In 2001, I fell in love with the first Max Payne game. Still being a young kid, I had yet to be introduced to the Film Noir style. Max Payne was my introduction. It also happened to be competent third person shooter which brought Matrix-like Bullet Time to the gaming masses. It was fresh, new, and narratively-interesting. Its sequel in 2003 didn’t disappoint either. Concluding the story that had made the first game such a big hit with me, Max Payne 2 was an explosive, exciting ending. When Max Payne 3 was announced, it was question of when I’d get it, not if.
I finished my first and only playthrough of Max Payne 3 early last month. Though I am a big fan of the series (I used a Max Payne pre-order bonus mousepad for nearly a decade), one thing kept me from day one-ing Max Payne 3: recently trying to play the first two games in the series.
Yeah, the story has aged well. It’s hard to see Max Payne’s hardboiled detective attitude with those classic comic panel cutscenes and think, “Nope, this wouldn’t fly in the 2010’s.” I’d kill for more games with as much style as the original Max Paynes. The problem, however, comes from the gameplay: it hasn’t aged well. See a room of lifeless enemies, jump in all slow-mo like and spam your weapon at them. You’ll take hits because taking cover is meaningless and the game actively promotes a “To Hell with safety, I am going to dive in face first” style of run-and-gun. Rinse, repeat, dig through corners of empty levels for painkillers to restore health, and enjoy the ride.
This worked out fine for me in the early 2000’s because I didn’t know better. Heck, I wasn’t that many years removed from playing games like DOOM. It’s not like the games weren’t worth it, either. The story, setting, and characters were truly one-of-a-kind. If you wanted that, then you had to slog through the rest.
Enter Max Payne 3, a sequel to story that frankly should’ve been left alone. It’s prettier by far (Max Payne’s head is far less rectangular this time around). It ditches a lot of the New York at night setting of the original two for a Brazilian crime thriller. It isn’t a bad story, but it is nowhere near as good as the first two games. Though some of Max’s dialogue is still great, the game also drops a lot of the style that made the series so amazing.
By far the best part of Max Payne 3 are the great animations. I don’t think any game has better animations than this one. As Max Payne jumps, dives, crouches, and fires his weapons, his entire body moves to match the action. It’s clean, elegant, and entirely believable. The entire game takes on an added cinematic quality as Max Payne believable guns his way through rooms. An excellent version of Bullet Time and some great cinematics further the movie-like feel of the game.
BUT the gameplay is the exact same as what I experienced back at the dawn of the new millenium. Rooms are swarmed with what feels like endless supplies of foot soldiers. Some of the firefights last long enough and have high enough body counts that I feel like the entire city is out to gun me down. Despite being the most stylish and elegant as it has even been, Max Payne 3’s combat is just as stale as its predecessors. By the end, I was begging for it to be over so I didn’t have to shoot another dozen assholes, but I still wanted to see how the story finished up.
They also added multiplayer which I am told is decent. I didn’t bother so I wouldn’t know.
Overall, I am not unhappy with the game: I beat it after all. It just wasn’t particularly exciting. I am very thankful I waited on purchasing it, since the Steam Sale that discounted it for me delivered a product more in line with my valuation. Some of the action sequences are truly amazing and few games feel as cinematic. I just wish the game felt more worthwhile.
I’d buy it if you see it on sale, but otherwise I’d forget it exists.