So, I decided to try my hand at this "early warning review" thing. This is based on my first playthrough (as of finishing the game on normal and playing just a little bit of multiplayer) and will be updated and corrected as I progress.
After a long wait, Max Payne 3 is finally out. Does it live up to the legacy? Should you bother playing? Good question. It actually greatly depends on whether and why exactly you liked the previous ones.
Just a word of warning in advance: literally no dev team member from the previous two games had a hand in making the new one. Nope. Not one Finnish surname in the credits.
And now, on with the show:
MP3 opens with a familiar twist - Max is standing amidst the ruins of yet another loose cannon romp through a metropolis, contemplating how did he ever get into this mess to begin with. And, as always, it begins with a fallen woman and a seemingly random gang crime.
The events of the previous games (it's never stated explicitly, but is instead unsubtly implied that the game follows the 'bad' ending of MP2, so Mona Sax is dead) have left Max alone, traumatized, bitter and unwilling to go on, both at his job and in life. As he drunk his way through the days, he was contacted by someone -- and whisked away into a different life, one of a bodyguard-for-hire, currently stuck in Sao Paolo, looking over three brothers from a rich family, each of which comes with his own set of women, dirty secrets and horrible people that would like nothing more than to see him and his dead and chopped up into tiny pieces. So it's no big surprise when a party hosted by the family gets attacked by gangers... and it only gets worse from there as Max desperately tries to earn his keep by keeping them and their families alive through the chaos.
Gameplay-wise, most things remain as they always were. Max drags around whatever guns you find -- this time out, he's limited by the holsters he has, so he can carry two gun-sized weapons (which might be handguns or SMGs, provided they're small enough), and use one, the other, or both at the same time - and they do not have to be identical for that - and a rifle-type weapon, which, if you switch to a pistol, he will hold in his off hand so as not to drop it. There's a lot of nice touches as to how Max manipulates objects. Now there's a whole animation set for how he pops his pills, for example - including one for every position he can land in after a shootdodge move and holding the rifle awkwardly under his armpit and balancing the pill bottle in his rifle hand as he pops off the lid with his pistol-carrying hand. Very nicely done.
The action itself is similar enough to the previous games - hectic, bloody and violently awesome. Some modifications have been made -- for example, it's now a lot harder to kill stuff without relying on bullet time in general and next to impossible to hit anything if you shootdodge without bullet time -- but all in all, the combat system only became more user-friendly now that there is a cover system (very Splinter-Cell like, with blindfire, a dedicated snap-to-cover button (Mass Effect, eat your heart out!) and a dedicated climb-over-obstacle button (eat your spleen too!)) to aid Max in killing whoever tries to kill him. Bonus points go to the obscenely detailed deformations your bullets can incur on the enemy bodies - the game likes to toy with close-ups of whatever you do to the last-enemy-in-a-zone, including an optional "riddle his body with bullets" feature which lets you shoot and not miss at him once you've delivered the killshot. Rather aesthetically pleasing. The downsides arrive in the fact that unless it's the very last enemy in a zone or it's a headshot, you ALWAYS have to pump more than three bullets into someone to kill them, and sometimes it gets very zany very fast (like a guy taking fifteen shots to the left knee, dropping on it and then getting back up). Oh, and also? Max can no longer carry and use grenades. AT ALL. So if your enemies are entrenched, you have to either flank them (and get shot), vault their cover (and get shot) or wait till they pop out (and get shot, because they never pause to aim in such situations). Since the enemies never drop painkillers anymore AT ALL WHATSOEVER, all of this feels like artifically forced difficulty. Which is rude.
You also occasionally get a rail-shooter segment or a bullet-time-event (wherein you have infinite bullet time and infinite ammo and should whack as many enemies as you can until Max hits the floor or some other event that snaps him out of bullet time happens -- the more you kill, the less you have to deal with once this is over). Fun for a change, but it feels incredibly tacked-on to justify you doing some bullet-time shenanigans later in the game once the armoured enemies become numerous enough so that you stop playing this as a Max Payne game a start playing it as a run-of-the-mill cover-based shooter.
