon landing at the bottom, promptly get filleted with bullets because everyone is still alive. Maybe this is supposed to enhance realism or something – obviously no gun is going to be perfectly accurate, especially when flying through the air – but if my aiming receptacle is red and pointed at an enemy's head, I expect the bullets to kill them.

NO MERCY

It's a shame, too, because the pieces are all there. Max Payne 3 has a solid engine, good AI, and incredible potential for some John Woo-esque gunfights. And I know the pieces fit, ‘cause I watched them fall away. I really don't want to sound like a whiny, pretentious fanboy who's just mad that MP3 doesn't look, feel, and play exactly like the old games, but playing this game just makes me wish I was playing Max Payne 2. I can't play this game like Max Payne – it's always desperately hunkering down behind a filing cabinet while a dozen guys close in on you as you take your last bottle of painkillers and close your eyes. Whenever I got myself killed in Max Payne 2 – I usually knew exactly why it happened and how I could fix it. “Oh, I shouldn't just barge into this room because there's a guy with a 12-gauge around the corner. I should dive past him or throw a grenade or something,” or, “After I take out the two guys in front, a group of three will come around from the kitchen area. I should run off to the side and flank them instead of taking them head on.” With this new level design, however, there are simply too many enemies to really prepare for. They come out, guns blazing, from all sides, have pinpoint accuracy, have ample grenades while the game gives you none, and take forever to kill. Putting surprise enemies behind corners or in small rooms was perfectly fine in Max Payne 1 and 2, because the quicksave and quickload system could instantly remedy the situation. “Oops, got me,” I would say as I quickloaded and ran back to the door. “I know you're in there, you bastard!” Bang bang. Got him. Not so much, now. Instead of “Oops, got me,” it's, “Oh s***! How far does that put me back? …NOOOOOO!!!”

The enemies aren't the only problem – the level design itself sucks all the fun out of the game. Small, cluttered areas often leave little room to dive around, and flying headfirst into a barricade is a great way to set yourself up for another filleting. Enemies usually have ample cover, anyway, so diving out and killing one just opens up an opportunity for the other six guys hiding around to strike. Once, in an attempt to relive my Max Payne 2 glory days, I dove at some push-open double doors with dual uzis, expecting to burst through and riddle some unsuspecting enemies with bullets on the way down. Instead, I hit the doors headfirst and bounced off of them, flying backwards and landing on my back as the doors lazily swung open. Then a guy came and shot me while I was on the ground. I died. Another humorous anecdote – during the Stadium chapter, I ran out into a hectic gunfight and frantically ducked behind the closest cover as streams of bullets pelted the walls around me. I sat there for a bit, attempting to assess the situation as the enemies ran in to take me out, and my buddy Passos (who, in this chapter, is speaking to the player through Max's headset) says, “Now would be a good time to start shooting!” I pop out of cover with my gun pointed at an enemy's head, and instantly die as ten bullets hit me in the skull. I was not having a good time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the end, Max Payne 3 is a poor trade. While Max Payne 1 and 2 weren't the most aesthetically pleasing games in the world – graphics were average, voice acting was hammy, animation was jerky, etc – their gameplay was spot on and their level design allowed for a lot of slow-motion fun, with ample modding possibilities extending their replay value tenfold. Max Payne 3 has great graphics, superb animation, intelligent enemies, and a long, engrossing story, at the expense of all the fun and charm the old games possessed. Sure, it was silly hearing Max poetically describe a situation as enemies cartwheeled out of windows bellowing hilarious “ARROOUGHH!” sounds, but it was also damn fun. Rockstar (much like all the guns in this game) misses the mark, with this installment attempting to reinvent a wheel that had already been rolling quite smoothly. If this game had been in Remedy's hands, it definitely wouldn't have been as big or as pretty – but I guarantee my score for it would have been much higher. Max Payne 3 had everything it needed to be an amazing game, but all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools. Maybe I'll get some enjoyment out of the game once mods start getting released… oh. Right.

THE RUNDOWN
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Story: 8/10
PC Optimization: 7.5/10 (it runs, but not amazingly well)
Gameplay: 4/10

FINAL SCORE: 5/10. I would've given lower, but Rockstar's team obviously put a lot of time and energy into this game. E for effort, I guess.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/13

Game Release: Max Payne 3 (US, 05/31/12)


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