Max Payne 3 - Agree to Disagree

An Agree to Disagree review

FBT and TheMorty need a bullet-time-out arguing over Max Payne 3.

FBT – Needs more painkillers

Max Payne is one of my fave games. Max Payne 2 is one of my fave games. Max Payne 3 is one of my most hated games. Rockstar games usually get it right but this monstrosity is worse than the movie adaption. Least that had Mila Kunis. MP3 doesn’t even have Mona, just me moaning. My main gripe with Max Payne 3 is it’s not a Max Payne game. TheMorty may come up with various nods to the original, argue it’s Max in spirit, that the main plot – Max trying to save a girl – is the Max Payne DNA, that’s it’s a Noir in spirit but no. There’s nothing salvageable here; MP3 is a Call of Duty reskin. The original was a subtle retelling of the Ragnarök legend in a classic noir setting that played out like a graphic novelization of the actioners we grew up on. The sequel was a more generic shooter but it was all about Max’s survivor’s guilt, and that killing was all he was ever good at. This time Max is a bodyguard working for a shady businessman in Brazil; not exactly a noir setting, I think one of the CoD Modern Warfare series was set there. Okay, that’s a tenuous link but Brazil’s locations, the shanty towns, offices, airports etc. are the bread and butter of CoD, unlike the original’s fleapit hotels and decrepit tenement blocks; the originals seethed with decay and disappointment, reflected Max’s state of mind.

Unlike the originals where Max was a lone man against the world, most of the time in MP3 Max is taking orders from NCPs in flack jackets who look just like Spec Ops guys. He’s not the driver anymore, it’s not a lone wolf, personal mission – a kidnapped Paris Hilton might stir Max, his weakness was always women but in MP3 it doesn’t have to be Max. In the original, Max was an epic anti-hero, depressed and on a death-wish. No one else could do it. This Max is an shooter-cliché, as formulaic and interchangeable as any of CoD’s characters. Name a standout lead in the CoD series, one who is significantly different to all the others – you can’t, and this Max is just as characterless. If it wasn’t in third person I’d not know I was Max. The original Max was Bruce Willis in his Last Boy Scout days. This Max is Bruce Willis now.

The first was set during a brutal snowstorm, and like the second, took place over one night. MP3 not only takes it’s time, draining that relentless feeling of the originals, but is set during the day. Noir and night, those were key to the Max games, they reflected him; I’m surprised Max isn’t in a Hawaiian shirt. And where the hell are the graphic novel pages? Why instead do we have this horrible double-exposure effect and dialogue flashing on the screen? If the original was Bladerunner, this is the worst of Tony Scott, keeping your attention with epileptic editing and film-stock changes; it doesn’t mean anything. Max is an action hero now; at one stage he hangs off the bottom of a helicopter and shoots down RPGs...

It’s not just me complaining; Max is a moaning old man too - gone are the fatalistic, Bogart one-liners, now he just nonsensically rambles like Homer Simpson’s dad. And when he’s not grumbling, he’s flaying about like he’s on roller-skates. MP3 has a cover system? That’s not Max, that’s CoD; Max goes straight into the bullets – he wants to die, it’s just that no one can stop him. We had shot-dodge and bullettime and that was enough; now we have both of those plus cover, vault, crouch, prone, roll, sprint, 180 turns – I thought he was a creaking burn-out from the NYPD not on tour with Cirque du Soleil. And we have more moment-spoiling with the Last Man Standing, a poor man’s Second Wind plus shot-dodge has been ruined because Max can get hit while jumping. Shot-dodge was pure Joel Silver, now it’s Michael Bay. MP3 is an over-engineered tactical shooter. I rest my CoD case. And I’ve not even played it yet.

It’s not even fun to play. When Max isn’t pirouetting about he’s fussing over which weapon to pick up, which attachments to use and looking for irrelevant clues. It’s just a series of small, linear moments followed by Max downing a whisky and babbling about how bad everything is – yes, it is, because you’re a completely inefficient bodyguard - By the time I reach a scene where a character he’s supposed to be protecting gets Necklaced I’ve had enough. Call of Duty can pull off torture if it wants, but Max was always about him torturing himself. This game’s tortured me enough.