The environments are pretty, multicoloured and very detailed. For example, Max can attempt to bash down ANY door in every level, and quite a few of them will now open, even if only into a small wall closet or storage space or otherwise impassable cut-off zone (which, nevertheless, might contain a secret or bonus item). There is, however, an ungodly amount of pop-in, which sometimes doesn't actually POP IN, making you have to either restart from checkpoint or, in some cases, shut down the game and re-load the save so the scene would load fully. It hangs, it sometimes misses cutscene cues and hangs-on-black-screen at seemingly random moments. Bleh. It's like the game is very unwilling to give up the secrets of its plot.
Speaking of secrets. This time out, the T.A.C.O.s* consist of CLUES (which reveal more backstory or wrest flashbacks out of Max) and GOLDEN GUNS (which are collected piece-by-piece to be assembled into bonus upgraded special versions of each and every usable gun in the game). Both are entirely optional, but the CLUES provide more context and clarity (mwahaha) and therefore you will find yourself scouring the levels for the pop-up text that basically boils down to "PRESS "F" TO TRALALA". Some of the tralalas are actually irrelevant to the plot and provide some bit of Max's dry wit or piano-playing (just as before, the more pianos you molest, the better Max will get, to the point where he can play "the perfect soundtrack for his life").
As a non-collectible, Max can also interact with TV sets to watch them-- so, yeah, Captain Baseball Bat Boy is still here to stay, and still used as a metaphor on Max's current predicament. No sign of Lords and Ladies or Address Unknown found anywhere, however, although with the lack of a real female lead maybe either wasn't really necessary, but would've still provided a stronger sensation of playing Max Payne, rather than Mr. Kane from Kane and Lynch, that finally found the balls to slaughter Lynch and stop trying to fix his life. This is enhanced by the graphical touches - Max's light stubble of chapter one grows into a full-fledged beard by chapter six (in the span of a fortnight or so), and you can easily tell whether the suit he just put on is a clean and pressed one, or one he just picked off the floor. Every crease and crinkle is most eye-pleasingly bump-mapped and looks very genuine, as anyone who has ever slept in their clothes after a night of boozing will attest.
The comparison to Kane & Lynch is not unwarranted. Between losing the comic book cutscenes (they're now all replaced with pre-rendered videos with lots and lots of cutaway split-screen picture-in-picture effects with floaty text (that emphasises certain things being said... and also gets very irritating very quickly) which make you feel like you're playing a GTA game... or Kane and Lynch, in fact) and not featuring a single returning character that isn't Max (mostly by virtue of most of them being dead by the end of MP2), you will be constantly assailed by the sensation that you're playing Kane and Lynch 2 as it was SUPPOSED to be - devoid of censor bars and unnecessary genitalia exposure.
The music retains the style of the originals while gaining a style of its own - every location you go to twists and uses the title theme in some way, and each has its own personal style based off where exactly it is and what Max is doing there, be it a disco, a football stadium, a New York back alley or the roof of a high-rise.
Which raises one more concern I have with the game's atmosphere. No hallucinations yet. Sure, Max drinks a lot (and I mean a LOT, within the first few minutes of screentime he consumes more alcohol than he did in the previous two games, his alcoholism makes Cmdr. Shepard look like a sober celibate choir boy, and that is no smal feat), and he occasionally throws up from it, but thus far in my playthrough, he is yet to hallucinate any image of Vlad, Mona, Michelle or V. Maybe it's for the best, character development-wise, but it does away with one of the defining characteristics of the character - he was borderline schizophrenic by the beginning of MP2, and now he's simply a burnt-out alcoholic (that, about one-third in, suddenly decides to go cold turkey in the most inopportune of times, which leads to the game's weak alternative to hallucinations - various graphical glitches representing Max's swimming vision). Not a large marginal change, social-situation wise, but a vivid one in terms of characterization and internal character dynamics.
