Mr. Max Payne has suffered a hazardous 11 years. His family’s murder kicked off a trail of shell casings, Mafia corpses, dead soldiers, painkiller containers, and a baffling feature film with “Marky Mark” Wahlberg. He’s been shot at, punctured with shrapnel, set on fire, and beaten with a baseball bat. He’s the Energizer anti-hero who just won’t stay down.
But, for all his suffering and persistence, he still can’t catch a break. The people he loves tend to not last long, and are all replaced instead by angry mobsters hell bent on putting him six-feet deep in the ground. Situations like this would be enough to make anyone bitter.
It should come as no surprise, then, that we should see Max as he is now: overweight, leather faced, and his nose deep in a whiskey glass. He has become more cynical, mistrusting, and stubborn as ever. For all the talk about “fallen angels” in the earlier games, Max is clearly at rock bottom, far removed from his time as a detective.
It’s clear that this story will not be a happy one. Max Payne 3’s obvious influences from Man on Fire border on the gratuitous: the location, the similarities between Creasy and Payne’s job roles and tortured past, and even the blurred saturated shots every time Max pops a container of pills or goes through a cutscene. The classic noir storyline may have been foregone, but it’s a new time for Max, and new stories need to be told.
What hasn’t changed is Max’s signature moves. Despite the addition of snapping to cover, Max still dives and manipulates the flow of time like the good ol’ days. Euphoria helps to really smooth out Max’s actions and model physics, as well as give some environmental context; diving into a wall, for example, will cut short Max’s concentration and snap him back to reality. The lack of Max’s bottomless trench coat may irk weapon hoarders, but the heightened tension of weapon-juggling bolsters immersion and presents the challenge of using tools effectively.
The action is as good as it ever was. Scenes are well varied – shootouts occur in nightclubs, office floors, stadiums, and favelas. Gun battles tend to last longer instead of abruptly ending thanks to a mechanic that allows Max to automatically consume some pills if he can exact revenge on the man who fired the fatal shot. Bullet Time is dished out more leniently, but pain pills are also fewer and far between compared to the multitude of first-aid stations scattered throughout the levels of the first two games. It’s a nice balance that justifies the inclusion of cover, yet encourages the player to take a chance with the slow-mo and rush out guns akimbo.
However, what suffers in this game is that the campaign lacks inspiration. It’s a safe bet in a release landscape dominated by high expectations: retain essence of yesteryear, and tweak for today’s audience with maximum effect. Multiplayer is a new inclusion, and appears to be the primary money draw for Rockstar, given plans for several DLC releases in future. The trailers leave the taste of Dog Days in my mouth, but I will spare judgement pending further investigation. Match-wide bullet time kicked off by players sounds horrible in execution, though, and something that would cause me to reach for the power switch.
However, as a single-player campaign it is competent and entertaining, and Rockstar’s application of “arcade realism” gives the whole game a cinematic larger-than-life feel. It’s a fine example of entertainment that is actually interactive, and while I wouldn’t readily compare it with something such as Uncharted, I certainly get the same feeling when I play it.