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Hindsight : Max Payne 3

Cart: Max Payne 3
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Coin: Rockstar Vancouver

Max Payne 3 is yet another in a long line of attempts by Rockstar Games to make games more mature – or films more juvenile. I can never really tell. What I can tell you – after several hours of shooting armoured fascists, armed gang members and other associated denizens of Brazil – is that it continues their efforts to lift ‘mature’ themes from the screen and put them in the hands of gamers. More often than not this generation has seen Rockstar rifle through the American TV schedule for their inspiration. So the cases of LA Noire are played out with a clearly defined episodic structure and the crime odyssey of potato-nosed Niko Belic in GTA IV contains the same kind of far-reaching commentary on crime, poverty and the American way that you might find in a series of The Wire. Though judging from user-feedback, Borat is an equally valid comparison.

Despite these supposed advances, it’s clear that this adaptation of epic multi-layered storytelling doesn’t work as well in video games. TV crime shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire may be marked with more shades of grey than a certain popular-selling, socially acceptable, menopausal wank tome but their tales are told through a large array of characters. Most video games offer a single protagonist, and most interactions end with someone getting their head blown off or being shouted at by Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men in a dingily lit interrogation room. What I’m saying is: it’s hard to maintain a semblance of sympathy with your protagonist when they tend to be sociopaths constantly repeating the same actions over and over. It’s a bit like being trapped in a room with a psychopathic hamster. Or something.

Which brings me to Max Payne 3.

Max Payne is the very definition of a single player. He’s about as one-note as a broken kazoo and possesses the same level of charm as a fetid urinal. But if there’s one thing Max is good at it’s killin. And talking. And talking about killing. You can forgive storytelling that covers and recovers the same ground in an open-world game because of their non-linear structure. You’re going to repeat similar quests and revisit the same locations throughout – and that’s just fine. Max Payne 3, on the other hand, is about as linear as a frozen ruler so the fact that he constantly reminds you what a shit time he’s having may be a deliberately clever way of getting you in the mind-frame of a jaded world-hater as he goes about the repetitive task of ridding the world of men with two arms – but it is definitely annoying.

Face time.

There are loads of fantastically realised set pieces throughout Max Payne 3 but our hero is never short of ways to ruin them. For example, Max can be hanging from the underside of a helicopter high above a beautiful constructed facsimile of São Paulo, shooting missiles down in slow motion with an Uzi. You, the player, are having the best time ever, but then he’ll say something about being addicted to painkillers or not changing his underwear for several weeks because he’s a barely-functioning alcoholic, and you just think “Thanks for that, Max, you selfish prick”.

It seems in some ways Rockstar are trying to have their cake and eat it by building a supremely involving playground with a diverse and entertaining array of ways to dispatch villains and then book-ending the experience with a Max ‘message of the day’ about how shit the world is – or at the very least how rich people are naturally predisposed to be complete dickheads. Unfortunately for Rockstar, these messages are often forgotten about once you regain control of Max and manage to shoot a man’s goolies off in slow motion. But still, the game keeps attempting to wrestle control from the player to tell its story and explore its themes.

It’s likely that this struggle between the game and the player are because Max Payne’s 3’s mechanics – as finely polished and enjoyable as they are for the most part – are as one-dimensional as Max himself. So any kind of attempt to make narrative sense of the constant carnage needs the player taking out of the equation. Most times this is fairly seamless, but on a few occasions the fact that Max Payne defaults to a gun that can have no bullets in becomes a real pain (pun intended, if it were funny) which further reinforces the player’s dislike of the character and – like Mr Payne himself – waking from a boozy stupor, leaves you with an increasingly sour taste in the mouth.

If you can forgive the game’s attempt to over-reach – or just don’t mind spending time amongst the most depressive of arseholes – there’s a good time to be had with Max Payne 3. Its production values are stellar and with its array of shitty but exotic milieus, it’s a worthy counterpoint to the lighter-hearted globe-trotting of the Uncharted games. That said, the attempts to offer a richer experience are, once again like the man himself, kind of cheap and annoying and make the experience run out of steam a long time before the finish line.

Still, I had fun with Max Payne in the short term. I just wish he didn’t make me feel so guilty about it.

This article was originally published here on VoxelArcade as a Review in 2012

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Lancaster based writer, blogger and digital navel-gazer. Opinions are, sadly, all his own. Favourite games include: Streetfighter II, Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Tenchu, Red Dead Redemption, Deus-Ex and Granny’s Garden.

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  1. Lots wrong with this. MP3 takes place in Sao Paulo, not RIo. Max’s inner monologue is designed to be self deprecating hyper dark comedy, same as it was in the first two games. The game is designed around being incomprehensible the first time you play it as Max is a fish out of water, a gringo in a hostile foreign country for reasons he can’t understand. You don’t even make the easiest criticism, which is the forced cutscenes that mask load times. Somehow Google suggested this article for me.

  2. Fair shout about the city – we’ll get that updated! In terms of the other points: at VA we focus on how games make us ‘feel’ as individuals, not on what number they’re worth or what the general consensus is. We do really appreciate feedback though and are glad it’s stimulated a response! All the best, VA.

  3. too violent

  4. Yeah. It went too far in places without much of a meaningful context. I personally found Max’s existential moaning the highlight of it all. It punctuated the violence brilliantly.

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