While the world is completely psyched over Diablo 3, I’ve been secretly pining for another franchise that’s also been absent for almost 10 years: Max Payne.
Max Payne has a special place in my heart as the first game that I actively stalked on the Internet, soaking up whatever information I could find from whatever random source. The John Woo inspirations and the shoot-dodging had me hooked from the moment I saw the first teaser trailer, and its launch day was also the first time I ever ditched school to show up at a game store and wait for it to open.
So imagine my glee when I came home last night and found out that my copy of Max Payne 3 had arrived!
Anyway, I only had a couple of hours to invest into the game but here are my quick thoughts about it so far:
The narrative (no spoilers)
The Max Payne franchise is renowned for its crazy insane action and gunfights, so why am I starting with the story? Because there’s a pretty slow start to the game. From the moment you boot up the game, you’ll find out that the pacing has changed a bit since the franchise went from Remedy’s hands to Rockstar’s.
Gone are the distinctive comic-styled cutscenes, and in their place are regular game-engine cutscenes – a signature of Rockstar games. I do miss those cutscenes, because they really added to the film-noir flavor, but Rockstar has managed to give Max Payne 3’s cutscenes a style of their own, with glitches and a drug-addled filter to represent Max’s addiction to whiskey and painkillers. Keywords also pop up during conversations – a very cool effect that borrows a little bit from Splinter Cell Conviction.
The only gripe I have with the cutscenes is that they do run a bit long. One benefit of the comic cutscenes is that you generally read faster than they narrate, so you can skip the dialogue without missing any plot points. I didn’t dare to touch a single button during Max Payne 3’s cutscenes.
Which leads to the pacing: it took seemingly forever before I got to pull out a gun and shoot someone. There was the summary of Max’s past and his murdered family, and how his police career ended with his addiction to booze and painkillers. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be any mention of Mona Sax. Then there was the introduction into what he’s doing now, and Rockstar’s (good) habit of introducing characters properly and giving them the due time to establish character and personality. The cutscenes later in the game also tend to go on like mini-short films.
Don’t get me wrong – the story does look pretty good so far, with non-linear time jumps to keep the story compelling and interesting. It’s just a bit slow if you’re just interested in shooting people. That said, if you’re only interested in the action you could probably just skip the cutscenes… but I miss the old Max Payne’s pacing.
Here’s the meat and potatoes of the game, and it’s a little hit and miss so far. The shoot-dodge and bullet-time mechanics are back, and joining the party is a simple cover system. For the most part, they work pretty well. Each function is mapped to a different key, and after the brief tutorial sequence, I never had to refer to the controls menu to remember which button does what. The cover isn’t as easy to use as in Rainbow Six: Vegas or Gears of War, but then Max isn’t supposed to hide much, is he?
This is the first time I’m playing a Max Payne game on a console, and my aim seems to be a bit off – whether it’s due to the lack of a mouse or my old age, I’m not sure. There’s the L-trigger aim/lock feature to help (with varying degrees of lock for your personal preference), but it generally locks onto the bad guy’s central body mass… and then you’ll have to manually aim a bit higher if you wanna score that head shot.
Not exactly a bad thing, but it does seem like you really need those head shots as the bad guys seem to soak up damage a lot! It’s not to the point where you have to empty an entire 50-round clip into a guy to kill him (like in Gears of War), but I did have to empty an 8-round clip into a single guy to kill him. It’s like, you’ll nail him with one shot and he’ll go down… but he’ll climb back up again unless you really fill him full of lead.
And this is not a locust warrior wearing power-armor or anything… it’s a guy in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts! And I’m playing on the normal difficulty!
Maybe they’re encouraging me to go all John Woo on bad guys and empty entire clips into a single person, but whereas Chow Yun-Fat never had to reload, Max doesn’t have such an advantage!
With the exception of the enemy super-soldiers, the gunfights are pure Max Payne. His twists and aerial acrobatics are back, and they’re awesome. Unlike his opponents, Max doesn’t need much damage to put him down, so you do get that sense of urgency and paranoia. You only carry up to 3 painkillers at any given time, so you don’t feel invincible nor do you feel like you have a lot of backup health either. I like it!
Oh, and one funny thing I noticed: if you have a shotgun or SMG equipped before a cutscene, you’ll have to re-equip it after the cutscene. It’s weird. It just always defaults back to a pistol (or machine-pistol) after even a short cutscene.
Anyway, I haven’t really played the game enough to say more… just thought I’d lay out some quick thoughts while it’s still fresh in my head.