May 23, 2012

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Max Payne 3 Review

Max Payne 3 Review

As Max finds himself caught between the glamorous narcissism of São Paulo’s elite and the death-dealing culture that fumigates favelas like a poison, the dizzying dichotomies of his third outing become apparent. Here is a game that deals in words and bullets, bridges old-school design and modern shooter conventions, and mediates one man’s journey from the darkest places of the human condition to a light marked by sobriety and redemption. Max Payne 3′s relentless portrayal of the in-between extends even to its creators. With unyielding linearity and a highly focused narrative, the game boldly stands against the open-world design that Rockstar Games pioneered eleven years ago. That one product can occupy so many levels of thematic understanding is a testament to the power of the medium, and Max Payne 3 shines for precisely this reason. Make no mistake – Max Payne 3 is a work of fiction first and foremost. Thankfully, satisfying gunplay and a premier multiplayer suite keep this shooter grounded in old-fashioned fun. In fact, old-fashioned design choices hurt Max Payne’s playability, but ultimately don’t sink an amazing game that is worthy of the Rockstar name.

Max Payne’s grim journey is written and presented in the neo-noir cinematic style, eschewing simple framing and lifelike presentation for a different brand of realism that comes to life through gritty determinism and diverse imagery. In just one scene, distracting color shifts, schizophrenic camera work, and the inner monologues of Max himself do more to convey his emotional and physical turmoil than most games achieve in their entire campaign. With no prior Max Payne experience, the player can still identify with Max and gain an intimate understanding of his motivations and personality. For newcomers and veterans alike, Max Payne 3 is a superb piece of hardboiled fiction, and the game quickly becomes a tightly focused character study with big personalities and even bigger action.

Max’s third story begins in media res, but flashbacks punctuate the action and bring the picture together. An old Academy buddy has hooked Max up with a gig working private security for Rodrigo Branco’s wealthy Brazilian family. Max’s alcoholism, painkiller dependence, and personal demons roar to life on and off the job, complicating matters for a tortured man who’s seen more than his fair share of complication. His employers use lavish lifestyles and skyline reverie to distance themselves from a culture of death and gang warfare that infests the favelas far below. When these two realities collide and Rodrigo’s wife is kidnapped, bad turns to worse for Max, who must rescue Branco’s beloved and unravel the dark motivations behind her capture.

Plot twists and horrifying revelations dot the stage, but Max’s sharp wit and world-weary cynicism steal the show. His thoughts about a world that’s falling apart around him drives the player forward and ultimately paints a portrait of a man who has never felt so worthless and defeated. This man is the axis around which the game’s competing themes orbit, and he often finds himself in conflict with them. Max’s dependence on drugs and the drink seem more in line with the narcotic mire of the favelas – the same ones he tears apart on his mission to save the wealthy. Addiction disorients and confuses Max during the day, but the player must consume more painkillers to keep his rapidly fading health above critical.

Gameplay occupies a similar state of in-betweenness. Bullet Time and impactful weapons make running-and-gunning both useful and a blast, but enemy fire will rip you apart without careful use of cover. Reckless players will soon find that Max’s health can vanish in moments, making smart decisions and unerring accuracy your key to victory. On the Normal difficulty setting, Max Payne 3 may periodically frustrate even the most seasoned gamers. This is a blessing and a curse. Aggressive and accurate enemy AI makes for pulse-pounding encounters rarely found in modern shooters, but trial-and-error gameplay can arise during moments that lose their cinematic power after the third or fourth attempt. Don’t come in expecting Call of Duty levels of automation; you must try, and Max Payne 3 will kick your ass if you don’t.