Oh god, where do I even start with this one. Max Payne 3 is a AAA title published by top tier game developer Rockstar Games, the developers of such beloved games as Grand Theft Auto (pick one) and Red Dead Redemption. The game has been critically praised across the board, with an average Metacritic score of 86% across the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC systems. It has been praised on almost every facet of its design, and managed to sell over three million copies in its first week alone. So, based on this information it seems like this game is a solid title, potentially even a contender for some reviewer’s game of the year placement. But does it actually live up to the hype?
No. Absolutely not. I’m actually glad that a friend of mine let me borrow his copy for a day (all you’ll really need to clear the main story), so I didn’t have to suffer the displeasure of disposing of it afterwards, let alone pay money for it. This game ranks, in my mind, as one of the worst games that I’ve played in recent memory, and as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with modern gaming design. So let’s break this game down into its components, going from least offensive to most, to show other developers what to avoid when they’re designing their own games, shall we?
So for once we’re going to start a review off by looking at a game’s audio, as it grated on me the least as I went through Max Payne 3’s campaign. The voice acting, while a bit forced, was solid throughout the title. All of the characters were understandable and sounded like they were actually taking part in the events around them, which is always a plus. Heck, the sound team overall did a decent job, with the weapons all sounding like proper firearms and the background noises never feeling like they were out of place. The game’s score was also pretty good, with the single exception of the music in the final level feeling horribly out of place at parts. But all in all, I’m going to give this one a pass. At least the game’s sound team knew what they were doing.
Now let’s get into slightly more questionable territory; the game’s visuals. Now, these are interesting as the actual game play graphics are excellent. The character models are well detailed enough that when the game slows down to show off your kills they still look good. The various settings also look nice, with all of the areas standing out from one another in a dynamic sort of way. Where the graphics fall apart, however, is during the game’s cut scenes. Now, don’t get me wrong, they certainly look nice enough from a simple visual point of view. The problem I have is with the game’s incessant use of blur and flare effects to make what’s happening seem grittier or something. It’s annoying, can’t be disabled, and makes the cut scenes even more annoying than they already were.
Actually, while we’re on the subject, let’s go into what exactly is wrong with Max Payne 3’s cut scenes. I mean sure, the effects that are used are annoying, but they can be somewhat mitigated by writing them off as a style choice. The problem I have is that the cut scenes are practically unskippable. Oh, there’s a skip button; however there is a more sinister purpose to these cut scenes than just relating the story to the player. They are used as a mask for the game’s extensive loading times, dragging on for several minutes in some cases. This means that the bulk of the cut scenes are effectively unskippable, so god help you if you’re playing through this game a second time for some strange reason. It artificially lengthens the game, which is kind of sad when you can clear the whole thing in less than ten hours anyway.
For these ten hours of game play you will find that the game handles well enough, although players of the previous two Max Payne titles will find themselves struck by a strong sense of déjà vu. This is because not much has changed in the latest installment, with Max Payne still handling his bullet time game play the same way as before. The biggest change in the game play is the fact that now, when Max Payne collides with something, it actually knocks him out of bullet time and stuns him for a moment, making him a sitting duck. While this sounds cool at first, as it feels more realistic, it can also be annoying when you’re in the middle of an intense gun fight only to slam into a column you couldn’t see and have to start over. Fortunately the game has a fairly lenient check point system, but I found myself relying more on the game’s cover system rather than the bullet time dive mechanic because of this
But these issues were, admittedly, fairly minor and can be overlooked to a certain point. But now we come to the parts of the game that were truly deal breakers for me: the game’s story and Max’s characterization. Now you may be asking what I mean by characterization? Well the titular protagonist of the game series, Max Payne, has always been an interesting character to watch. He was dark and gritty, but he still had an amusing edge to him. A kind of snarkiness that made him interesting and kept the player engaged in his struggle. He felt like a human being, someone that the player could potentially relate to. This new take on Max Payne has none of his previous charm, instead constantly brooding and focusing entirely on the negative. He’d perform incredible feats, taking out large groups of armed gunmen with ease (heck, a plot point is that he kills so many members of a paramilitary group during one mission that they actually attack the business he is working at just to get their revenge), only to gripe and moan about what a failure he was a moment later.
