Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: PS3, XBox 360, PC
Genre: Third Person Shooter, Action
Modes: Single Player, Online Multiplayer
Writers: Dan Houser, Michael Unsworth, Rupert Humphries
“Do you think a pile of shit feels popular because it’s surrounded by flies?”
Reports of disappointing sales for Max Payne 3 come as a real surprise, even if “disappointing” actually translates to slightly less mega millions than the ultra mega millions the company projected. But such figures do suggest that an unexpected amount of Rockstar’s guaranteed loyal fan base have decided to pass on what initially appeared a no brainer marriage between the popular and influential Max Payne series, and the revered creators of Grand Theft Auto.
Despite receiving generally positive reviews in the press MP3 can easily be dismissed as a repetitive and limited experience. While it is true that Rockstar have in the past built much more ambitious open world games which offer hundreds of hours of gameplay, it is unfair to let the imposing shadows of GTA, Red Dead, LA Niore et al to obscure what is an enormously entertaining and pulse racing experience.
Straight from the first moment of being given control of the perennially hung over fallen detective turned bodyguard, the gameplay becomes a non stop assembly line of frantic third person shoot and cover set pieces. After dispatching the twenty or so henchmen thrown in front of you for each battle, its straight onto the next brawl, or a healthy dose of talky cut scene. The experienced heads at Rockstar are fully aware of the potential for things to become stale and have paced the rising intensity of the gun play beautifully. After the initial buzz there are periods where doubt begins to creep in as to how much longer shooting people can remain exciting but in the latter stages the action accelerates and the cut scenes become less verbose leaving you reasonably free to indulge in the mass slaughter without constant and bothersome interruptions. Things are further spiced up here and there with on rails vehicle sections (though these are actually just slightly more restricted shoot outs) and cinematic critical kills. Though executed well enough these additions are barely noticeable and fall entirely flat on occasion. The token button prompt fist fights are the most underwhelming, and can come across as a slap in the face given that hand to hand combat is generally absent.
So is Max Payne 3 limited? Yes.
But the bottom line is that the shoot outs are spectacularly intense. They leave you giddily charging into the next ambush, leaping face first through a hail of bullets hoping that a chaotic spray of twin Uzi’s in every direction will be enough to kill everyone before you land on your arse and get blasted to pieces. They are intense explosions of cinematic action, so fluid and seamless, hours can pass by before you realise how immersed in the butchery you have become. The combat laughs at that seen in other games. It batters them into whimpering submission, after scooping out their eye balls, ripping off their chin, and blowing out their digestive system all over the floor with a sawn-off shotgun. It’s top-fucking-notch.
Much of the fun does have to be instigated by the player – simply plodding through and using the preset auto fire is entirely missing point. Through liberal and creative use of the fancy bullet time moves – made freely available from the beginning and only limited by a fairly generous and rechargeable meter – it is possible to create graphic action money-shots of such extremes they would make the Matrix blush like a virgin serving drinks at a Roman orgy. The control system is a slight adaptation of the traditional GTA shoot and cover with some sexy additions. The sheer number of buttons involved to execute some of these moves can be a bit fiddly and does often result in confused thumbs reloading at the wrong moment, or diving out into the middle of a pack of surprised enemies.
When everything comes together moments of pure action genius can be captured on screen complete with stunning cinematography. Watching other people play is almost as rewarding as dishing out bloody retribution yourself. There is nothing like jumping out of a bus window in bullet time and unloading duel wielding Uzis into a crowd, falling on your ass in a heap, loosing a desperate shot into a gas pump, watching as the flames engulf the poor sap stood next to it, laughing as he roles around in agony only to be put out of his misery when the entire thing blows up. Eventually you begin to feel like a famous director orchestrating an Oscar winning action opus. There really is a rewarding sense that these are your own unique moments and often leave you searching for a replay editor with which to save the footage and send it off to hollywood.
At first the intensity of this violence is a little hard to contain while maintaining any sense of decorum – there is no alternative other than to dance around the sofa in wild childish excitement, whooping as every pack of goons are dropped to the floor and left pissing great fountains of blood from every limb. Even as the novelty of inflicting horrible death inevitably wears off, any noticeable shortcomings can always be forgiven every time time the kill-cam is successfully activated when the final goon in each section is fired at. If timed to perfection the camera switches to an extreme bullet time, slowly tracking your last bullet as it leaves the chamber right up until it rips through its hapless target. It makes bullet time cool again and if you aren’t uncontrollably excited by this then perhaps it is time to consider hanging up your gaming pad.
As is always expected of Rockstar the production values are as good as any big budget blockbuster film. In particular the graphic models of each person are some of the most intricately detailed and lifelike ever created. By allowing themselves to focus on such confined areas, Rockstar have been able to produce staggeringly detailed environments which are so vividly drawn they actually stimulate the senses, whether it be the itchy flea ridden sweltering cesspools of the Brazilian slums, the air conditioned corridors of the office buildings, or the blood and spunk stained mattresses of the brothels.
And one thing that never gets old is the old ultra violence. Making full use of the incredible graphics engine, gun shots now carve accurate bullet holes which squirt blood as the victim writhes and twitches in its death throws. Careful aim can reduce eye sockets to bloody chasms. Close range shot gun blasts can fill the screen with sickening gushes of claret. The corpses of your enemies can be defiled to a sickening degree… ahem.
Quite where the outraged Daily Mail articles went is honestly a mystery.
The narrative, which plays a central role in the experience, is a strange one. MP3 definitely enhances Rockstar’s already well established reputation for storytelling, and they make full use of hard earned experience for studiously researching the social issues of their chosen era – in this case the stark contrast between the rich and poor of São Paulo, and the many forms of vice which cross the two different worlds. This is an ambitiously unique narrative for a computer game which makes use of the shocking issues continually brought up by the backdrop to craft a detailed character study. Largely told through a film niore voice narration, it chronicles a mans struggles with depression and decent into literal and psychological hell. It is so well executed it makes the recent cinema butchery of the series look particularly telling of where the talent that used to be in Hollywood has gone.
However, such a tightly wound and po-faced plot has to continually fight it out against the demands of the repetitive gameplay. Never ending action sequences bestow an unintended comedic tone to latter cut scene as things descend into yet another gun battle. Dozens of times we are treated to a cut scene of Max on the job, making endless wry sardonic observations about the decadently rich scum his work surrounds him with, as he smashes back another G&T, only for a small army to pop up and send him spiraling down a rabbit hole of ultra violence, vice and squalor. By the end he has become a kind of hard core inspector Clusoe. Fueled by drink and drugs he bumbles from whore houses to gangland executions, human trafficking rings to drug labs. Coming across as contrived shouldn’t normally be a problem for a videogame but with such a heavy handed and realistic story it begins to jar. The ceaseless narration by Payne is also becomes a little too much to swallow. Though voiced perfectly by James McCaffrey, full of whit, dry humour and nice references, it becomes absurdly forced as it feels the need to comment on every room and every object. It’s a common problem throughout that Rockstar set the style to unnecessarily high levels at all times.
In terms of content Max Payne 3 is unable to stand up to Rockstar’s previous offerings, though it does compare favorably to most action adventures. But in terms of quality and achieving what it sets out to do it has to be considered a true masterpiece of its genre.
Just dont forget to prepare some cool quips before you start playing – you will require them.
Graphics – 9.5
A new landmark for achieving cinematic visuals and intricately realised, real life settings.
Sound – 9.5
The best soundtrack ever produced for a computer game. The work of Health, it is well worthy of purchase by itself.
Enjoyment – 8.5
It’s action pure and simple. Perhaps a little shallow but expertly done.