Friday, June 8

Game Review: Max Payne 3

Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Rockstar Games 
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC 
Release date: 31/5/2012

Hopefully you've heard of, and played, the Max Payne series, otherwise shame on you. Max Payne 3 is the third instalment (o rly), developed by Rockstar. Despite several long, long, delays (original release slated for 2009), the game is finally out. While Max Payne 3 is a significant departure from prior games in the series, it manages to carve its own identity and be a bloody good 3rd person shooter. 

The story picks up sometime after Max Payne 2, with Max accepting a security job in Brazil, protecting a rich family. Bad things inevitably happen, and it's up to Max to try and fix the situation, blazing a path of destruction along the way. There is some humour to the writing, less than previous games, and its mostly relegated to things like TV shows (like GTA IV).  While the story isn't amazing, in true Rockstar fashion the story is presented incredibly well. Max's original voice actor returns, and the rest of the cast is brilliant. While the game abandons the static comic book style and noir aesthetic, of the past, Max Payne 3 has its own extremely unique way of presenting cut scenes and information. It works great, apart from when certain words are highlighted twice, by the subtitles and the cinematic style. Thus I eagerly anticipated the progression of the story, to hear how characters reacted and what Max would get up to. Elsewhere the game is extremely polished. Rockstars ear for music and sound is evident, with some brilliant choices of music.  Visually the game looks fantastic. Character models are very detailed, lighting is great and textures are usually pretty damn nice, though from time to time you may spot low resolution textures. There is a particular level in the game, set in the favelas, which is a master class in setting up a engaging and believable environment.This polish, most importantly, translates and augments the gameplay as well.

Cut scenes are presented in a unique way, and for the most part work well.
 I don't think I've ever played such a well crafted 3rd person shooter. Enemies react to localised damage, similar to GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, but much improved. When  Max turns with his gun, his arms move fluidly into the correct position. If you shoot dodge into a wall, Max hits it, his momentum is stopped, and he grunts. The weapons sound perfect, weapons feel visceral and lethal. Its hard to put into words how perfectly everything fits together, but it is and it just feels amazing.

Max Payne 3 is a 3rd person shooter and that's what you'll be spending 90% of the gameplay doing. You won't be grinding for loot, or assigning load outs (in single player at least) or driving around a city. You'll mostly run around levels, shooting bad guys with some cut scenes in between. You'll complete that level and go straight to the next one. There is a little more to do in levels. You can search for clues, which provide a nice incentive to explore, and flesh out the world, without being shoved in your face. Pieces of golden guns are scattered about, which when collected enable you to tint your weapons golden (though they don't let you 1 shot enemies). Max Payne 3 adds cover mechanics to the series for the first time. So if you're one of those bitches, that hides behind cover and takes pot shots, you'll be right at home. However cover is totally unnecessary for the vast majority of single player on medium, thus you can easily play Max Payne as it was meant to be played; using bullet time and shoot dodging into the fray.  There are 14 chapters, which took me around 10 hours to complete. Once you've completed the story, you can partake in a time attack (New York Minute) and score attack. Max Payne 3 also features a meaty multiplayer.
Holy shit, the game has mirrors.
There are a variety of game modes in multiplayer, ranging from your typical death matches, to the more interesting Gang Wars. Gang Wars pits 2 teams against each other, in 5 rounds, each round focusing on different objectives. In one round both sides may have to eliminate each other, in a another the objective may be to capture points. Multiplayer has expensive customisation of weapon load outs and avatars. For some people this may be great, but I found myself comfortable with the starting weapons and the grind to unlock all weapons and avatar clothing just felt unnecessary. In around 8 hours of gameplay I was rank 11, in order to unlock everything you need to be rank 50! When multiplayer works, you might believe you have a great competitive shooter on your hands. Despite everything positive I have to say, the game has problems.

There are number technical issues, which drag the game down. In single player, the game loads through cutscenes, which means that during a level you will never see a single load. Which is great. However if you try and skip these cutscenes, you'll often find it impossible because the game is trying to load, and it loads slowly. If you are repeating a level, looking for clues or golden gun parts, or trying New York Minute, you will quickly become sick of the unskippable cutscenes. This really puts a damper on replayability. Multiplayer has even bigger problems.

Multiplayer suffers terribly from being a straight console conversion onto PC, with no dedicated servers. When using the matchmaking service you'll often find yourself in a game with only 2 players, or with hackers, or with players with terrible ping. Too frequently will you come across players that soak up bullets. Frequently it will take minutes to connect to a game, then drop you back into the menu, for the game to tell you it had trouble to connecting to host. If the game had dedicated servers, like any good PC game does, then the previous issues wouldn't exist, but dedicated servers don't exist. Its a damn shame because Max Payne 3's multiplayer is really enjoyable when it works. Additionally the DLC, slated for later this June and throughout 2012, seems to be entirely multiplayer focused, and could be great. But with the multiplayer in its current state I can't see how anybody could justify taking it seriously, nor dropping cash for DLC.

Overall Max Payne 3 manages to be a brilliant game. You may have some misgivings about the lack of noir, but Max Payne 3 is its own game. The sheer production value, and satisfaction of the shooting mechanics, make it a fantastic experience. Additionally if you want a good multiplayer, and are willing to forgive shitty console architecture then its there.