Today I'm taking a quick look at the first few chapters of Max Payne 3. Seemed like the thing to do, seeing as I already played the first two games earlier this year (and the GBA game a few years before that).
Max Payne was originally Remedy Entertainment's series, but Bully developer Rockstar Vancouver took over for the third instalment (presumably because Remedy were busy making Alan Wake). I'm just hoping they're better at making games than they are are making logos because... well just look at that thing! I've never seen a title screen in a AAA video game flicker and glitch out so much.
(Click screenshots to... maximise their resolution. Heh heh.)
Nope, can't find a way to quit to give it internet access, not without signing up for an online Social Club account anyway, which I can't do until I give it internet access. Gotta say I'm not entirely won over yet by the concept of having to create a second online account for a game I'm already running from Steam. It's not like it even does a damn thing to stop piracy and they know it.
At least setting up the account was painless enough. Plus when I tried quitting out, disconnecting the internet cable, and starting it back up again, it loaded up my shiny new profile and let me play the game offline without the slightest complaint. So already I like it better than Assassin's Creed 2, SimCity and Diablo III! Well just Diablo III now I guess; SHAME ON YOU BLIZZARD, SHAAAAAAME!
Anyway, the game begins with ex-cop Max Payne moving in to his new apartment serenaded by his classic theme on violin. "Time to move on, get on with my life. Yes, absolutely!" he proclaims in his traditional voice over monologue, with only a hint of resigned sarcasm to his weary voice.
He drops his luggage, looks in the mirror, looks out of the window, turns on a fan, sits down... and then runs out of distractions, his attention falling back to the bag on the floor. "It was a long time ago, let it go. Seriously," the narration continues as he opens it and pulls out a framed photograph. Cut to a little bit later, as he returns to his apartment with a bag full of whiskey and painkillers and a narration full of obvious lies about his fresh start, accompanied by a flashback to a time he brought flowers to his murdered family's grave.
Yeah I can definitely see why some Max Payne 2 fans had gotten annoyed that this had undone his happy ending.
In Max Payne 1, Max's narration was performed by James McCaffrey, with lead writer Sam Lake providing his face. In Max Payne 2 actor Timothy Gibbs took over as the character model for whatever reason. But for Max Payne 3 McCaffrey now embodies the character in every aspect as the voice, face and performance capture actor... which has just given me a mental picture of the guy covered in reflective dots, miming taking shots of whiskey before collapsing on the floor.
There's plenty of other options too, like target tracking for moving enemies, slower aim speed when near a target, pickup outlines etc. Something for everyone. Me, I'm switching all the aim assist features off to suit my preference for mouse control.
"So I guess I'd become what they wanted me to be [...] some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Here I was about to execute this poor bastard like some dime store angel of death and I realised [...] I wouldn't know right from wrong if one of them was helping the poor and the other was banging my sister."It may be a different writer penning the dialogue this time, but man they have nailed Max's lines.
The illustrated graphic novel cutscenes have been abandoned entirely for this game, replaced with motion captured cinematics warped by a Kane and Lynch 2-style video distortion effect turned up to 11. I guess it's to help immerse us in Max's drug-addled state of mind.
CHAPTER I: SOMETHING ROTTEN IN THE AIR.
Max reveals in narration that he has moved to São Paulo, Brazil to work a protection detail for a family of local celebrities, along with his (new) friend Raul Passos.
But he's here to do a job and he's determined to put his misanthropic tendencies aside to perform that job as drunkenly as he possibly can.
It's really not going to let me do anything here until I've pressed shootdodge is it? Okay fine, it's probably a good idea to run through the basics and make sure my keys have been remapped comfortably anyway.
Max Payne 1, but other than that it's all feeling very familiar to me.
Here our friend Passos (the guy with the beard) has managed to corner the kidnapper holding Fabiana in the suite directly below Max, and now he has a bit of a hostage situation on his hands. One wrong move and Rodrigo's wife is dead, so he could very much use my help to bail him out right now
By the way, it might be possible to notice that the textures are slightly lower resolution on this image. That's because I replaced the original image with a screenshot I retook later so that you don't get the wrong idea about the plants. I didn't realise until afterwards that they weren't rendering correctly on the higher settings for whatever reason.
The screenshot that is, not the gun shot; no that was dead-on perfect. Not bad considering I had to aim while sliding down a rooftop. Her brother-in-law has also been saved off screen, so that's two Brancos down, one to go.
