Tuesday, December 11, 2012

[Game Review] Max Payne 3


"The way I see it, there are two types of people. Those who spend their lives trying to build a future. And those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past." - Max Payne

Let me start this post off on the right foot and say that I love Max Payne, and there will be mild spoilers in these thoughts for all three games.

I have loved Max since the first game—a decade ago. No matter what games I moved on to, how much I enjoyed them, Max Payne has always had, and always will have, a top spot in my heart. The original game was, for me, a haunting, desperate tale of one man’s descent into darkness. His story is full of typical tropes for sure, but tropes are fine when done well.

In the first game, you start the story with Max who’s living an ordinary, mundane life as a cop and family man. After he loses everything, Max begins to basically live his life balls to the walls. And even though you want things to get better for Max because he’s such a tragically good guy, the grimness of the situation is it doesn’t. This follows him into the second game and culminates in the third game where we find him guarding people he doesn’t care for, living in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, and basically trying to do everything humanly possible to end his life short of swallowing his own gun.

We were teased with Max Payne 3 for years. I think, for us hardcore fans of the series, that we’d pretty much hardened our hearts to the rumors because it was such a letdown to hear that it was in production. Sure, we wanted the third game to see how Max’s tale would end, but if there was one thing we’d taken from our antihero, it was to never bet too much on hope. And then, finally, there was something to substantiate the rumor. Now, I’m a Rockstar fan, but most of my respect comes from how they handle their offerings. I think that they’re consistent if nothing else—something I wished another unnamed company I love would take a couple of hints from. Rockstar wouldn’t release this game until they felt it was ready for the public, even if that meant pushing it back. It was worth the wait.


Gameplay was a ton of fun. I spent most of my time bullet dodging. Bullet time never gets old in that series, and it’s executed so well. A few people I know said they played for that aspect of the game alone. I’m glad they included a cover method in this game since covering was a bit part of the first two games, but there was no real “method” for it. You just found something and hid behind it the best you could. But in this third installment, they really worked it, even taking into account the “type” of cover you’re using such as making bullets chip off parts of your cover, pass through it, or even destroy it if it’s something that’s a little flimsy like some type of wooden structure. I couldn’t help but LOL at a bullet-ridden Max who insisted painkillers and booze would see him through this. Like Max you have a bullet hole going clean through you, I don’t think booze is going to get it.

The controls were mostly great. In the beginning, it felt like I had to remember so much stuff, but after playing through, it was pretty easy to remember. Sometimes, I had to fight the gun scroll wheel, but I made it through. I had a few instances where I’d get stuck in cover for few seconds before Max would move. Didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was fairly annoying, especially in the middle of an intense gun fight where I was already on the edge of my seat.

Storywise, I felt like Rockstar did a wonderful job of ironing out a lot of the corniness that the first two games had. Max has always narrated his story, but in the first two games, some of the things he said were just a bit too schlocky for my tastes and/or left me rolling my eyes. That never deterred me from enjoying the games, but it was a thing. I’m sure others probably enjoyed that cheesy noir feel that Max sometimes gave players, but I’m glad to see they found better ways for Max to express himself in this game. And I absolutely loved the visual punctuation on some of the spoken lines in the game. I thought that was a nice touch and worked well.

I was a little apprehensive when I heard that most of this game would take place in Brazil. The dirtiness of Max’s surroundings in the first two games mirrored the moral decay at the heart of his story, so I worried at first how beautiful, vibrant Brazil would work with this game. I was afraid it wouldn’t translate well, but my fears were unfounded. Brazil provided a perfect backdrop for the third game, putting Max in an environment where the vibrancy tried to mask the ugliness under the machinations of many of the characters. Max was out of his element, and he knew it. Many of his inner monologues did a great job of pointing that out without being too droning. The juxtaposition of this lively environment really meshed in profound ways with Max’s determination to continue down his troubled path to rock bottom.
We watch Max abuse his signature painkillers while downing a copious amount of booze to soothe his pains—both physical and mental, holing himself up in ratholes that reflected his dire mood. Max admits that he could’ve handled many of the situations he’s faced with better, but his disposition made him careless, thoughtless, rash. He tries to remind players that he no longer is a good person and deserves whatever sordid death comes to him while ignoring the qualities that make him a good guy at heart. He never stopped being a cop or feeling that his duty is to serve and protect. He complains about the shallow people he protects, and while he tries to say his behavior to protect them is just suicidal stupidity on his part, on some level I think that Max still feels his role is to protect others from the “bad guys.”

But at the same time, Max isn’t a cop anymore. His cop instincts are now tempered with many gray areas that allow him to be more “understanding” in some ways, even where normal people would think such understanding isn’t warranted, such as how he allows Serrano to exact revenge for what the doctor put him and his people through. Max had every right to blow Serrano’s face off when they met again, but at that point, Max sees a broken man, maybe even a reflection of himself. “He looked pathetic, a man defeated. I walked away and left him to his own personal nightmare.” But Max did encounter Serrano one more time before walking out of that hotel forever when confronting the doctor harvesting organs, leaving Serrano to mete out justice, even saying that he was rooting for Serrano in some odd way when he says, “My old pal, Serrano. We'd both been unwitting clowns in this sorry circus. Part of me hoped that he'd made it out that hotel alive.”

If there was one series that I expected to end on a heartbreaking note, it was this one, and it would’ve been deserved. When Max shaved his head, said he’d become the monster they wanted him to be, and prepared to make his last stand, I just knew Max was going to go out in a blaze of glory. This game has always felt more like a graphic novel, a Punisher-eque, modern noir type story that you followed rather than played. There was never much reason to believe that this story would end on a positive note, and if Max didn’t die, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. And from the opening scenes of the game, I felt this would be the case. Again, I was wrong.

The ending wasn’t all butterflies and happiness, but it gave closure. It felt like Max had finally found his peace and his next journey would lead to healing rather than more mayhem. It was such a simple, quiet ending that was fitting of the series—assuming this is the last we hear from Max. It doesn’t promise you he’ll be happy, but it seems to leave the possibility that he will (or won’t) open to players’ interpretations.

I don’t have much bad to say about this game. I love the story, I loved the new faces they introduced, and I just loved this game. The things that annoyed me are so minor in comparison to the things that I liked that I don’t even think they’re worth talking about. This game just brought back all my feelings about the game, cementing the things that made me fall in love with Max from the beginning.

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This blog is a mishmash of thoughts, pictures, and rantings among other things about games I've played, games I will play, and games I am currently playing. From time to time, I may post book reviews that I've written that are about different games and/or game worlds. Feel free to recommend games or add me on the platforms I've listed. I don't do competitive multiplayer much anymore, but I'm always down for some co-op these days. I'm usually DigitalTempest everywhere unless otherwise specified.

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Tiara has read 6 books toward her goal of 52 books.
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The Elfstones Of Shannara
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Gardens of the Moon
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Tiara's bookshelf: read

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