So evidently the people at Rockstar games are huge Tony Scott fans. This may or may not be a bad thing depending on your perspective. Like when my sister rented Man on Fire, she thought something was wrong with the DVD due to the sped up shots and different film stocks being used. It’s a kick ass movie, and Denzel does at great job at playing Greasy Bear, but if you saw it and found it’s style to be jarring, you’ll probably feel the same about this game. If you can move past it though, there is a lot to love here.
I compare this game to Man on Fire specifically because there are quite a few similarities in plot and visual stylings. This is not a complaint however, I love the “troubled protagonists” genre. It also has the larger-than-life feel that Tony Scott films epitomize. Enough about that, let’s talk about the game, shall we?
For those unaware, the first couple games had you play as a young detective named Max Payne who was hell bent on avenging the death of his wife and infant daughter at the hands of a shadowy organization that distrubted a designer drug called Valkyrie.
Now, ten years later, Max is a body guard for the Branco family. The Branco family are a well to do family living the good life in Sao Paolo, Brazil. As is always the case, things don’t go well for Max. The Branco’s are kidnapped by a group of guerella commandos who are fighting against the ruling establishment in Brazil. Max goes on the offense to save the Branco’s, but finds himself in over his head once again as events spiral out of control and the true scope of what is going on is revealed.
Let’s just get something out of the way: THIS GAME KICKS ASS. Max Payne is one of the greatest characters in a video game, or other medium, ever. I love how they’ve aged him in this game. In the first two games, Max had a confidence to him and his mission of revenge that was unwavering. In this one, he’s an alcholic addicted to pain killers with no purpose in life other than to get as fucked up as possible on a daily basis. His new gig as bodyguard for the very wealthy Branco’s allows him easy access to all the booze and painkillers he could ask for. Drunk more on self-pity than then sauce, Max wallows in the grief over his lost family, and tries to forget his past. This isn’t the most likable character. The game goes out of it’s way to show you how much of a fuck-up Max is. As in the previous entries of the series, Max serves as the narrartor of his own tale and gives us insight into his tortured psyche. He’s a man who is painfully aware of how screwed up he is, and finds it easier to cope as long as he can numb the pain through self-medication. Taking up his new bodyguard gig in Brazil, Max hates his stuck up rich employers as much as he does himself. Despite these short comings, Max is a good guy who truly cares about justice and righting wrongs, as well as doing a very thorough job. Max could turn his back and leave Sao Paulo after the kidnapping, but instead he risks his life several times over and kills well over 10,000 criminals in order to set things right.
It’s fun to see how Max gets along in his new enviorment. Gone are the night-time snowy streets of New York (except in flashbacks), replaced by the sun-drenched grimy Brazillian streets. Max’s quest for absolution will take him through quite a few places that you would never, ever, want to go. Rockstar games pushes the violence in this one up a notch. The game starts you off in such a well-to-do society that when you fall from grace and are lost in Brazil some of the things you see are truly shocking. Max has this whole Warren Oates in Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia thing going on throughout the game. There is a sense of true fear and desperation that permeate the atmosphere. The game gets HEAVY.
In 2003, Rockstar games brought us Manhunt, one of the most violent and depraved videogames ever. You play as a death row inmate whose death is faked so he can be forced to participate in snuff vidoes where he has to kill rival gang members in order to win his freedom. It was one of the most downbeat and seedy game experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Rockstar calls back on Manhunt several times in Max Payne 3 in situations that truly bring the ick factor. Max is truly outgunned and despearte in some really sick places in this game. Terrible things happen to people that Max is supposed to save. The fates are remorseless.
And yet, Max Payne 3 isn’t about suffering. It’s about getting past it. Max doesn’t see himself as a hero and yet is driven to do heroic things. There is a very telling scene in a bar where some guido gangster has a gun on Max and is talking shit to him, and even brings up his dead family. Max is so drunk he doesn’t really care. But when the guido pistol whips a woman, Max pulls out his gun and kills him. Max likes to feast on his pain, but will not allow others to be hurt in his presence, and that is why he takes what happens in this game so hard and is driven to the lengths he goes to.
I love how slickly produced the game is. They’ve been working on it for close to three years now and every bit of it shows. The enviornments and level design are top notch and will make you feel like you are the ultimate action movie star as you go from one despearate shoot-out to the next. The levels are truly varied and you’ll never feel like you’re in the same place twice (except when you are). One of my favorite levels comes early on in the game when Max is going to pay the ransom to save Fabriana Branco. The drop point is at the soccer stadium in Sao Paolo. Of course, the ransom gets screwd up and you find yourself the run from a sniper whom you’ve got to find a way to take out while engaged in heavy firefights in the stands. I have read reviews that downgrades the linear structure as being a negative. Those reviews are stupid. It’s a Max Payne game. It’s not Grand Theft Auto, and it’s not supposed to be. A non-linear Max Payne would not work. The game moves between each level extremely fluidly and the transition from cutscene to game is seamless. The cutscenes work as a masking for the load times of the levels so you aren’t stuck staring at a blank screen in the meantime. It’s a smart move and helps keep the pace of the game moving forward.
The gunplay is fast and as frantic as ever. At any point an enemy can get the drop on you and end your life rather quickly, which adds to the intesity of the game. As always, Max has the bullet time and shot dodge ability to help him gain an edge over the oppisition. For each kill, your bullet time meter goes up, which you can then activate to slow down time to take out as many as you can as quickly as you can. There are also a multitude of guns you can use to destroy your enemies. Another carryover from Manhunt that I really like is the realistic inventory system. At most, Max can carry three guns: two hand guns and one two handed gun (i.e. shotgun). If Max is using the hand gun, he holds the two handed gun in his other hand while not in use, and will holster the handgunn to use the two handed gun. If you decide to use both hand guns at the same time to pretend you’re in a John Woo movie, you will have to put down the larger gun.
There are also various ways to play the game in addition to the standard story mode. New to the series is the Arcade mode in which you have two ways to play: Score Attack and New York Minute. The former works as a point based system for each type of kill and the later is a time based system where you start each level with one minute, and get six additional seconds for each kill. You can compete on global or friend leaderboards for best score/time and earn medals for the best time/score.
Then there is the mulitplayer. You have your standard death matches of course, but then there is also the Gang Wars feature which allows players to team up with others against another team. This also takes place as a narrative part of the game with the teams being factions from the storyline fighting for control of territory. The action is frantic in this mode. I had quite a frustrating time getting used to the multiplayer as it doesn’t allow for bullet time on command like in the single player mode. Instead you get adrenaline bursts and you can equip certain power ups to use in place of bullet time. One of the power ups you can get is bullet time, but the bullet time will extend to all players on the field. You can still shot dodge but it doesn’t slow down time, just makes you a harder target to hit. It does have glitches that will hopefully be patched up soon. Another problem with it is the cheap deaths you will incur. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Fuck this!”, “What the fuck?”, “Cheap ass shit”, etc. into their headsets. I spent a great deal of this past Sunday afternoon saying various things like that myself and finally got so fed up that I cut the damn game off, walked down to the liquor store and purchased a six to calm me down. However, I later got the hang of it and did much better when calm. It’s a lot of fun, if frustrating.
With the gripping story, attention to detail, amazing graphics, and high replay value, Max Payne 3 is one of the best times I have had playing a game in a long time. If you like shooters, don’t mind linear gameplay, and have a strong stomach, Max Payne 3 is well worth the investment to add to your gaming library.