Game: Max Payne 3

Genre: Third-Person Shooter

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver (mostly)

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Score: Max Letdown the Second.

This journey began back in 2001, when a young gamer was handed his first pirated PC game – two games actually.  The words “Deus Ex+Max Payne” were scrawled in odiferous black marker.  I was not prepared for the awesome the unassuming Memorex disc was about to visit upon my life.  The Disc was a rite of passage and I can honestly say those two games helped me grow up a little.

Max Payne, Deus Ex, they weren’t just fun.  They were hallmarks of gaming.

My time spent with Max Payne 3 was bitter-sweet.  I can’t say games are “worse” now than they used to be; simply that looking back I recall times saturated with great games.  Not parodies of genres or staples.  Not all production, no soul mutants that mimic earlier, more sincere works.

Max Payne 3, despite its budget, struggles to find any substance.

Max Payne 3 takes place in South America because, why not?  Things have happened after the actually interesting parts of Max’s life and Brazil gives the developers the opportunity to render some beautiful scenery, ruin it with terrible camera tricks, and show lingering crane shots of that one statue.

Rockstar, in a subtle and artistic way, portrays a man down on his luck, falling prey to old addictions.  I’m lying.  They cram it down your throat in forced cutscene after cutscene of Max drinking while he narrates about his drinking.  They hammer it home with the most obnoxious jerky, multicolored camera bullshit I’ve ever seen.  I’d almost write the camera shenanigans off to “style” and give them the benefit of the doubt, but the crap camera doesn’t just stay in the cutscenes revolving around Max’s alcoholism.  They’re in every cutscene and happen during gameplay.  Shots never linger and you never have a moment to enjoy the action or a bit of good scenery.  This goes past bad camera and straight to bad design.

While getting drunk and still feeling sorry for himself a million years and two games after all the important stuff in his life has happened, someone Max is paid to care about gets kidnapped.  No surprise here, the bad guys have been trying to for the last three levels, they were bound to succeed eventually.  The rest of the game consists of trying to get the kidnapped trophy wife back for some rich guy.  There are plot twists.  They’re predictable and boring.  The entire story is.

Bad story?  No problem strong characters can redeem that.  Not in Max Ponce 3.  Every character is disposable and immediately forgettable.  My ambivalence toward the two somewhat redeemable characters shifts toward hatred the moment they speak in fake Panama accents.  Max himself has excellent voice acting.  He’s unique in this.  It’s a shame his character amounts to what I’d imagine Michael Bay directing Requiem for a Dream would be like; complete with shaky camera and lens flare.

I bought Max Payne 3, not expecting much.  I saw some early concept art that had me quip “the new Max is just Bruce Willis.”  Had Rockstar made this game the spiritual successor to Die Hard, they’d have been better for it.

I could go on, literally forever, talking about how terrible the story/plot of Max Payne 3 is but I have to finish this review.

Right in step with the uninteresting story, the level design is stupendously linear.  A flashback level (imagine that) is the best it ever got.

How’s the gameplay though?  Fine.

Rockstar’s usual unicycle character controls have finally disappeared.  The gunplay is overall responsive and fine tuned.  Apart from the minor design flaw of starting out every fight after a cutscene with a single handgun (regardless of what you were previously using) the gunplay is up there amongst third-person shooters.

Mechanically the gameplay is solid; it’s poor execution of gameplay that robbed me of my joy.

The Max Payne formula for run-and-gun fun is not improved by the addition of cover.  Cover is anathema to the Max Payne gameplay I went in expecting.  When I picked up this title, I wanted the metal detector scene from the end of the Matrix.  I wanted to run into a room dual wielding Uzis, leap through the air in slow motion, and shoot everything forever.  I was not allowed to do this.  Bullet Time is exceedingly limited (almost as if an afterthought to gameplay), the ammo is sparse even at the easy difficulty, and Max takes falling damage from a shallow stairwell or a tall desk.

The enemies are all snipers with shotguns.  They automatically know where you are in every room and a single pellet of buckshot shaves half your life (in normal difficulty).  They have one pace – constant.

The worst aspect of the gameplay is context.  Every chapter basically alternates between escort mission, follow the douche bag mission, and scripted vehicle scene.  They do go against the grain once to add a rail shooter level.  Sound like a scripted vehicle scene?  Wait, there’s more.  There’s no shooting in the rail shooter level.  It’s just six minutes of you controlling a wounded Max as he walks to the infirmary.

Max Payne 3 isn’t entirely bad.  Like I said the gameplay is mechanically good and it actually has many great action moments.  Some of the action cutscenes can incite manly tears.  The collision detection for bullets strikes the balance between realistic and rewarding.  It’s unfortunate they allow you to continue to shoot people in slow motion when you need to conserve ammo.

The soundtrack is awesome and the multiplayer very good.  That is the root of the problem with Max Payne 3.  The entire game is a beta test for the next GTA’s multiplayer.  I wish they hadn’t wasted an entire game and got my hopes up to do it.

Kudos to you, Rockstar.  My opinion of your games usually wavers between good and okay – finally you’ve created a game that I can definitively call a piece of shit.  Good for you.