Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Max Payne 3 - Where mixing drugs and alcohol turn you into a one man army

You know a man has seen some dark shit in his life if his facial structure changes completely every other year

So Max Payne 3 has come and gone. Everybody who wanted to play it already did and probably has an established opinion of it but you know, the point of this blog was never to be punctual in the first place, right? After beating Max Payne 3 not once but thrice, what do I think about it and how close that opinion is to my original thoughts about the game?

First of all, let me say that despite taking some elements from the previous games, the gameplay is still pretty top notch. The cover system is an afterthought if anything else and the game is still very much a fast paced, run and gun game at the end of the day. It’s annoying that you can’t carry every weapon in the game at your leisure but there’s still enough weapon variety per level that you don’t feel stuck to a single choice. Still, it’s annoying that the developers thought that this method was an improvement to the earlier games. Bullet dodge is actually more useful than in previous games due to how long the dive is this time around, if you avoid walls and other stuff that you can bump to, you can unload dozens of bullets into pretty much anyone that’s in your line of sight.

So yeah, gameplay wise, Max Payne 3 makes some annoying decisions but with some improvements on the side and it’s definitely one of the best playing third person shooters of the year.

This is where it gets tricky though. You see, I consider the Max Payne franchise to be one of the few truly story driven action games out there. Coupled with tight gameplay, it also had a perfect balance of character and story development told through compelling dialogue and narration. And Max Payne 2 is probably one of the best games out there in terms of making the player sympathize and care about a tragic figure.  Max Payne 3 had to follow up the previous games on both gameplay and narrative. And while it did succeeded on the former, it completely failed on the latter.

In a nutshell, the story is contrived Rockstar pulp. Because like so many Rockstar games, the protagonist is a pathetic, useless vessel that exists only to ferry the player through the rest of the story. For almost the entire game Max is told what to do and where to go. Almost never does Max express any independence, control or will. It's the same problem that Niko had in GTA IV. Max almost doesn't exist at all. He's an avatar for the player, to experience a story that is about everyone other than him. It's pretty lame, boring and lazy.

He barely had any attachment to anyone. Your whole initial rampage is to save some rich socialite just so he could get his paycheck. That's why it was so shitty, because he didn't have a good reason to do anything. Even his buddy didn't add much to it. I mean, I know he's depressed and all but it would be really powerful to have someone lift out of that rut for a short while only to be taken away from him. THEN I'd be able to follow the damn plot.

I mean, you might say the reason why Max lacks assertiveness and detective awareness is because he’s constantly wasted throughout the game but while it's typical Rockstar writing to make someone like Max do something he wouldn't do otherwise because "he was too wasted", fact of the matter is that his behavior isn’t all that different when he isn’t wasted.

One part of the game that I felt got Max's character completely wrong was him point blank shooting and killing Tony. Yes, he hit a woman, and was waving a gun around. Yes, he was a Jersey Shore piece of shit. But it was so...ugh. Such typical fucking Rockstar writing of making Max do something just to put him in a situation that will drive a chapter of the story. Look at Max Payne 2, when Max shoots Winterson. Point blank shooting first against a character that you're not sure deserves to truly die was a character defining moment. It was a pivotal narrative point that arguably defined Max Payne 2, particularly Max's relationship with Mona. The kind of decision that you're not sure is right or wrong but once it's done there's no going back.

I'm not bashing GTA's writing, because it works, for a GTA-type game. Not fucking Max Payne of all things. The characters are hilariously stupid and forgettable, Max isn't himself anymore, and every single scene is a variation of "Max can't act normally around young vapid assholes in this country, here's some thinly veiled political commentary now shoot some guys". And just goes to show that Rockstar actually knew how to commercialize this game, they kept saying how close to the original games 3 was going to be when in fact Max Payne 3 is a reboot in the guise of a sequel. And that actually worked since the game had a generally positive reception from reviewers.

Well, Rockstar Vancouver went down under despite MP3’s success which just goes to show that the current state of the video game industry and its inflated development costs don’t even allow for companies with lukewarm success to exist. And that’s depressing in itself.

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