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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Max Payne 3 (9.5/10)

Let me start this review simply: I loved Max Payne 3. And here's the kicker: I never played the first two games. I really didn't know much about the plot, nor much about the gameplay (beyond the famous bullet-time mechanic that has been used so many times since). I did watch that godawful Mark Walhberg film, but friends assure me it has little to do with the games apart from the title. What got me interested was the fact that it's Rockstar; they don't make bad games. After some awesome previews and gameplay footage I started getting really excited. I'm happy to report Max Payne 3 is one of the best, and more importantly, most fun games I've played this year.

Max's story is poignant, something of an emotional roller-coaster to say the least. At first I thought his running inner monologue would get annoying, but it's so well written and acted that this element actually enhances the narrative. I'm not going to lie, in a lot of places it's hard to watch Max struggle with his demons. There is a certain amount of introspection (due mostly to fantastic writing, graphics, and performances) that takes place. His latent alcoholism, combined with a healthy dose of bad luck, adds fuel to an already stoked fire made of his previous mistakes. These tragic miscalculations lead to some tough spots, and eventually come back to haunt him. It's cathartic in it's way... it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, despite the fact that he's killed about as many people as, say, Pol Pot. 

The narrative is phenomenally well written and acted. The story flashes all over the place but manages to keep a cohesive narrative. A lot of the in-game dialogue does a great job of heightening tension. These moments tend to fall just before the action starts, but at the same time adding motivation and catharsis for our anti-hero.

The plot begins with flashbacks and flash-forwards. Max starts by working as a body guard in Sao Paulo. Naturally, everything goes tits up when the person he is supposed to protect gets taken, but it all serves to aid his evolution as a character.  Before long he finds himself in the unenviable position of having pretty much everyone gunning for him. There are twists and turns around every corner, and the direction the story ends up taking is one you won't see coming!

When Max isn't lamenting his rise and fall through thoughtful introspection, he's usually blowing away anyone dumb enough to get in his way. Max is all about the guns! The gunplay is superb, incredibly accessible, and entertaining at the same time. However, that's not to say it isn't challenging. Fans of  Rockstar classics like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV will remember the single point aiming reticule. The controls do take a bit of getting used to; there is a learning curve here before you get in a groove.

Max may be a badass, but he's virtually death incarnate when you enter "bullet-time." His unerring accuracy is even more impressive, provided you have the requisite skills. Giving you the player such exquisite control is empowering. There are very few games I've played over the years that have given me such a sense of superiority. The advantage bullet-time provides can't be understated. Moving just that little bit faster than your foes and slowing down time itself makes all the difference. This has been done over and over since Max brought it to prominence back in the day, but has never been implemented as well as this. It's fair, providing an advantage while not totally removing the difficulty entirely. Plus it looks cool as hell.... 
In fact, my only real complaint about the gunplay is that the laser sights on guns are actually less effective than the red dot indicating you've aimed correctly. That little laser sight is easy to lose track of, especially in the middle of a firefight. Another issue I have is hit detection. When Max gets shot you can see from which direction the bullet came from, but the problem is that it lingers like a monument to your failures. Getting hit from multiple angles, it becomes overwhelming in a hurry.

You really need to keep an eye out for pain killers-this game isn't easy! However, it's interesting to note that if you restart from the same point multiple times you'll eventually begin with more ammo and health to give you a little extra help. In the end it creates a nice sense of balance.

I'll be honest here, the graphics are really impressive. The cutscenes and gameplay flow into one another superbly and the animations are amazing. When Max jumps into an obstruction there is no partial block; he will rebound off the firm surface and react realistically. Sometimes he will even be winded. It's actually an impressive attention to detail. The voice acting is once again top notch. James McCaffrey returns to voice the anti-hero and gives an amazing performance, as does the rest of the cast. The soundtrack serves to heighten the mood and atmosphere in all the right places, from somber moments of introspection to keeping your blood going during intense firefights.

The whole thing with multiplayer is that they finally found a way to work in realistic bullet-time without giving anyone too much of an advantage. It works like this: when I go into slo-mo my perspective slows down just like in the campaign... but on your TV (you being my opponent), I appear to be moving at regular speed, but your accuracy suffers. Once your shots hit my "bubble," then they have a greater chance of missing. It's a rather elegant solution that keeps things on a much more even keel, even if it is a little difficult to pull off in-game. Having said that, I personally felt like the novelty wore off quickly. All things being equal, I'd rather play the campaign again... but then I'm not the most invested gamer when it comes to online multiplayer.

I really had fun with this one. At the end of the day that's why we play, isn't it? Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game, one that I can't recommend enough. It's graphic in both a physical and an emotional sense, and doesn't pull any punches. But at the same time it manages to be an incredibly well written and engaging narrative that really connects with the player. The gameplay is fantastic: visceral, brutal, entertaining, and most importantly fun. It just goes to show that anything Rockstar touches turns to gold.


Score = 9.5 / 10

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