That gentleman over there with a bag on his head in the background is my boss Rodrigo Branco, and this... is another short cinematic. It's nothing new for the Max Payne series though as the earlier games interrupted the action for in-engine cutscenes like this all the time. Plus look, there is a skip button there, I can get back to the shooting any time I want.
The health system is exactly the same as it always was as far as I can tell. The little silhouette on the bottom right fills up with red as I take damage and it only regenerates down to shoulder level. The '3' is the number of painkillers I have, so I'm doing alright.
Still, it's cool how Max tucks his shotgun under his arm as he reloads the pistol. It's less cool how he can only carry two and a half guns at once now instead of the 15 or so he had in the earlier games, but sacrifices have to be made to achieve the best reloading animations in the business I suppose.
It seems that the 'clues' are in fact collectables for me to grab on each level; more to encourage level replays than exploration I assume, as there's really not much room for me to stray from the path.
This is an interesting turn of events though: Max has been fatally wounded, but it seems that like a vampire he can sap the lifeforce from others to sustain himself and cheat death. All I have to do is put a bullet into the enemy who got the would-be killing shot before Max finishes his slow-motion fall into oblivion and I can trade his miserable life to save Max's own.
Aww but it costs a painkiller to do it? Oh well I guess that's fair, even though it basically means they've added lives to a third person shooter made in 2012. It could be worse, they could've added high scores.
With the two final enemies down, Max is able to get the bag off Rodrigo's head and drag him to safety as the police ride in to save the day. Yep, score attack mode still has all the cutscenes.
Anyway this is jumping ahead, I didn't try the score attack mode until I was a few chapters into the story campaign. To make any kind of sense of the game I need to go back further, to the aftermath of the kidnapping.
Also there's that Kong whiskey again. I'm starting to think that must be product placement, because the brand seems to show up on screen every time there's alcohol being drank.
|Max Payne (PC)|
Though seeing the original game again makes me realise just how much I miss the trenchcoat.
CHAPTER II: NOTHING BUT THE SECOND BEST.
Oh one thing I haven't mentioned yet is how text will often materialise on screen to emphasise certain lines of dialogue, in a manner I would've described as being heavily inspired by the movie Man on Fire... if I'd actually seen the movie myself. I've seen enough of director Tony Scott's other work though to know that the developers have seen enough of director Tony Scott's work themselves.
8 minutes 30 seconds, in case you were wondering how long of this video I had to watch before they gave me my crosshair back, and 5 and a half minutes of that was unskippable. I realise they're using the cinematics to cover up the loading times (and man does it all flow absolutely seamlessly), but FIVE MINUTES? C'mon mate, this isn't a ZX Spectrum game.
Personally I could have seen this coming (as I'm playing a third person shooter), but Max is totally blindsided by it. Plus he's drunk, but that's nothing new. Fortunately the developers had the sense not to have it affect gameplay though: no screen swaying or aiming issues here.
- It's shiny and gold, and if I find all three parts scattered around the game it'll presumably give me a golden variant of the gun.
- I managed to run out of time and fail this section by hanging around and looking for things like this instead of going off to the next shoot-out.
I can dive around all I want, as often as I like, because shootdodging come with its own negative consequence... if I don't aim it right I often end up crashing into stuff and looking like a damn fool. Plus shootdodging into the middle of a crowded room is one way to make a stylish entrance, but I have to make damn sure I kill every last one of those goons with guns before I hit the ground, or else I'll be a sitting duck for the entire time it takes Max to shift his fat ass back up off the ground.
Though I can shoot while lying prone this time around, which has its purposes. Doesn't do much to help my aim though, as Max has godlike accuracy even at the worst of times.
CHAPTER III: JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE.
So now Max and Passos have taken a trip to a football stadium at night to deliver a bag full of cash to the Comando Sombra in exchange for their hostage's safe return. Neither of them are all that skilled at this kind of thing though (Max tends to specialise in revenge), so it all goes south very quickly. Yet another thing for Max to blame himself for.
These TVs seem to be rarer than they were in the first two games, but the content is still uncomfortably relevant to Max's current situation, with an advert for (blood red) stain removing soap powder, plus news on shooting in a nightclub and poverty in São Paulo's favelas. All of it proper video this time instead of a slideshow. But then there's also this soap which seems... less related to Max's life. Unless he's secretly cheating on his pregnant wife, or whatever's going on here. It's entirely in Portuguese so I dunno.
Oh wait, he's likely still guilty about having a relationship with Mona Sax in the last game after the death of his wife and child! Wow, even this fits in. Clever Rockstar, clever.
Anyway, the ransom money goes for a walk and all kinds of bad things happen, leading to a flashback to how Max and Passos first met, in a bar in New York City.
Since being kicked out of the force for shooting a superior officer and aiding a fugitive almost a decade ago, Max's only reason to get up in the morning has been to get a head start on his drinking. It's funny though that even when Max is at his absolute lowest, he still makes the effort to put on a tie. Or I suppose he might just not have taken it off in all this time.
By the way I love the face of Goon #1 in the background on the left.
Actually now that we're back in snowy late-night New York, that gives me a chance to do something I've been meaning to try since writing about the GBA version of Max Payne two years ago. I showed a shot from the PC version of the game in that article and wrote underneath "I'm sure if you put this picture next to a screenshot from Max Payne 3 it'd be obvious how dated this is."
|Max Payne (PC)|
Sonic the Hedgehog was considered cutting edge, and ten years before that... well we don't talk about those games. The publishers themselves buried them under landfill in the desert and gamers tried to kill the entire console industry to save future generations from playing more like them. So it's safe to say we've come a fair way since then.
Wow that was really harsh; lots of insanely talented people worked on those games. The average Atari 2600 game was around 4kB big I believe, which means that programmers had to type in an entire game using less text than I just used to describe how Max Payne is a drunk who shoots people good. So, uh, that's still vaguely on topic, right?
Now I really don't mind having to escape from Max's New York apartment one last time under a hail of sniper fire, but I'm not so keen on how it interacts with the second chance mechanic. I can usually avoid them by shootdodging, but I always end up getting shot in the ass eventually as I dive past window after window, and then get a slow-motion chance to put a bullet in my attacker and spring back to life... except I can't shoot back because at that point I've drifted past the window and I'm looking at a wall! The game is generous enough to start me off with extra painkillers if I fail enough times in a row, but that doesn't do me any good in this case as shooting at walls never brought anyone back from the grave.
Yeah I realise I'm whining about the dumbest thing right now, but this isn't the first time in the game it's happened, and it's annoying that no matter how far I get, I get kicked right back to his apartment every time I fuck up. Death comes so fast in this.
CHAPTER V: ALIVE IF NOT EXACTLY WELL:
Rail shooter turret levels, meh!
Also I've finally collected all the pieces of a golden gun it seems. It seems to replace the regular weapon when I find it, and the main difference I've noticed is that it looks weird and out of place. The internet tells me it also increases damage and ammo capacity slightly, but I was already getting one hit kills so I was pretty satisfied with the damage I was inflicting to be honest.
Well as far as I can tell Max Payne 3 is a lot like the earlier games, in that it is about shooting lots of people one or two rooms at a time. It says a lot that it teaches new players about bullet time and shootdodging before it teaches them about the new cover system, as it's definitely the old school Max Payne experience at heart: you can get through this by staying mobile and leaping across doorways instead of just timidly peeking out from behind walls. Though I found the settings I was shooting up to be a lot more interesting than the earlier games' endless run-down apartment block hallways.
It's nice to see Max's depression and addiction being treated seriously, and not as something that can be solved with a few carefully chosen words of insight, and McCaffrey's performance is excellent, with a lot more bitterness and emotion in his voice that he used to let slip through the deadpan wit. He's also more likeable and humanised somehow, and less of a dick to everyone. But after a half dozen chapters in a row of watching him drink himself senseless and whine about how he's failed at everything all over again, I feel like dragging him over to the stats page and showing him what's actually been going on here. The reality is that he has gone up against 865 well armed psychopaths during the time I've been playing, all while drunk enough to see random words floating in front of him, and he has survived. You see him on the phone up there in that last screenshot, that's The Punisher phoning him up to ask "Holy shit man, how do you do it?"
Story-wise it's probably only as dark as the other games, but it feels worse because it's more down to earth about it. Well as down to earth as a story can be when it includes a speedboat chase level where the player has to shoot down grenades (which is totally a thing people can do in real life to be fair). The only real issue I've had with the story so far, is that you can't turn the bloody thing off for the score attack mode or the level select, which is a shame because there are a lot of options here to tweak the gameplay for additional playthroughs. There are so many new features to encourage replaying levels, but being interrupted by five minutes cutscenes during a speed run is beyond ridiculous.
Overall I think this is probably my favourite of the trilogy. Even discounting the improvements to the graphics, I found the gameplay more fun, the story more engaging and it had a nicer and more varied set of locations to shoot bad folks in. I just hope we don't have to wait nine more years for the next one.