The lights are on
"I was at the end of my rope. I couldn't dodge it any longer. My copy of Fuse was eying me, begging me to review it, but I had one last shot. The last ace up my sleeve. I jumped over the couch in slow motion as my mom asked me what the hell I was doing as HEALTH starts playing."
This is my review of Max Payne 3 for PC.
"Scott Shelby from Heavy Rain? Man, the guy just couldn't catch a break, but he caught my bullets."
Max Payne 3 is a third person shooter. It's not action adventure, as there's no puzzle or platforming elements. There's no branching story, and the HUD is so minimalistic that it's actually less visible than even the darkSector HUD. It's linear with tightly closed off levels and uses set piece moments as if it were Uncharted. How on earth could I possibly give this game a 10/10? Well, to put it simply, because Rockstar shows Naughty Dog and its copy cats how to do a linear third person shooter right. With style, originality, and a freshness that's like a shock to the brain and will probably make some shooters look downright bland by comparison.
It's not even appropriate to cal the game a third person shooter. You certainly are in an over the shoulder shoot out in every level, but the approach is far more cinematic while still retaining substance. Rather than just give you recharges to your bullet time meter every so often, the game only rewards it for keeping the fight pressing the fight by firing bullets at enemies while dodging theirs either by using the bullet dodge move (effectively a slow motion jump in any direction that gives you free bullet time even if you lack it, but also leaves you potentially vulnerable due to moving) or holding out behind cover. Headshots give an instant boost, and you can chain them together using bullet time to make Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher and his Mark and Execute move look like a cheat code.
Likewise, while Max may be on a linear path, he can effectively try to use anything as cover, be it by crouching or by using the soft-cover button. Combining this with the liberal use of free aim (your aiming reticule is always a single centered dot in your vision that goes red when targeting enemies) makes battle strategies far more varied. If you get knocked down with painkillers (the game's version of medkits), you even go into Last Stand mode where your next bullet, if it hits your killer, will revive you and give you a fighting chance to survive. You can also carry two pistols at once along with a single two handed weapon -- which inexplicably has to be dropped if you want to dual-wield your pistols. Do yourself a favor on PC and reassign the the key 3 to the two handed weapon instead of the dual pistols, otherwise you will likely drop your rifles without wanting to. This allows for a variety in weapon selection, although weapons are limited to only a few options per level, so you don't ever feel overwhelmed with choices.
"It was in that moment, I realized the horrible truth. The windows weren't glossy, they were just that filthy..."
The game strongly encourages you come to terms with its unique control scheme and options, as ignoring them often seriously hinders your ability due to just how damn unforgiving the game is.I tried at brief points to not predict enemies and just play it like a standard shooter, and often was met with three bullets to the face. You have to use every advantage Rockstar gives you, especially considering how cut throat and aggressive the AI is. They will flank you, they will use grenades (which you inexplicably don't have access to in the singleplayer campaign), and they will kill you. They will kill you, a lot. I'm saying that as a guy who waltzed through Dead Space 2 on Hardcore across two different platforms, who usually is first to third place in Killzone 3 multiplayer, and who beat Dark Souls' first boss without dying. This game, will steal, your lunch money. It will beat you down, but it will be, nine times out of ten, very fair about it. There are a few cheap shots that test your reflexes or require you know a pill container is around a corner that you never noticed, but most of the time, it's purely your own failure -- a good example being when you enter Last Stand mode, but realize your gun is out of ammo because you were spamming it wildly or weren't paying attention, leaving you to die anyway despite the chance at salvation.
Not only is this not a bad thing, it's a great thing, as the game provides a sense of challenge I thought developers had long since forgotten. This is a modern Wolfenstein. However, it is not a heartless game, as it will help you if you repeatedly fail at a section. Two deaths bring you back to full health and with a small portion of bullet time -- enough to get one headshot if you're quick. Repeated deaths beyond this slowly net you painkillers and more bullet time. I learned how the system worked during a shoot out in an office where I was low on health and severely out matched. It took nearly seven if not more tries to survive, even with the bonus painkillers. (Note: I have not tested this on Hardcore difficulty)
The change in how I played the game from beginning to end was astounding. As a beginner, I might try to just turtle it out at the door way, but as a pro, I could use bullet dodge, get behind a desk, use burst to spam a line of bullets from my handheld machine gun into the nearest gun toting gang members, and then duck for cover as their buddy comes up with a shotgun, firing bullets over the cover with blindfire to keep him at bay. You learn to predict your shots, aim faster, and respond to situations far more actively and intimately than the standard fare of run and gun. It pays to practice and experiment, especially considering you can gain experience for the game's other modes while playing the singleplayer campaign, and that's not the only thing you'll find while playing.
"For the life of me, I couldn't quite figure why they kept this section, but I trudged on like the drunk I was."
Throughout the game, you can collect evidence that provides narrated exposition about various aspects of the story, similar to Bioshock's audio tapes but far more organic and congruent to the present situation. The entire main plot is narrated by Max, but as a result his actual present persona has very little to say for a significant part of the campaign. Max is content to sit back, drink, and pop pills until the shooting starts. Once it does, rarely does anyone saying anything but screams or necessary dialogue -- maybe a moment of snark here or there but thankfully no Nathan Drake level of talking that makes you wonder how anyone even is focusing on the battle.
