Genre: Action Developer: Rockstar Vancouver Publisher: Rockstar Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 18th May 2012 Platforms:
Average of 10 Ratings
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This was it. I'd reached my limit, and I couldn't take it any longer. Here I was, angry enough at a game to turn it off. Max was crouched atop a building, hiding behind an air conditioning duct for the 20th time, a sniper rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other. Beyond the safety of my cover were five angry gringos, all of them with assault rifles.
After killing these five guys I'd then have to kill another 6 - including one of the heavily armoured machine-gunner guys - and I had sweet FA in the ammo department. I'd pick up the guns of those I killed, but when I inevitably died at the hands of the machine-gunner, I'd be kicked all the way back to hiding behind the air conditioning duct.
I turned it off and stopped playing for the night. Clearly Rockstar's philosophy for checkpointing still involved a mantra of 'L2Play', and the only solution for it was to start the level over (and not bring the Sniper Rifle with me this time).
The next morning when I played it I tried from the checkpoint again - and I completed it first time. I figured I'd just been too tired to finish the sequence the night before - but what actually happened was that Rockstar fixed their checkpoint system (and they did it subtly enough that I nearly missed it).
When a later sequence had me fight my way through an airport, it took me a dozen attempts to complete it - and when I finished it, it was because the game helped me to do so. What MP3 does to help you is gradually give you more ammo and more painkillers. Eventually you finish the sequence - and you probably never notice the slight push it gave you. It's extremely subtle, and it lends itself to making the player feel like they overcame a massive obstacle.
Subversively using a consistent feeling attached to Rockstar games to make the player feel better about themselves is just a small part of the brilliance in Max Payne 3.
Where previous games wore their noir influences on their sleeves, MP3 is all about the action. Max takes us on a tour of some of the best locations in action films, with nods to The Killer, Face/Off, The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard 1 and 2 and Taken being some of the more obvious film nods.
This adds to the action movie vibe already heavily present in the game, and helps make the player feel like the superhero Max is supposed to be.
Then you take the noir concept - a mainstay in the Max Payne series. Max heads to (mostly) sunny Brazil for the majority of Max Payne 3, so instead the game derives a lot of its thematic darkness from Max's tone and sense of humour. A decade has made him fairly bitter, so when he makes jokes they're usually quite heavily self-deprecating (though they're still funny).
The addition of the Euphoria physics engine combined with Max's signature Shootdodge makes the whole thing look better than ever - you'll be diving everywhere as you play - and ultimately it's a bit hard to ignore just how much love has gone into making this the best possible Max Payne game.
All of Rockstar's tech comes together in MP3 when you enter Last Man Standing mode - or you kill the final enemy in a checkpoint. The whole world slows down at these moments, and I found myself laughing incredulously at what took place on screen. Bullets rip through whichever part of your enemy you shot - exploding them in a shower of blood - and if you want, you can continue to shoot them. I'd consistently empty an entire clip into someone during these moments - which, come to think of it, might have contributed heavily to the challenges I faced with the game.
The story is probably the softest part of MP3, ironically. Max moves to Brazil in his continued effort to run away from... everything, and he gets a job as a bodyguard for the Branco family. His friend from the academy, Raul Passos, recruits him directly from New York City trouble - and he finds himself fending off the worst Sao Paolo has to offer as he protects them.
The difference between the rich and poor of Sao Paolo is worked pretty hard in MP3, and it would almost feel exploitative if it wasn't for Max's clear outsider status. He's self-aware enough to realise he doesn't know anything about this city, or about the two very different cultures present within it, but the writers never shied away from having him voice his thoughts via the inner monologue.
His separation is your separation though - Max doesn't speak Portuguese so when Brazilians talk neither of you can understand a word (unless you can speak Portuguese I guess). As a narrative device it's successful - beyond the cultural divide Max also has a pill and booze problem, so he's never supposed to know exactly what's going on.
While the story - told through a combination of flashbacks and classic internal monologue - isn't bad, it's not quite as good as I'd hoped. It's a tad inconsistent - especially when we see character growth for Max... only to watch it dissipate later. It feels like a bit of a cop-out - like the growth is dismissed to make room for the Max we know and love in the inevitable sequel.
I also thought that, as wonderful as it was for the game to make me feel better about my clearly lacking skills, the checkpointing system didn't do the game's pacing any favours. There's an obvious speed that the game is supposed to move at, and resetting over and over can ruin the overall flow.
Which is ironic, because 'Arcade' mode - which pits you against the clock, your own score (earned for killing enemies and not being shot) and the scores of everyone else playing the level - gives you a numeric reward for maintaining the flow.
These levels are ripped straight from the singleplayer - though most of the cutscenes (the ones which aren't hiding loading screens) are gone. Instead it's just the player, two guns and a slow-motion glide through the air.
After a few runs through the one level you begin to know the perfect time to dive/hit slow-mo/shoot a car - completing the action hero illusion. This mode alone gives the game replayability - it's reminiscent of The Club, just... better.
Max Payne wasn't ever about making the player feel like an action hero. It was about taking the player on the downhill ride that was Max Payne's life, it was about reminding us that no matter how bad things got - they could always get worse. And it was about how Max Payne was a man who would always get back up - especially when he shouldn't. That's actually a pretty good formula for an action hero - but prior to this game the closest we ever got previously was with slow-mo diving.
Max Payne 3 makes you feel like the man with a very particular set of skills. With a good story, jaw-dropping action and fantastic graphics, it's a must-experience game. It's an homage to some fantastic movies, it's a step forward for Rockstar games and it's a satisfying continuation of the Max Payne saga.