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I will now be implementing a new "5-Stars" Rating system for reviewed games. I know there are people out there reading these, so feel free to agree, disagree, discuss, etc. in the comments section below!
Our hero's story picks up 12 years after the events of Max Payne 2 (a game developed by Remedy, a company you may know from the bithcin' Alan Wake games), and our hero is a mess. Having lost his wife and young daughter to mob violence, he's been dulling the pain with scotch and pain killers ever since, and it's been ages since he's even given a damn about his own mortality. Broken and alone, we can barely call his existence a life, but everything changes when Max's fellow ex-cop Raul Passos shows up. Though the past decade—and then some—has been a blur to our protagonist, Passos reminds him they were in the police academy together, and offers Max a job working security detail for a wealthy Brazilian family. Before he knows it, Max is downing pills and drinks in beautiful São Paolo, and enduring the ups and downs of a family with more money than it knows what to do with. It's an easy job until the young trophy wife of his boss is kidnapped, and Max is thrust into the seamy underbelly of the Brazilian drug trade, family and civic politics and—gulp—human organ trafficking. Yikes. As Max comes ever closer to the true cause of the horrific events which surround him, he learns that sometimes you can't trust anyone. The bonds of family are easily broken when an ungodly amount of money is involved, but Max Payne needs to redeem himself, and blasting fools all across Central/Southern America seems as good a way as any.
If there is one thing the developers over at Rockstar continually get right, it's the writing. These dudes simply don't create games wherein the story takes a backseat. From the opening moments, it's clear that this game is going to be every bit as heavy on the narrative/story as it is on slowing down time so as to shoot some Brazilian death-squad goon in his stupid face. Max has just about hit rock bottom, and watching him slowly kill himself with pills and booze is downright painful. Through a constant internal narrative, we are given an intimate view into the mind of a man so close to madness it is almost terrifying. He blames himself for the death of his family, and simply cannot let it go. It's pretty unhealthy to cling to such torment. At one point, he even remarks, "We were only married a short time...at this point she's been dead longer than I knew her.", and he still cannot heal. Especially interesting is lead writer Dan Houser's ability to understand the dual nature of a tortured addict who must act normal in polite company. On the surface, Max is a hard-working ex-cop who will do whatever it takes to protect the Branco family. Meanwhile, his mind is unraveling, and the trail of bodies behind him says it all.
Developed with Rockstar's proprietary RAGE engine, Max Payne 3
is beautiful from the pores on Max's face to the litter-strewn allies
of a São Paolo favela. As more games become detailed to the point of
insanity, MP3 takes this to
painstaking new levels. Even in corners where one might not tread were
it not for the collectable golden guns, there are things to see.
The voice acting sets a new benchmark for authenticity. As the titular Max, actor James McCaffrey has the perfect, i-am-going-nuts-but-i-can-still-play-it-cool timbre. And though the writing is over-the-top, it's meant to be that way. Rockstar has attempted—and succeeded—in creating a gritty crime drama for a modern gamer audience with a semi-sick blood lust and little to no attention span.
Way back when, developer Remedy's time-slows-way-the-eff-down
mechanic was a fresh means to add cinematic flavor to the original MP
games. Since then, plenty of games have employed this trick, but
Rockstar's updated version is—dare I say it—near perfect. Whether you're
jumping around a corner in slo-mo, or simply pulling off head shots,
the ability to slow Max and his enemies down never gets old. The
developers have even implemented a sort of "bullet-cam" which activates
as you take out the final villain in the room. By holding down a button,
the player is free to either slow the action down or let it play out at
a normal speed. Many were the moments when I phased in and out of
bullet-time to add cinematic drama to my experience.
Character models are absolutely incredible down to the smallest detail. Whether it is taking note of impurities on Max's face, or checking out the tendons tighten on an NPC's exposed foot, Rockstar's RAGE engine outshines plenty of its competitors (sorry, Unreal...I still love you).
This game is almost worth if for multiplayer alone, the modes of which range from simple solo and team deathmatch to capture the flag-type objectives and the highly publicized Gang Wars. Each mode is highly fun, and you shouldn't be surprised if it's suddenly 3 am and you've been fired from your job.
The mechanics rest someplace between GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption.
Players are given the option to enter lobbies which employ either
soft-lock aiming (this means your crosshairs/reticule will sort of
magnetize to your foes) or free-aim (you're on your own). As I play
games to have fun and don't plan on adding, "I'm great at free aiming
during online gaming." to my resume anytime soon, I played mostly the
former. Players new to 3rd-person action games will be glad to know
there are rookie lobbies in which those playing are below a certain
level of skill, and thus you won't be stuck losing to a bunch of people
who seem like they were born with a controller in their hands. As you
rack up the kills, more modes become available, as well as weapons,
weapon attachments, perks, body-armor, etc. Maps provide a little
something for everyone be you a close-quarter master or a long-range
face blaster. It's a little tricky at first, but it won't be long before
you're utilizing a stripped-down version of the bullet time mechanics
to pull of the perfect head shot.
One of the cooler elements of online play is the new vendetta system.
Should an adversary kill you two or more times, you will gain the
ability to declare a vendetta against them. At this point, their
location is revealed on your mini-map, and taking them out nets bonus
XP. It's a pretty elegant solution to the age-old, "who's better?"
conundrum, and the multiplayer narrator provides pretty awesome, "That
dude got put in his place!" commentary.
For some, MP3's very linear plot will be a turnoff, especially as Rockstar's previous current-gen outings (GTAIV, Red Dead Redemption) have been full-on sandbox awesomeness. It seemed there was always a cinematic cut-scene interrupting the action, and this got old fast. You will get used to it, but for a game to so constantly take control away from the player seems like an odd choice.
There are brief first-person sniper moments in which the aiming suddenly switches to the stick you've been using for movement. This was confusing, and I never truly got the hang of it. Eventually, I avoided guns that might have been cool, but employed this stick-switch weirdness, and I can't believe that's what the developers would have wanted.
But really that's it. Those two things. Those two things are my only complaints. Well done, Rockstar!
The Bottom Line
Max Payne 3 takes some time to get going, but once it does it becomes something truly special. It's a risky move to release a game so dialogue heavy in today's gaming climate, but what are video games if not a completely immersive form of story-telling? Once again, the dudes at Rockstar have crafted a story that examines the grey areas of morality, and provide us an anti-hero who isn't always good or right, but is always human. In this day of games crammed with super-human soldiers and all-powerful demi-gods, it's nice to have a character who is mostly rooted in reality. We'll forgive your utter lack of respect for physics, Max. If you can be patient and accept the constant cut scene interruptions, and pay close attention to the complex plot (well, complex for video games, anyway) you will be rewarded with one of the best-written and most exciting games to come out since Rockstar's own Red Dead Redemption.
Let it be known to all men, that Max Payne 3 receives 4 and one-half out of 5 stars!
Max Payne 3
Developer: Rockstar Studios
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC