Max Payne has suffered beyond reasonable limits. (It’s all within the name.) Nine years have passed given that the final game within the series, yet small has changed for its long-suffering protagonist, who remains deeply traumatised by the death of his wife and child. ‘Trauma’ could be the crucial word – in Greek, it means ‘wound’, and Max is someone who has by no means let his totally heal. To move on will be to forget – a betrayal of these he loved – and so as an alternative he chooses to wallow previously plus the pain, together with the assist of brown liquor and white tablets.
But fortunately, Max Payne 3 isn’t content to basically relive the past, and tends to make bold stylistic and narrative decisions to avoid stagnation. And even though these choices have significant consequences on the game’s pacing that may perhaps prove divisive, Max Payne three is general a brilliant, darkly-engrossing third outing for one of video game’s 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 The rundown tenements and shadowy sidewalks of New York have been replaced by the hedonistic nightclubs and baking heat of São Paulo, where Max has taken a job working private security for wealthy businessman Rodrigo Branco.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.
Virtually half-way by way of this evaluation, and I’ve but to mention gameplay. Maybe that is a tacit criticism in itself. It is not that Max Payne 3’s gameplay is substandard – far from it – but it is often firmly within the service of its overarching narrative. Consequently, the game is heavily punctuated by cut scenes – some brief, some pretty long. And it’s simple to see how their frequency may possibly prove as well intrusive; some players could possibly really feel that manage is getting taken away from them too soon or given back slightly also late. Ultimately, it is a trade-off, and if you acquire into Max’s plight, cut scenes turn out to be engrossing, and it’s joy to see them bleed seamlessly into the furious action.
The core gameplay is uncomplicated but refined. While you’ll find a range of distinctive weapons in the game, you can only carry two side-arms and one particular two-handed weapon at any given time. And in the event you select to dual-wield, you are forced into dropping the larger, potentially more strong weapon. It keeps items 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 truly intensify firefights – seeing the air around you slowly woven with spiralling bullets, fractured glass, and plumes of shredded paper is genuinely thrilling. They’re basic mechanics, but when you’ve mastered combining them, the action and destruction you can orchestrate is breathtaking. It’s just a little disappointing for a game that invests so heavily within the development of its protagonist not to reflect this at the degree of gameplay: Max has no new skills out there to him that aren’t there from the begin. However the inclusion of a non-regenerating wellness system does a great job of forcing you to play like a desperate man on the edge. You cannot cowardly hide behind a pillar waiting for you well being to return – it will not, along with the pillar will crumble.
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