Max Payne 3: Popgasm

Max Payne is a special series. It was a development studio’s love letter to a genre bathing in alcohol and broken hearts. It is night time often or always, consistently rainy or wet, and takes place in an alley way. It’s what made Max Payne 1 and 2 so great. The Noire. The clunky animations and hilarious models aside (in the first), the games were engrossing plots, filled with a thick sense of drama and tragedy. Not common in a medium filled to the brim with bald tough guys with huge guns fighting aliens.

Not many people played the first 2 games in the series, I never completed either actually, but I did whet my palette with their unique flavor. Max’s melodramatic monologues set the pace for an overly sobby shoot-fest, and the mechanics helped add to the character’s crisis (with health items being painkillers). He was a pill popping cop out for vengeance, seeking the killers of his family.

Max Payne 3 took the Noire and the melodrama and the addiction and the feeling of being up to the knees in a gutter and then put it all behind the neon tinted sunglasses of Tony Scott. Hold your breath, don’t open your eyes, and keep moving forward, this is going to be a loud, dizzying and inebriated ride.

Possibly, Dan Houser thought Man on Fire was an example of a modern Noire, with it’s melodrama and afflicted hero given new purpose in the form of nanny, and then having that purpose stolen away bringing out the killer inside. The one that got him all these wounds to begin with. It’s always wrong place, wrong time, with the person who hires him being the one responsible for all the problems he’s trying to solve. It’s a cookie cutter plot, but an effective one, one that leaves room to play inside of and make your own.

I don’t think Max Payne 3 was effective at this though. With the length of a current video game running at near 10 hours for completion, keeping the momentum of a Noire, with it’s many characters, sub plots, suspense and of course misdirection can be extremely difficult. The New Jersey flash backs elaborating (exhaustively) on what single lines of dialogue could do easily added an hour and a half to two hours worth of game time, all in the name of more shooting. If killing half of all of Brazil’s criminal’s isn’t enough, you virtually wipe out of half of the Italian male population in New Jersey.

That is another huge sticking point for this game. The amount of people you kill is simply outrageous. Maybe it’s because they tried so hard to place Max into the real world, with highly detailed environments and characters and weapons and animations, but you seriously feel like you wipe out 2000 or more people in the single story of this game. As a matter of fact (and admittedly, taking continues into account), I killed more than 2,500 gun toting assailants during a single play through of Max Payne 3. The problem isn’t that you will have fired more than 10,000 bullets by the end, it’s that you notice. Uncharted does a great job of pacing it, so it doesn’t feel like you’re the grim reaper, with things like stealth kills, fist fights, and of course, keeping the number of enemies down in a single area (and not sending wave after wave). Unfortunately, Max Payne overstays his welcome everywhere he goes, and so an equal force is dispatched in response every time.

The plot isn’t bad, but suffers from repeating itself. After the first 3 missions, you end up redoing the 3rd mission over and over again in different areas (with the exception of New Jersey flashbacks). Find the girl. Find the girl. Find the girl. Every time you see her she escapes your grasp. And then before the game ends, Max simply get so pissed that finding the girl isn’t enough, he has to kill everyone, for his own personal sense of justice. This goes on for two more levels.

So the plot is weak. Having to say the same things 100 different ways not only because of the cinematics but because of Max’s narration gets old. The action set pieces are fantastic, the gun mechanics are solid, the game plays well enough. But the motivation falls short, and besides being a flashy Health music video, get’s tired.

Max as a character is pretty great though. His self-loathing, his need to correct the uncorrectable, his impeccable style, it’s all great. It’s one of the redeeming points of this game, his shaved head and scruffy beard, two barrels flying through the air, 10 guys killed before you hit the ground… all very cool. The game is not without it’s value. The story telling, as long winded as it may be, is actually very mature, and tells a very dark plot you wouldn’t expect from a video game. No saving the world, no stopping World War III, no doomsday devices. It’s very much a personal story, which is I suppose why I feel it’s not the strongest game. The gameplay and what you go through doesn’t really match up with the intentions of the plot. A man stricken, drunk and drugged out to redeem his accursed life and sins, kills thousands of men doing so. Although each encounter can be seen as a highly tense and dramatic duel, you have one of these every 10 seconds, 8 guys to a wave, 3 waves to a room. It kills it’s own drama. But, if you can see it for what it’s trying to do instead of what it is, than you may really enjoy it.

I like it, I just don’t think it’s the best execution of it. Also, the multiplayer is fun, it has all the expected features, but for some reason they’re trying to sell it as a competitive online shooter, and their engine has all these buffers and safeties for lag. Essentially, you never feel like what you’re seeing on screen is an actual reproduction of what’s going on, like you can in Counter Strike. People are dying long after they’ve hid behind a wall, they’re killing each other at the same time because the bullets are taking their time to reach other, you’re ending up dead long before you even see bullets fire or pistol butts swing. It’s really annoying, and not suited to competitive play. It’s fun, mostly, flying through the air shooting at people, but wanting to succeed in multiplayer and be good at it is kind of a lost cause.

All in all, a good game. The Health soundtrack though? Fantastic. Here’s the original song they recorded for it:

You can find the rest easily on the internet.

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