TheMorty – dual wielding

The way I see it there's two types of people, those who spend their lives trying to build a future and those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past. – Max Payne (May Payne 3; 2012)

How better to sum up this review? FBT was desperate for Rockstar to rebuild the past, thinking fondly and nostalgically of re-playing one of the greatest action classics of all time. Whereas I am delighted that the genre-defining franchise has moved forward. Don’t get me wrong, on this I agree with him; The original Max Payne is by far the superior game. It’s impossible to refute and saying anything contrary would be short-sighted and brainless. Max Payne had iconic panache that spawned a whole generation of multimedia and gave foundation for games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. However, where we disagree fundamentally is on the future of the franchise.

I love that Max has evolved and moved away from that dark, 90’s gangster setting and leaped forward to a modern environment with a fresh storytelling dynamic. It’s the only way to keep one of gaming’s greatest heroes alive in a market flooded with poor, slo-mo knockoffs, like WET, Wanted and Stranglehold – all of which dying a death after an unwillingness to evolve.

It’s clear Rockstar wanted to take the game in a new direction but we should be grateful that it doesn’t leave behind Max’s core values. We still have the Bullet Time system and the film noir, snow-laden flashbacks set in a familiar New Jersey to help fans of the original transition into the modern setting and while he might be weary and tired, Max still has that incredible wit and off-camera, one-liners steeped in Hyperbole - “This town had more smoke and mirrors than a strip-club dressing room”.

Sure, the story might not have the same darkness and grit of its predecessors but I’m delighted it doesn’t try to force the square peg of the storyboard narrative into a round hole. Instead it boasts an incredible 3½ hours of cutscenes, which suits the new style and makes the game almost like an interactive action movie. It’s a fresh and wholly different take which might not be for the purists, but makes for a fantastically cinematic gaming experience.

FBT argues this Max is an aged Bruce Willis and sure, he has a very valid point. Particularly around the plot similarity of a slap-headed, alcoholic ex-cop jetting abroad to take down a foreign criminal empire. But so what if Max Payne 3 is the Die Hard 5 of sequels, who cares if the McTiernan and Remedy classics are no more and we’re in a modern world of John Moore adaptations. Nothing will ever take away from the originals, they’re still on the shelf and can be watched or played any time you like, but I’d much rather have this Max than no Max at all and the way Rockstar have re-invented the character is so much more palatable than re-making him – particularly considering so many have tried the latter and failed; see Doom 4, Duke Nukem Forever, Mass Effect Andromeda, Resident Evil 6… all frantic attempts to re-create iconic originals and each spectacularly falling flat on their arse in the process.

Rockstar clearly wanted Max to have his Liam Neeson renaissance. Re-booting him into an unexplored role as opposed to having him age ungracefully like Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood who, rather embarrassingly, look like mid-life crisis divorcee grandads in their futile attempts to reprise roles from their 20s. Roles where some of the romance scenes should be ringing alarm bells at Operation Yewtree HQ. There is definitely a market for those nostalgically seeking that type of hero, one that Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme have cornered with their 10-a-penny, bargain bucket straight to DVD movie releases but that was never the route for Max and Rockstar certainly didn’t want to see him go down that road. Max himself is pretty open about his transformation and alludes to the changes Rockstar have implemented since taking over; “I guess I'd become what they wanted me to be, a killer, some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Well, that's what they had paid for, so in the end, that's what they got”

It’s a difficult torch to carry, but if there’s one company fit for purpose it’s Rockstar. Taking over a successful franchise and making their own mark on it, all while keeping the integrity of the original. For years Rockstar have always been one step ahead. Using filler games such as LA Noire, Red Dead Revolver or The Italian Job as a risk-free way to try something new and get the right feedback before building them into the gameplay of AAA titles. With Max Payne 3 there’s a lot of similarities to the gameplay of GTAV. The cover aspect, the character movement and, of course, Bullet Time were all features tried in Max 3 before taking the plunge in GTA. There’s also a lot of similarities in between the two protagonists as well, gameplay aside, Max and Michael are almost one and the same. Their humour, the focus trait and even their attire are eerily similar. So maybe our remodelled Max deserves a bit of further praise as a trendsetter and perhaps without Max we might not have had such a stellar, near-perfect game in GTAV just over a year later.

Released in a year full of top rated sequels like Halo 4, FarCry 3, Assassins Creed III and Mass Effect 2, it’s very easy to overlook Max as a game of the year contender but I think it’s re-play value will stand the test of time. It has the feel of a classic 3PS action game with enough nods and throwbacks to the originals to really keep the fans content.

Don’t like it, well, to quote the big man himself “you buy yourself a product then you get what you pay for, and these chumps had paid for some angry gringo…”

2012 | Developer Rockstar Studios | Publisher Rockstar Games

genres; shooter, 3rd person, crime

platforms; Win, PS3, X360