On top of that Max has developed a total disregard for human life. A moment that stands out to me with great clarity is at the end of a mission where you’ve been guiding an IT guy to the server room so that he can turn on the building’s defenses. Max finds the man he had been protecting dead, but instead of showing grief or anger that he had failed to protect him, he spouts off some more monologue drivel about how “his hard drive had crashed”. It got to the point where I was hoping that Max Payne would die at some point, to the extent that I was actually disappointed when he was still alive at the end of the game. Hell, the only way the game’s designers could make him seem even slightly heroic was to pit him against organ harvesters and murdering politicians, and even then I found myself rooting against Max. It is not a good sign when I find it laughable that Max could even begin to feign moral outrage at what his enemies were doing, what with the monster that he had become.
But these terrible characteristics aren’t Max’s fault, not really. They are just symptoms of a larger problem: the game’s story. And what a mess of a story it is. The only way it can really be justified is if the game designers came up with a bunch of set pieces beforehand and then told the writers to build the plot around them. Allow me to give you an example of how a simple concept, a rescue mission, can be executed so terribly wrong.
(WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. Skip the next three paragraphs to avoid them.)
So, after failing to protect the man who pays for his services, Max goes off to an area where he believes his dead client’s kidnapped wife to be located. He has no idea where exactly, other than the fact that she is somewhere within the general area. There are many ways he could go about looking for her at this point; do some recon, pay a few locals to help him, call on the family he’s working for to support him (who, by the way, find the location and arrive before he does, just a few hours after he told them where she might be located), or keep an eye out for heavily armed gang member chilling on rooftops (eh, it’s how he finds her in the end anyway). So what does he do? He wanders aimlessly into the area wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt and a visible hand gun strapped to his chest with no plan or backup. He then proceeds to follow a random child after he says he can lead Max to girls (the obvious implication being prostitutes, not a hostage) and winds up at a dance party. Then he is mugged by gang members who steal his gun and jewelry and push him off a ledge.
But wait, it gets better! He then stumbles over to the local whore house, where he just happens to run into a guy who not only knows who he is, what he’s looking for, and what he’s done, but is also an undercover cop who is willing to help him. This deus ex machine character then spouts exposition at the player, gives Max a handgun, and tells him that they’ll talk later if Max is still alive. Keep in mind that Max still has no idea where the hostage is, has no plan, and is still recovering from having just sworn off alcohol. So what does he do? He proceeds to shoot up half the city, murdering everyone stupid enough to be within his general vicinity for no adequately explained reason. Sure, maybe the first couple guys made sense, as they kind of provoked him, but after he leaves the whore house he just goes on a mindless killing spree.
Fortunately for him, this killing spree just happens to lead him to the gang members who have kidnapped the girl in question. How can he tell? Why, by the concentration of heavily armed gang members chilling on the surrounding roofs of course! He then goes on to murder even more people before finally coming to the room and discovering that she is, in fact, actually in there, thus giving a new definition to “the end justifies the means”. And so, now that he has single handedly dealt with over one hundred gang members in hostile territory with nothing more than a handgun to start with, what does he do? He rushes in and tells them to drop their weapons, is subsequently disarmed and gets to watch as the hostage is killed in front of him due, in large part, to his carelessness.
At what point did any of that make any sort of logistical sense from a storytelling perspective? And this is just one, admittedly mind boggling, but still just one example of how utterly contrived and nonsensical this game’s story is. And this is what really killed the game for me, as you are forced to sit through the drivel this game calls a story due to the effectively unskippable cut scenes. I found myself growing more and more frustrated as the plot became even more disjointed as I went along, to the point where I could not have been happier when the game finally ended.
So yeah, I was severely disappointed with this title. And I’m not even getting into the game’s “special” AI. Long story short, I cannot and will not recommend this game to anyone. I won’t even recommend it to fans of the original Max Payne games, as the character assassination that takes place is enough to ruin it for even the most diehard of fans. Only pick up this game if you’re looking for a mindless excuse to shoot people in bullet time and can do something entertaining (like play another game on a handheld system) while the cut scenes play. And even then only rent it; do not encourage this sort of thing to continue by investing your money into Max Payne 3. I am quite honestly disgusted by how well this game has done commercially and critically.
The only thing this game succeeds in doing is causing max pain for the player.