Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review: Max Payne 3 (360)

Addicted to painkillers and a raging alcoholic. Emotionally and mentally tortured by the murder of his wife and child. His law enforcement career completely done. The New Jersey mob has a vendetta contract out on him. Zero self-respect for himself. And people around him have a penchant for dying in horrific and painful ways. Yeah, Max Payne's not exactly the life of the party in his return to gaming with Max Payne 3 on the Xbox 360. But while Payne himself is figuratively in the gutter of life, the game itself is Park Avenue great, with the trademark Rockstar solid storytelling in the long-lasting single-player mode along with a surprisingly robust multiplayer mode.

For Max Payne 3, Rockstar pulls up the Jersey roots of heavy-drinking, painkiller-addicted failed cop Max Payne, and plants him down in Sao Paulo, Brazil, recruited by a former cop to be a bodyguard for the Branco family, led by Rodrigo Branco, who's made the family fortune in real estate. However, the Brancos, as gamers will come to see, are nothing but a bunch of partying socialites of highly questionable character. Unfortunately, for the Brancos, they've hired the one guy in the entire world apparently that is the least qualified to be a personal bodyguard in a dangerous city where kidnappings, killings and general mishaps  hide around every corner if you have some wealth and power, as the Brancos obviously do. Predictably, all kinds of mayhem and murderous events occur, with Payne doing the worst job of "body guarding" ever, although he'll find out that that was possibility the intention of his hiring in the first place.

As expected from a Rockstar title, the story of Max Payne 3 is strong and well developed, good enough to be a summer blockbuster movie script. Oftentimes, the voiceover full of hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett-style clichés of Max Payne narrating during gameplay is a helpful hint to do a particular objective or to head in a particular direction. But it can also be completely depressing. Max makes Franz Kafka seem cheery and jovial by comparison. By the end of the single-player story, gamers just might want to grab Payne's pistol and shoot themselves with a single bullet in the brain to escape the gloomy narrated "pain" of Payne. Rockstar just needs to find a way to prescribe Payne some Prozac before developing Max Payne 4 and get him off the painkillers, which just seem to exacerbate his deep, deep depressive state.

Those gamers (like myself) who had no familiarity with the first two titles, and therefore Payne's backstory, will be caught up somewhat with the flashback missions that have Payne's past examined, including gunfighting with Jersey mobsters that convinces Payne to take his Brazilian "vacation." The bloody and high body count story plays out in extensive cutscenes through the 12 hours or so of single-player gameplay. By extensive cutscenes, I mean really extensive cutscenes, as evidenced by the not one, but two discs of content it takes to play through Max Payne 3's single-player adventure that has plenty of twists and turns. What is hard to get used to in those 12 hours is the extreme linearity of the single-player campaign. While there's small exploration side "missions" to find hidden items including the pieces of golden guns hidden throughout, Payne has basically one path to go, something unexpected by those that have come to expect the wide-open sandbox games Rockstar has become famous for.

Those two discs also store impressive visuals, as the game used detailed motion-capture to create realistic, fluid graphics. However, the constant blurring of the game screen, presumably to project Payne's always-under-the-influence state of mind can get annoying real fast. Gamers will be continually using painkillers to replenish Payne's health, especially after brutal, bullets-flying-everywhere gun battles, so essentially he's high on painkillers the entire game, leading to the nearly ever-present blurriness. Also a constant presence is the continual popping up of words and phrases on the screen, taken from the current dialogue being spoken by in-game characters. It's more a stylistic inclusion, though, meant to imbue a movie-like presentation.

It wouldn't matter how good the game looked without stellar gameplay, and boosted by the famous "bullet time" slo-mo killing that gamers can use, where everything slows down Matrix-style and Payne can shoot enemies in slow motion, either just straight-ahead shooting or by diving toward/away from them (and throughout the game there are several instances where a "forced" bullet time showdown is initiated). The shooting action is very good, with adjustable aiming that give Max Payne 3 excellent shooting mechanisms for the entire single-player campaign and carried over to the multiplayer component, which is a great continuation of Max Payne 3's entertaining single-player gameplay.

After having played multiplayer on two previous Rockstar titles, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would Max Payne 3's online gameplay be like Grand Theft Auto IV (which seemed just a tacked-on addition with uneven shooting and gameplay) or similar to Red Dead Revolver (which was much superior to GTA IV, but could be a little too spacious with its levels)? Max Payne 3 surpasses both by a wide margin, with the usual modes you would expect (deathmatch, team deathmatch) along with two somewhat unique ones: Payne Killer and Gang Wars. Payne Killer is essentially a King of the Hill mode, with one character starting out as Max Payne on one side and as another leader character on the other. By killing Payne/the leader, gamers assume that identity, and continue until another gamer kills them and in turn takes over that role. Gang Wars is an objective-based mode, with "chapters" that can change objectives depending on what team won the previous round.

Responsive shooting (including bullet time), fluid character movement and the crisp pace of multiplayer matches are all solid. I personally enjoyed the looting aspect of multiplayer, where gamers can "loot" fallen fellow players, taking money, power-ups and weaponry from their recently dead corpses to use for their own advantage. That money looted is important to use when perusing the "shop" to purchase upgrades for better weaponry and items.

Max Payne 3 has an action-packed and long-lasting single-player campaign driven by an expectedly solid single-player story that is a Rockstar trademark. That combines with very entertaining multiplayer that will have gamers playing long after the single-player campaign is complete.

– Lee Cieniawa

The Good:
‑ Very strong single-player campaign with the trademark solid Rockstar cutscene-heavy storytelling
‑ Surprisingly good multiplayer, including two unique modes: Payne Killer and Gang Wars

The Bad:
 ‑ Voiceover of Max Payne narrating is full of hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett clichés and so depressing,  gamers will want to grab Payne's pistol by the end of the single-player story and shoot themselves in the head to escape the gloomy "Payne"
‑ Extremely hard to get used to a Rockstar game that has a linear, closed world instead of an being an open sandbox

Score: 9.0 / 10