Reviews: Max Payne
Max Payne 3 Is Terrible
I was not instantly hating on MP3 when I heard the change of setting and story. I decided to give it an honest chance. I was not only disappointed, I was insulted. I played halfway through it (specifically up to the level where Max starts getting shot up by street gangs) and couldn't take it anymore. This game is a shining example of They Changed It, Now It Sucks, and also sucks for entirely unrelated reasons. Max can only carry three weapons at a time, two pistols and a two-handed gun, and in an annoying glitch trying to switch to the latter often causes you to drop it. Cover is a part of the game slows things down, making the game feel like a rail shooter moving between cover points. The game is punishingly difficult even on Medium difficulty, stingy with painkillers and ammo. You'll be forced to fight five enemies or more with less than half HP and barely enough ammo to do a full reload. As if the developers knew the game was too difficult, after reloading enough times they toss you painkillers and extra ammo as a half-assed mercy. Quicksaves are gone in favor of checkpoints, forcing you to fight the same battles over and over even if you got past them already and are having trouble in the section after. The stylish graphic novel style cutscenes are gone, replaced with normal cutscenes that occasionally freeze-frame and flash words someone just said on the screen. Max is variably drunk, hungover, or detoxing, and thus the game constantly adds blur effects and fuzziness to the view. It's annoying and distracting. Instead of dark and gritty New York, Brazil is garish and ugly. The characters are cardboard cliches, like they're auditioning for Jersey Shore. Max is disgusted by how they act and doesn't care about them, and I concur. The game completely ignores the first two. Max doesn't even mention anyone or anything from them. We fast forward a decade from 2, where Max is retired and decides to move to Brazil and be a bodyguard for no reason. What, a mob boss put a hit on him? Back in the day Max would storm his mansion and shoot him in the head. It's obvious the developers just did not care. If this was not called Max Payne and didn't have James McCaffrey doing voice work, it would be unrecognizable as a Max Payne game. In the end it still is. It is slow-moving, overly difficult, ugly to look at, and simply not fun to play.
First 2 Games Are Awesome
I am a big fan of the Max Payne games. I downloaded the first two games from Steam, and after all these years they still hold up. The two games are dripping in style and atmosphere, the cutscenes are unique and give the series its own flavor, the plot is a cool throwback to film noir with Max's narration being an good homage to it. Gameplay is nothing stand-out, but it's perfectly serviceable. Enough challenge to make you put in effort but relaxed enough to be fun and let you play around. The second game is the better of the two, taking all the goodness of the first and polishing it up. The graphic are sharper, the improved physics allows for cool moves like diving over a stack of boxes to come out shooting. Both games also have cool parallels to Norse and Christian mythology. And it's mostly there to be cool, but is also executed well and even remarked upon in-story at times. Max Payne 1 and 2 are excellent games that have really withstood the test of time. The first game's graphics are showing their age, but that's to be expected. Everything else still holds up great.
3 = So Bad, It's Horrible
When Rockstar first announced Max Payne 3, fans were outraged and fearful. A bald, bearded, fat Max Payne in the slums of Brazil? Serving as a bodyguard for the rich? What nonsense is this? Those fears were completely justified. Max Payne 3 is Max Payne In Name Only. At best, it's Rockstar's attempt at a video game version of Man on Fire. The cast is completely made up of petty, vain, Grand Theft Auto style caricatures who die horribly. Max himself is little more than a Man Child awash in his own Wangst who lacks any of the self-awareness or morals he had in the last two games, nor does he look or sound anything like how he did before. That's bad enough coming off of Max Payne 2's story, which was close to True Art as video games go, but unskippable cutscenes make it utterly insufferable. The gameplay also suffers from not knowing if it wants to be a cover shooter or remain true to the laughably outdated gunfighting styled after The Matrix, and ends up unfocused and overly difficult. The soundtrack dumps the Awesome Music of the second game for grating electronic stuff and the graphics and animation are just okay, but don't hold a candle to the groundbreaking graphics of the second game. I'd probably hold them in slightly better regard if it wasn't for the constant Interface Screw the game throws at you. Rockstar claims that Max Payne 3 was developed with input by Remedy, but there's no sign of Remedy's Signature Style to be found here so I'm convinced they were lying. Max Payne 3 is easily among the worst games made in the past 5 years and an insult to Sam Lake's nigh-peerless writing. Rockstar didn't even have the guts to give Max the tragic death in the snow he deserved! Fans of 3 should be ashamed for defending this garbage and its appalling to see most of the tropes on the page be for 3 instead of 2 or even 1. If you want the real Max Payne 3, play Remedy's Alan Wake. It even contains the true ending of Max Payne as an Easter Egg!
