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 Max Payne 3: Full Review 

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PostSubject: Max Payne 3: Full Review   Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:41 am

Max Payne has suffered beyond reasonable limits. (It's all in the
name.) Nine years have passed since the last game in the series, yet
little has changed for its long-suffering protagonist, who remains
deeply traumatised by the death of his wife and child. ‘Trauma’ is the
key word – in Greek, it means ‘wound’, and Max is someone who has never
let his fully heal. To move on would be to forget – a betrayal of those
he loved – and so instead he chooses to wallow in the past and the pain,
with the help of brown liquor and white pills.

But thankfully, Max Payne 3
isn’t content to simply relive the past, and makes bold stylistic and
narrative decisions to avoid stagnation. And though these choices have
significant consequences on the game’s pacing that may prove divisive, Max Payne 3 is overall a brilliant, darkly-engrossing third outing for one of video games' most troubled characters.

Ostensibly, Max Payne 3 looks very different from its predecessors.
The rundown tenements and shadowy sidewalks of New York have been
replaced by the hedonistic nightclubs and baking heat of São Paulo,
where Max has taken a job working private security for wealthy
businessman Rodrigo Branco. Unsurprisingly, things don’t work out for
Max: Rodrigo’s trophy wife, Fabiana, is kidnapped on Max’s watch, which
sets in motion a chain of events that draws Max into a much larger, more
sinister story.

The change of location is underscored by a raft of cinematic effects:
scan lines, chromatic aberration, shifting film stock. Initially, it
all seems a bit much, too noisy and distracting, but after a while you
acclimatise and it becomes part of the game’s distinctive texture. But
it’s not just stylish gloss – like everything in the game, it feeds into
the characterisation of Max, emphasising his jaded disconnection from
the world around him.

Despite swapping the shadows for the sun, the series hasn’t lost its
hardboiled heritage. The non-linear narrative, the cast of suspicious
characters, a plot twisted by deception and corruption – it’s all
present and correct. If you’re not a fan of genre fiction, you might
find the supporting cast risibly generic, the plot a bit flimsy, but
there’s a marked difference between using archetypal characters because
you’re creatively spent and deliberately tapping into a rich tradition.
Max Payne 3 does the latter – it’s a game that is fully literate in the
genre of which it strives to be a part, and judged on those terms it’s
one of the finest executions of game noir to date. And nowhere
is this better exemplified than in James McCaffrey’s standout
performance as Max Payne. It’s gnarled and bitter, as you would expect –
he effortlessly delivers the script’s many Chandlerlisms with calloused
cynicism – but it’s also a surprisingly nuanced turn. Throughout the
game, you're never sure if Payne's searching for absolution, trying to
save another man's wife, or if he's really on a protracted suicide
mission, trying to embrace his own destruction.

Almost half-way through this review, and I’ve yet to mention
gameplay. Maybe that’s a tacit criticism in itself. It’s not that Max
Payne 3’s gameplay is substandard – far from it – but it’s always firmly
in the service of its overarching narrative. Consequently, the game is
heavily punctuated by cut scenes – some brief, some quite long. And it’s
easy to see how their frequency may prove too intrusive; some players
might feel that control is being taken away from them too soon or given
back a little too late. Ultimately, it’s a trade-off, and if you buy
into Max’s plight, cut scenes become engrossing, and it’s joy to see
them bleed seamlessly into the furious action.

The core gameplay is simple yet refined. Although there are a range
of distinctive weapons in the game, you can only carry two side-arms and
one two-handed weapon at any given time. And if you choose to
dual-wield, you’re forced into dropping the larger, potentially more
powerful weapon. It keeps things straightforward and uncluttered. Max’s
signature time-bending moves – Bullet Time and Shoot Dodge – return, and
are easy to pick up and master. The game’s fully-destructible
environments really intensify firefights – seeing the air around you
slowly woven with spiralling bullets, fractured glass, and plumes of
shredded paper is genuinely thrilling. They’re simple mechanics, but
once you’ve mastered combining them, the action and destruction you can
orchestrate is breathtaking. It’s a little disappointing for a game that
invests so heavily in the development of its protagonist not to reflect
this at the level of gameplay: Max has no new abilities available to
him that aren’t there from the start. But the inclusion of a
non-regenerating health system does a great job of forcing you to play
like a desperate man on the edge. You can’t cowardly hide behind a
pillar waiting for you health to return – it won’t, and the pillar will

Max Payne 3 is unapologetically violent. In fact, it lingers on
violence, but not in a tawdry or sensational way. Yes, it focuses on
some of its most visceral manifestations – ragged bullet wounds, charred
flesh, dismembered limbs – but it also peers into the unseen causes
that lie behind such acts of violence. It touches on the disparity
between rich and poor, and how resentment and desperation can fester in
the slums and the penthouses alike. This isn’t only tackled in the main
story, but also in nice scraps of incidental narrative recovered in
clues dotted about the meticulously-crafted environments.

The game’s kill camera -- another one of the game’s many visual
flourishes -- tracks the final bullet from Max’s gun to its intended
target, but it never sublimates the violence. Although you’ll kill
hundreds of people in Max Payne 3, it remains a grisly business

However, the action set-pieces seem a little muted, especially when
compared to, say, the spectacular recent capers of Nathan Drake. But
this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The difference in execution is
perhaps best explained through a comparison. In Uncharted 3: Drake’s
Deception, there’s a well-known scene in which Sully and Drake must
escape from a French château before it burns to the ground. It’s
exciting and adrenaline-inducing, but it doesn’t really serve much
purpose in terms of the game’s narrative. It’s just another one of
Uncharted’s many impressive set-pieces. A similar scene occurs in Max
Payne 3; a building is set on fire and Max must escape before he is
incinerated. But this isn’t just eye-candy or glitzy spectacle.
Admittedly, it’s less exhilarating than Uncharted’s equivalent scene but
it’s also has greater significance. Max has found himself at his lowest
ebb inhabiting an environment quickly resembling hell – the
metaphorical significance of which isn’t lost on Max. This is when the
game is at its strongest – when gameplay, character and narrative all
wonderfully fuse and interplay. For adrenaline junkies -- those who lust
after bigger and fierier explosions, more extravagant death-defying
scenarios -- the set-pieces in Max Payne 3 might seem a tad sedate.
(Saying that, you still get to shoot missiles out of the air in
slow-motion while dangling from a helicopter.) But it’s a game that is
more concerned with making its spectacles mean something within the
confines of its story.

For a Rockstar game there’s also conspicuous lack of freedom in Max
Payne 3. It’s easy to imagine how Sao Paolo’s favelas could have been
realised as kind of destitute labyrinth, with a disorientated Max lost
amidst its ramshackle alleys, but instead the game always provides you
with a well-defined pathway. There’s never any doubt where to go or who
to shoot, since you can always feel the spectral touch of an authorial
hand pushing you forwards, towards the next checkpoint, the next
cutscene. Occasionally the promise of liberty is dangled in front of the
player – when Max is equipped with a silenced weapon, you wonder if
sections can be tackled with a more stealthy approach – but it’s never
long before the excrement collides with the industrial turbine.

The single-player story lasts around 10-12 hours. Max Payne 3 has a
variety of Arcade modes – from score challenges to speed runs to keep
you busy once you finish the main story. In New York Minute, you're
tasked with playing through the campaign with a clock counting down from
five minutes above your head. The premise is simple: kill guys to earn
time. It's like Time Crisis, and a lot of fun, but it's unlikely that
you'll play through the entire again exclusively in this mode. Still,
it's nice way to sample key parts of the narrative again, especially if
you're partial to a state of constant anxiety.

It’s the multiplayer that is the real surprise, however. It’s gleeful
pandemonium. Gang Wars, in particular, attempts something rather
ambitious, trying to weave narrative into what is usually a
player-determined mode. You'll play four rounds, with different
objectives that alter depending on what happens in each of them: from
claiming territory to defusing bombs to assassinating a randomly
selected leader of the opposing gang. This accumulates a point advantage
going into the fifth and final round, which always takes the form of an
all-out death match. Bursts, which function like perks, are central to
this mode, and confer advantages to the members of your crew, from
raising the calibre of your weapons to inducing paranoia in the opposing
team, making friendlies appear as enemies. Gang Wars has lofty
aspirations, and it's not entirely successful - you're not left with
enduring memories of these vignettes, nor does it feel as if they're
really filling in gaps in the game's narrative once Max has exited stage
left pursued by hooded thug. But it doesn't really matter since the
gameplay itself is relentless fun, giving players a sense of freedom
absent from the single-player campaign. It's also laudable to see a
developer trying to innovate in the multiplayer space, rather than
simply rehashing the mainstays. Max Payne’s multiplayer is definitely
not an afterthought, and will certainly reward players with months of

The Verdict

There are plenty of games which are celebrated for their gameplay but lack anything in way of story or character. Max Payne 3
is a different type of proposition. The gameplay is simple yet
satisfying, but it’s entirely in the service of a strongly-authored
narrative. Players aren’t at the liberty to roam, to explore, or to
shake things up. Some might find this too controlling, but in return for
your freedom, you’re rewarded with a mature genre piece which is also a
finely-realised character study. Action games continue to inch the dial
towards 11, sometimes at the expense of their narrative integrity. Max Payne 3,
however, has the conviction to reign in the action, imbue it with
purpose - the spectacle still sparkles but it also makes sense.
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Max Payne 3: Full Review 

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