by KitaSaturnyne, last updated 09 Jul 2012 13:28
Max Payne 3 arrived for the PC almost three weeks after the console versions. Whether the game was worth the wait is something of a divisive issue amongst Max's fans. While some enjoy the game for what it is, others feel that it's too generic and departs too much from Max Payne's original source material. If you're willing to look past its obvious flaws though, what lies beneath is a beautiful and engaging game with a wonderfully flawed protagonist and a highly detailed but manageable story.
The first time Max Payne 3 is booted up, an intro plays which details an evening in the life of Max. While emotional and an interesting way to get players used to the new cutscene style, it's quite annoying that it can't be skipped. The Max Payne theme we know and love is present though, which is a nice touch.
As soon as the game starts, we get thrust into a gritty tale featuring an older, more world-weary Max. However, the first and most jarring thing about the dialogue and even Max's inner monologues is that it definitely is not Sam Lake's writing. In fact, it's a wonder just how much like Sam Lake it was supposed to be. While Dan Houser does a great job of putting a story together, Max's inner monologue just feels like it's trying way too hard to reach that Sam Lake level of quality. It feels like a 10-year-old trying to go out drinking with the boys on Saturday.
Sam Lake has always managed to tread that very thin line between telling a gritty story and letting his works degenerate into profanity-laden farces. Lake is able to tell deep, intertwining tales that absolutely reek of wonderful atmosphere, without extraneous proliferation of bad language. That said, Max Payne 3 is positively drowning in F-bombs, which says to me that Rockstar has it in their heads that swearing equals gritty storytelling. It doesn't.
The Last Man Standing mechanic is an interesting but annoying addition. While it allows a last chance of sorts to those who forget to pop their meds during a firefight, there are way too many times when you're forced into this mode and there is no way of hitting the target who put you down. Thus, it more often than not feels like the game is forcing you to watch your own excruciating death, one tenth of a second at a time.
The way the game handles rifles in the game is a major source of irritation. If you've equipped one of the game's many rifles (which includes assault rifles, shotguns, etc.), cutscenes almost always revert you back to your primary one-handed weapon, which makes some battle scenes a bit of a chore as you switch back to your shotgun for the twentieth time. Also, if you switch to dual-wielding, you'll be forced to drop said rifle instead of Max slinging it over his back and saving it for later. It amounts to quite an annoyance, especially since the rifles are so worth using.
The level design, while being appropriately linear, doesn't do much in the way of showing off the game's environments. In the game's many detailed and colorful locales, the player is forced to take a preset path that often doesn't do much to show off the beauty of Max's surroundings. Thus, these beautiful, and lush environments often feel under-explored and woefully neglected.
Last and most certainly least, is the dreaded and morally bankrupt mouse acceleration. Its usefulness is a mystery to all, but thankfully, it can be disabled via in-game settings, thanks to one of the latest patches.
While there's very little that modern games can do to wow us anymore, the graphical presentation in Max Payne 3 still manages to be quite beautiful. DirectX 11's enhancements really shine through in the game's highly detailed, lush and varied environments. Textures are sharply detailed and the game manages to be very bloody, but not overly gorey. Blood and fragmented bone erupt from the headwounds of foes, making for an exciting spectacle during moments when the player is allowed to watch enemy deaths in slow motion. It almost seems like no graphical expense is spared, as even NPC's in the background seem to be quite highly detailed. There is a wonderfully large array of characters in the background that all add a distinct flavor to the settings in which they're presented.
South America itself ends up being more than just a pretty backdrop, just as New York is more than a background in the first two games. It helps to set up the atmosphere, and its colorful and wonderfully varied locales add much to the mode of the story. The Favela particularly stands out, as a typical South American slum rich with life, people going through each day with little money, but an unending fervor for life. The extent to which the environments are detailed is astounding, even the small sections that Max gets to see during his adventures.
If Grand Theft Auto IV or L.A. Noire are any indication, Rockstar really likes to push, and exceed, the limits of the most modern PC's. Still though, it is surprising that even with all the graphical details pushed up to maximum, the game can manage to run as smooth as silk from beginning to end.
The controls are quite responsive, though Max's sluggishness takes some getting used to. Being an older guy, he takes a little bit longer than he used to just to get up off the ground, which thankfully isn't as much of a liability during battle sequences as it could be. What made Max famous though, were bullet time and the gunplay, and this being a Rockstar game, neither element is neglected. Bullet Time is front and center in all its glory, now separating it from the ShootDodge key. This allows players to choose whether they want to shootdodge into the fray, or slow things down while running and paint the town blood red. Aiming is precise, even without mouse acceleration, which is very helpful during the highly fun sniping sequences.
In battle, the enemy AI is always working to flank you, which is both its greatest strength and weakness. While flanking discourages camping, along with a healthy dose of grenades, it also becomes incredibly easy to choreograph your opponents' moves. If you find yourself behind cover, thanks to the welcome addition of a cover system, and your enemies are drowning you in bullets, just stop firing and within seconds, they'll come running up to rush you. They won't even dive for cover most of the time if you just pop out while they charge and aerate their faces for them. Still though, the AI is pretty tough in most instances, especially in the many locales where your cover can be destroyed.
While the dialogue isn't up to Sam Lake's standards, past that is a great story filled with betrayal, suspense and even a little romance set against the backdrop of another of Max's trademark personal wars. Like the first two games, the story is great when enjoyed as part of an arc, but also manages to stand strongly as a separate tale from the other two chapters. Max has become a different person now that he's a pill-popping alcoholic, but the story spends a lot of time acquainting the player with this new version of the protagonist, as well as his thoughts and emotions. The introductory process to the host of other characters may seem like a lot at first, daunting really, but the game takes the time to revisit and clarify who each person is in relation to the story. Ample time is given to these new people in order to meet them, get to know their habits and vices, and to tell the player why they should indeed care about these characters.
The biggest and most notable change about the cutscenes in the game is the lack of graphic novel style present in the first two games. While it is lamentable, the new cutscenes aren't content to just be movie-like sequences like those playing back in your Blu-Ray player. Actually, these sequences play out in a rather compelling multi-frame style where phrases are highlighted onscreen as the characters speak, frequently interspersed with double images that are indicative of Max's abuse of alcohol and painkillers. While the latter can be hard on the eyes, this new style of cutscene manages to be quite entertaining and distinctive. While some cutscenes do seem to drag on a bit, they vary enough in length that they never get overly annoying. That said, they can all be skipped (bar the first time boot up one) or just paused for later.
Max Payne 3 is hardly perfect, but lots of fun to play. Ultimately, it's not much different from other third person shooters, but where others simply award players with achievements, Max Payne 3 awards effort with a solid and enjoyable story that's intriguing and compelling right to the very end. Varied gameplay sequences and colorful, interesting characters populate the wonderful and lush environments of Sao Paulo. Also, fuck mouse acceleration with a power drill.