One thing Yahtzee didn't exaggerate...
... is just how much of a fucking buzzkill Max Payne is as a character. Playing Max Payne 3 made me think that if I was following the story with a character like John Marston or even Cole Phelps as the lead, then I'd enjoy it marginally more. But he makes for such a downer with his shitty noir-detective narration, constant fucking up throughout the entirety of the story, and generally being a completely inept loser whenever a cutscene starts playing. Gameplay wise things are better, but not by a whole lot. Gunplay is solid with a wide array of weapons to use, and a bit of edge in the gameplay comes from the constant need to scavenge new weapons when your ammo runs low and it adds to the tension. The issue with the bullettime and diving mechanic is that Max is far too squishy to pull that gameplay off. His durability is profoundly pathetic where a few stray bullets can flatten him. You can fly through the air in slowmo and cap three guys, but as soon as you land on your belly and try to awkwardly clamber to your feet well it becomes open season for every other asshole on the map. And then there's the last-stand mechanic... oooooh boy is that awful. Say you run out of health but still have a bottle of painkillers, then you can land a killshot on the person who downed you to save yourself. Assuming they're not in cover, or too far away, or directly behind you, or Max isn't out of ammo. If that happens then you need to wait for what feels like an eternity for the slowmo to end and give you a game over screen. If you do kill them, then Max will be flat on his ass and you have to wait for him to get up at an ungodly slow pace in which he can be filled with more holes than Swiss cheese and immediately get downed again. Oh yeah and those ugly neon flickers just make the game a pain to even look at. A low-point in Rockstar's canon. Just go get Stranglehold instead.
Max Payne 3: Halfway Decent, but Disappointing
Max Payne 3 starts off strong, but gradually shifts into unpleasantness as it goes on, eventually wallowing in despair by the end. With some modification, a sequel to this could be good, but as it stands now, Max Payne 3 is a different creature from it predecessors that doesn't quite hit the mark. Easily the biggest issue is the drastic shift in tone from the first two games: it's just so fucking dark. Cardboard cutouts get killed left and right with little time for characterization, while Max himself spends a good portion of the game drinking and talking about what a piece of shit he is. This is not helped by the setting change; the tone of the previous games was moody but not relentlessly so, while this game seems determined to constantly throw the worst São Paulo has to offer at us. Eventually, it just becomes a nonstop cavalcade of grimness, and it's hard to root for anybody. Leaving the darkness aside, cutscenes are lengthy, often unskippable, and punctuated with annoying effects: colors randomly breaking apart like a bad TV screen, words characters have just said hanging in the air, and sudden split screens. This is possibly an attempt to emulate the comic panels of the originals with none of the style. The gameplay is... a little off. The actual shooting and flying through the air work fine, although the game is incredibly stingy with bullet time, for some reason: simply going into slow motion for an easy headshot is rarely an option. However, the cover mechanic isn't as good. This game shows that a cover system works best with regenerating health of some kind; if you get caught behind cover with only a sliver of health left and no way to get it back, you might as well reload your game — from a checkpoint, as there is no quicksave option. Painkillers are also rare, which means having low health is pretty common. The Euphoria system can actually be a detriment at times, making it hard to tell if a bad guy has died or just fallen over. There are flashes around the crosshairs to show if you kill someone, but they're easy to miss. There is some fun to be had here, if you're willing to sit through a grim slog to get to it. Some of the levels are pretty well-designed and have some entertaining moments. However, if you dislike excessive thematic darkness, you should give this game a pass.