The main story thread is a solid one, excluding an awkwardly paced set of New Jersey flashbacks and a mission in Panama that literally seems to serve no purpose beyond padding out the game and turning two characters into a different light that could have been done in a far more time-efficient manner. This isn't to say these sections are bad -- there's no real part in the game I could particularly look back to and say "no, that was AWFUL, skip that" -- but they feel misplaced, as if Rockstar was in the middle of editing when 2K burst in and told them to get it out the door (considering the delays, I doubt this was the case). Most of the characters who stay alive for more than two chapters some how relate to the conspiracy building around Max. We know from the beginning that he's being played, but by who and why is left to your guess until near the end of the second act, when it starts to become very clear both who is trying to pin the blame on you and why they are willing to throw a veritable army's worth of goons at you. If only your partner Passos stopped calling you "bro" so often, and if we had less interludes of Max drinking, it might be a narrative on par with Bioshock Infinite (it certainly is more cohesively put together), but those few hang ups may not matter to you.
An important side note I want to bring up: I have a friend who actually lives in Sao Paulo. While at present he's only seen press video of the game's portrayal of his home city, he has stated that they are generally accurate, except that the favelas (poor areas) are not nearly in as bad a state as shown in the game. However, if they were to say this game is set in Rio, it would apparently be 100% accurate. If he has any further comments on the matter I will update this particular paragraph of the review and if necessary the score according to what he finds when he finally plays the game.
And dare I say it, the set piece moments in this game do help sell the story. Not because they are specifically beautiful or amazing, but because they continue the inventiveness and challenge of the core gameplay. Most of them require you pull off an insane amount of kills in a brief amount of time using specific weapons while moving -- feeling more like elaborate bullet dodge moves with scripted changes. A sequence where you snipe aboard a helicopter early in the game in particular was stand out, although it hardly compares to some of the final levels. There is one section in which you have a large airport terminal to shoot through. and it is probably one of the best unscripted third person sequences ever imagined, let alone executed perfectly.
"The easter egg flew past, and was gone in a moment."
This isn't all that there is to Max Payne 3 though. While the solid story campaign will keep you playing for easily over twelve hours, there are three additional modes of play, two of which come free and out of the box. Arcade Mode puts you through the same missions that you've played before, but with various variants, such as completing each level in under a minute (headshots give you time boosts of six seconds), meeting specific challenges that push your strategies to the limit, or being able to place your own modifiers on each level -- with everything from a black and white aesthetic and old school controls to explosive bullets and rampaging lone wolf AI enemies. You can gain experience in this mode as well as perform "grinds" (see: Achievements) that impact your unlocks in the final free mode, the multiplayer mode.
Gamers wary of multiplayer added to normally singleplayer games should not be worried -- this isn't some basic Call of Duty rip off, nor is it a half-baked idea like Dead Space 2's competitive multiplayer. This is a fully fleshed out, heavily involved multiplayer that Rockstar is continuing to support even this far after launch. Loadouts are weight based but also require unlocks, and all weapons from the main game are supported. How you build your loadout and perks seriously impacts how you move and shoot in the game's competitive multiplayer. While I wasn't deeply keen on the default PC controls in multiplayer (they work far better in singleplayer), you can either get used to them or reassign them (having CRTL as sprint? Really, Rockstar?). The community is a bit broken up and isolated, but if you can find a good group to play with, the polish in the singleplayer shines through. Pulling off kills and activating match shift perks is enjoyable. Due to the limited number of players though, I have only gotten to try Team Deathmatch, and await getting to try the other modes, one of which is said to be similar to Killzone 3's Operations mode but with branching paths for the multiplayer narrative.
The last mode of play is sadly behind a pay wall of ten dollars. Dead Men (Co-op), with a name that seems to smirk in the face of Kane & Lynch, is a surprisingly satisfying mode. One player takes on the role of Max, the other as Raul Passos, his partner through most of the game. Together you fight increasingly intense waves... and I'm not sure if there's even an end. During my time playing the mode, my partner and I survived up to wave 33, and there was no clear end in sight. It also surprisingly takes a note from Zombie Mode from Treyarch's CoD entries by having purchasable items, areas of the map, and boosters via a currency known as "grit". The only downside in this mode is that the overhead speaker is supposed to be a reporter and he has VERY few lines to add to the situation. He grows old fast, while the waves of baddies don't. There is also the issue of, at present, only two maps being available to play, although they are quite large and offer a lot of replayability.
"It was like- screw it, you know what? I don't have time for monologues, I need to shave this beard!"
Max Payne 3 really surprised me. I expected the stereotype Rockstar action experience that I had known in my previous attempts to enjoy their games. I expected the linearity and action set pieces to bore me and irritate me as much as they bugged me in Uncharted. I expected a lot of things, and it's clear that in the end, I truly misjudged Max's ability to get the job done, just like his opponents in game. The singleplayer alone is worth the purchase, and if you can get some friends or find a group of people who still play it on your platform of choice, you have to do yourself a favor and give the multiplayer a try. While some of the multiplayer addon packs might seem a bit overpriced for what they offer, the co-op mode is worth it with a friend in hand, especially if you're a big fan of buddy cop action movies.
"After all the bullets had fired and the clips ran out, I looked down and was unharmed. Maybe a few scrapes, a few bruises, but in the end, I was still a 10/10."
Cheers,Paradigm the Fallen
I'm all out of painkillers...
Trivia: This is the first and so far only Max Payne game not made by Remedy, instead developed by Rockstar. There has been some controversy amongst Max Payne fans about the changes in tone and context of the narrative since the original games were somewhat less serious and far more noir focused.
Max Payne 3 is available at Gamestop, Amazon, Steam, PSN, and XBL for any price ranging from $9.99 to $49.99, usually $29.99.
HOLY CRAP! A 10 FROM FALLEN?!
Good thing my brother bought this a few weeks ago. Good review, Fallen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play some Max Payne.
Great review for a great game.