"It's like Baghdad with G-strings."
Max Payne 3 is a difficult game for me to rate because it's exceptionally well-crafted, has lots of interesting scenes, and stars my favorite character. It's also a game which, sadly, isn't as much fun as the originals. Sadly, it took the wrong lesson from its immediate predecessor and tries to be dark rather than fun. Penny Arcade Extra Credits talked about Max Payne 3 getting too grim and gritty. I stupidly disagreed, thinking Max Payne was always that way, but they're right. This game is ridiculously grim and gritty.
Not fun ridiculously grim and gritty like Warhammer 40K either.
I'll get the flaws out o the way first since everyone should know about them. The game play is 90% as fun as the original Max Payne games. Bullet time is preserved, shoot-dodge is always entertaining, painkillers remain in place of regenerating health, and the addition of targeting help made the game much more enjoyable for me. The problem, unfortunately, is the damn cover mechanic.
I know, I usually go into rants about subtext and storytelling first but the game play needs to be talked about here. The addition of cover to the Max Payne series adds nothing to the experience and is counter-intuitive. When you want to 'run and gun' like in the original games and which bullet-time is made for, you often find yourself overwhelmed with hordes of enemies. Instead, you have to hide behind boxes and fishing boats or whatever to inaccurately fire at mooks until you've thinned their ranks.
It's not fun, at all.
The next problem is the game takes itself a little too seriously. By a little, I mean a lot. Max Payne has always been a brooding antihero. He's a cold blooded murderer, morbidly obsessed with his dead family, and possibly suicidal. The fact Rockstar didn't find this dark enough bothers me. Instead, they feel the need to make Max Payne an alcoholic addicted to pain killers determined to drink himself to death. This would okay if the game gave any reason for Max to crawl out of the bottle.
Many reviewers have commented that Max Payne 3 is informed by the 2004 movie Man on Fire. The premise is fundamentally the same, Max Payne takes on security work in a foreign land only for the subject of his contract to be kidnapped out from under his nose. The difference is that Densel Washington's Creasy makes an emotional connection with the daughter Pita. Here, Max can barely hide his loathing for his charges and only halfheartedly goes after them.
In fact, the lack of interesting characters is a major problem with the game. Max Payne 1 and 2 are filled with a breadth of interesting, oddball personalities. You have Vinnie Gognotti, Nicole Horne, Alfred Woden, Vladimir Lem, and video games' arguable best femme fatale Mona Sax. The cast of Max Payne 3 is restricted to one unlikable Brazilian family, your semi-likable partner, and the antagonists.
Finally, the game's fetishism of violence bothered me. Now, I know you're probably going to think that's weak, Max Payne is an action game after all. However, the game takes the original series slow-motion gunfights and turns them into execution porn. Heads explode, bodies are mangled, arms explode, and the game lists rewards for things like crotch shots. What's annoying is the game still has the audacity to act like Max's bloody crusade has deep emotional consequences. You can't go, 'Headshots are awesome, here's a slow motion replay!' and have Max moan about how tragic being a killer is.
So, after all that, I bet you think I hate the game. You'd be wrong.
Max Payne 3 is a game that I enjoyed and am looking forward to the sequel to. It's still a Max Payne game and quite entertaining. Just so you don't think I'm going to harp on its flaws without talking about its merits, I'll go into an explanation of what I did like about the game.
The titular character is still recognizable as the same one from the original games. As much as I think his depression was a little too much, Max's monologues and witticisms are spot on. James McCaffrey does an excellent job of realizing an older, wiser, and more troubled Max. I can easily buy that the original two games have wrecked Max's health and lead to substance abuse. In real life, professional athletes are often a mess in middle age due to the amount of punishment they put their body through.
The game, itself, is beautiful and manages to capture an action movie sensibility. There's scenes like Max jumping out a window and firing at a mook holding a hostage that are so gleefully over-the-top you just want to stand up and cheer when you pull them off. The game play isn't just restricted to third person shooting as well. The game brings back classic rail-shooter staples like helicopter gunfire and firing from the back of a speedboat. These levels were a welcome homage to the arcade titles of my youth while simultaneously breaking up the tension from slaying hundreds of mooks in Sao Paulo's slums.
I found myself invested in Max's journey through the events of the game, watching him come to terms with the fact there's no way he can escape being a killer. The opening monologue of the game is a nice "take that" at the players for insisting on Max return to kill more people.
Max Payne: So I guess I'd become what they wanted me to be, a killer. Some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Well that's what they had paid for, so in the end that's what they got. Say what you want about American but we understand capitalism. You buy yourself a product and you get what you pay for, and these chumps had paid for some angry gringo without the sensibilities to know right from wrong. Here I was about to execute this poor bastard like some dime store angel of death and I realized they were correct, I wouldn't know right from wrong if one of the them was helping the poor and the other was banging my sister.
If you're in a game which can do that statement not only with a straight face but actually make it meaningful in the following story, you've managed to succeed at something wonderful. So, while I didn't enjoy Max Payne 3 as much as I enjoyed Max Payne 2, I will say the game is hardly a failure. I just think Rockstar should go back to the original games and incorporate more of the elements that made them so much fun. If they can incorporate the beautiful cinematography and artwork of the game with the original's vivid characters, you'll have something amazing.