Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Now Playing: Max Payne 3

It took me longer to download Max Payne 3 than to actually beat the damn thing. I clocked around 8 hours on the default Normal setting, although it should be said approximately 2 hours of that time was spent watching cut-scenes. My initial impressions were not particularly good, but I’m pleased to say the game improved steadily throughout, and although I still have several gripes with MP3, I ultimately enjoyed it enough to immediately do a second run.

Max Payne 3 is a slick, polished and engaging third person shooter. It has a strong, compelling story with some excellent characterisation. It’s well directed and edited to a fine precision, delivering a truly cinematic experience. It’s also extremely linear and highly scripted, but thanks to the solid combat, variety of difficulty settings and the additional Arcade game modes, there’s enough replay value to warrant more than a single playthrough.

Max Payne’s gameplay is famous for its use of bullet-time, the slow-motion gunplay mechanic that has become a standard feature of just about every shooting game going. Nevertheless, slow motion dodge shoot-outs remain feeling as fresh and enjoyable in MP3 as they did in the original, and they are well mixed with the more modern gameplay additions of roll, crouch, prone and cover based shooting mechanics.

The shooting is enjoyable, tightly balanced and satisfying. It also looks extremely cool, at least until you perform a slow-motion dodge into an empty room and slam into a filing cabinet. There’s a decent selection of weapons available, some with optional attachments, and Max moves with just the right amount of grace for an ageing, painkiller addicted drunk.

There are 14 levels in all, a couple of which are gritty flashback events, detailing Max’s journey from his home in New York to his current predicament in Sao Paulo. As I said, my initial impressions of Max Payne 3 were not very good. The opening section is fine as a short, linear tutorial, but it unfortunately set the tone for the next several chapters. It opens with a long cinematic to set the scene before handing control to the player. A few moments later and another short cut-scene interrupts play. And then again. And again. Hell, I couldn’t even open a door without triggering another cinematic.

And this, unfortunately, is my biggest gripe with the game. In order to maintain this strong cinematic experience, Max Payne 3 too often wrestles control away from the player. I’m pleased to say these irritating interruptions become less of a problem around chapter 6 onwards, but that’s nearly half-way through the game. And they are often unnecessary too - I don’t need a bloody cinematic of Max climbing a ladder or opening a door!

But beyond the mundane environmental movement, there are also scenes where Max does some very cool stunts - leaping onto a helicopter, for example. I know these moments may not lend themselves to the movement and shooting mechanics created for the game, but hell, at least give us a QTE or a ‘hammer the button’ moment - anything to give the player some interaction in the scene as opposed to nothing at all. I generally prefer to be playing the game in front of me, not simply watching it play itself.

A lot of these early levels also feel very small and short. They’re also largely forgettable in terms of design or set-pieces. Fortunately, once you get further into the game, the levels open up more, becoming larger, more visually interesting and more complex in design. They also give the player more control. At one point Max was shimmying along a narrow ledge. I expected another cut-scene, but I was surprised when the game actually let me remain in control. Okay, so it was only holding down a key for a few moments, but it’s better than nothing.

The story is good, with a variety of interesting and well drawn characters, but it is of course Max who steals the show with his cynical dry wit. He goes through a rough time of it, as you would expect, changing quite dramatically physically, and maybe a little psychologically too, as he drags himself out of his own personal hell.

I can’t comment on the Multiplayer side of the game, because I didn’t bother with it. It just had no interest for me. There are also a number of collectable items in the game and clues to find if you like that sort of thing. Graphically, it looks great, even if a few of the environments are a little bland.

Overall, Max Payne 3 is a worthy sequel to its predecessors. It’s incredibly well presented, with excellent music and sound design, great VA, a compelling story and central character with solid, satisfying gameplay. If you’re a fan of the series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the direction of Max Payne 3, and if you’re just a fan of third person shooters in general, you’ll be sure to get quite the kick out of it.


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