Speaking of characterization - Max is back to grieving over his dead family, mentions Mona once, as "a mistake" and that's the end of that. This "let's ignore whatever happened in the preceding game" game that's rapidly becoming a trend in modern game scriptwriting is starting to scare me. Conversely, a few minutes later, Max gives out a lengthy reminiscence on Vinnie Gognitti and his role in the events of the previous two games. Similarly, outside of zany TV ads and newscasts, the only things he can watch on TV are a couple Captain Baseball Bat Boy cartoons, which, while still doing their original role of caricaturizing the immediate plot point, are few and far between. This is partly excused by the fact that most places Max visits don't even HAVE TV sets, but does not fully alleviate the sensation that a lot of the non-shooty stuff broke down when nobody from the original dev team was invited to the party. As compensation, the plot is done in the usual Max Payne way - with random derailments via playable flashback, betrayals, backstabbing and general douchebaggery all around leaving Max as the fall guy to get all the kicks. In that respect, the game pays full and undivided attention to the series traditions, so while you might get worried about so many levels taking place in the daytime - this doesn't make the plot any less dark or disturbing.
Moreover, the internal monologue that triples as exposition, in-game help and running plot commentary, is still there, and is still delivered by the same VA, so at least until you flash back to how and why Max left New York for a confirmation that it IS the same face, just older, you will not be hard pressed to doubt that it is Max Payne, even though he seemed to have walked onto the set of the wrong movie.
Minor nitpicks include telekinetic weapon teleportation whenever you pick stuff up from the floor, incessant unequipping (and having to manually re-equip them) of rifles whenever you enter a cutscene, poor Steam integration (if you want the game menus/subtitles to be in a language not of a region where you reside, you have to use command line switches, a mainly undocumented feature; you also have to manually enter the DLC activation codes, as you cannot copy-and-paste all of them) and rather wooden and dead facial animations. Then again, neither prior game boasted good facial animation... which is exactly WHY they used the comics in the first place. Oh well.
The multiplayer... Well, to keep it simple, it's all the good AND bad about CoD multiplayer, but in third person and with bullet time. Bullet time works exactly how you'd expect it to - whenever someone uses it, time slows down for EVERYONE ON THE LEVEL, but only the activator (and his teammates and anyone who manages to trigger their own bullet time) retains the ability to aim freely, everyone else slows down along with the bullets. This makes getting killed via shootdodge even more painfully unpleasant. The rest is standard modern-day FPS fare transmitted into third person - weapon loadouts, restricted to a few default ones until you level up, yada yada, accuracy stats, common deaths, grind challenges (a-la "kill XX people by groin shots") that surprisingly are shared by SP and MP meaning that if you completed the game at least once, you'll go into MP with a few unlocks already available.
Overall, the MP is hectic and somewhat fun, but the maps are samey, cramped, few in number and the hit detection still needs a LOT OF WORK, so it's about as big a YMMV as the Dead Space 2 multiplayer was, if you remember that one. Being able to play as MP1 and MP2 characters is a nice addition, but ultimately, it's nothing but a one-armed-- er, sorry, I mean, it's nothing but a cosmetic change to an already shaky construction.
Bottom line? Yes, it is a good and fun TPS to play, your mechanical memory will feel right at home and you will not have any issues with diving into the action if you still remember how to play the previous games. But you might have severe disconnection issues with the character, because he has undergone a partially unjustified personality and characterization shift that cannot be wholly explained by drinking like a fish for the better part of five years (including, but not limited to, said drinking in the first place). Still, if you can overlook such issues, you can and will probably enjoy your time with the game, as the rest of it is exceptionally-well done. I know I am.
T.A.C.O. = Totally Arbitrary Collectible Object, a wonderful term from Anachronox which I like to use whenever the mechanic of "find all the feathers" or "collect all 100 packages" is used in a game to artificially pad it out.
Advance Recon: Max Payne 3
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jun 3, 2012.
About the Author
A Russian Econ major with a minor in graphomania. Used to write for a Russian gaming magazine a while back, apparently wasn't very good or they wouldn't've cancelled his column to replace it with one devoted to listing erotic fanservice moments in videogames and anime series. Has a penchant for long-winded distracted rants and a bizarre affection for very old videogames.