I remember playing the original two games, I wasn’t a hardcore fan but they were memorable. I also remember not being very good at them and ending up cheating to finish. However, even though I wasn’t very good at them, I could still see they had a unique quality. After a long hiatus, me and Max Payne have reunited for a third outing, below are my thoughts on Max Payne 3…

The tutorial/opening narrative is tough love, as with Witcher 2 it tries to teach you while you’re fighting for your life, always a bad idea to expect people to read and absorb information like that. If you know what you’re doing, it’s annoying that the game is obstructing your gameplay by trying to teach you, and if you need teaching, it’s annoying that the game is trying to kill you as you learn.

The years have not been kind of Max Paynes formula, somebody introduced a cover mechanic, and due to the ai enemy reaction time and accuracy, you better start using it. If you attempt to run about in slow-mo you’ll probably have some fun briefly but then you’ll be stuck back behind cover, trying to recharge your bullet time meter so you can have some more fun.

The cover mechanic is flawed, many times I’d take cover, only for my giant head to be stuck up over a ridge or windowsill, making the act of taking cover a lesson in random chance as to whether your enemy would spray bullets into the cover and get lucky or not. It feels like the ai has supernatural reactions too, in the time it took my to press my right mouse button from cover to aim, wait for Max to lean out of cover, then for the reticule to be drawn on-screen and for me to find it, I was already being hit by enemy fire. I’ll assume if you’re younger this is less of a problem but it still felt a huge handicap to me, since playing “hunt the reticle” was not fun. Why the reticle couldn’t be on-screen at all times is no doubt a decision of form over function, like many of the decisions in this game.

You can blind fire, and this is often the best choice, there were a few set pieces that pretty much require you to “use the force” and blind fire to avoid the absolute shitstorm of enemies around you. There was one point, later in the game, where I was trapped at the back of a bus as a horde of enemies throwing grenades into the bus and firing at me was particularly frustrating. If I tried to aim and fire at enemies the rest would just take me out, or I’d die from my massive head sticking out of cover, or a grenade would be thrown through the window. Eventually, through a combination of either pure luck or suspect game design, the enemy missed every grenade toss and instead of landing inside the bus they hit the roof and exploded harmlessly, allowing me to slowly blind fire the 20 or so bad guys one by one.

Cut-scenes were another huge frustration, most game designers understand that while cut-scenes can help you tell a story, once you’re actually playing a level they need to shut up. Not these guys, I think I spent more time watching cut-scenes throughout the entire game then i did actually shooting bad guys, and let’s be honest, shooting bad guys is all this game is based on.

What makes it worse is that they seamlessly blend into the gameplay engine, the problem this causes is that you aren’t always sure exactly when you get control back. Oh and when you do, the game has switched your gun for you, even if your first pistol has no ammo, that’s forced on you by every cut scene in the game. Also, most cut scenes end with you in the worst possible place, surrounded by bad guys and behind cover that you aren’t really covered by….and right at this moment, the cut scene ends and the game says “over to you”.

There are lots of collectible golden guns in the game, they are scattered about the levels in pieces and you collect those pieces to eventually unlock every gun in the game in “golden form” I managed to get about 3 total in my first play through and I was deliberately looking everywhere I had an opportunity to.

Of course, in typical asshole fashion, the game was telling me either through Max’s vocalized thoughts or whatever ai companion you had to babysit that you were too slow and had to hurry up. A few times the game even puts an invisible timer on you, I flipping hate that. First you design a concept of hidden collectibles and then you punish people for searching for those collectibles by ending the game on them when they don’t immediately rush into the next fight/cut scene.

The audio and visual quality of the game is really nice, the music belts along and near the end, the song played at the airport and closing credits is particularly good. Looking at the textures, character models and physics at work is impressive, they are well animated and as I said earlier look so good, the cut scenes use them too. The story is mostly forgettable nonsense, considering all the cut scenes, there really isn’t much substance or plausibility to it, this wouldn’t be a criticism for an action game if it wasn’t for the games insistence on shoving it down my throat with constant cut-scenes every few minutes.

There was an arcade mode to replay all the levels as time trials or high score achievements,  also a multiplayer mode for no reason other than because some idiot thinks it needed it to sell. Given how frustrated and irritated I was by the story gameplay, I just didn’t ever feel like trying those out. I played on normal difficulty, which for me was still challenging but it was challenging for the wrong reasons, I was dying because of poor ui, poor cover mechanics, poor cut scene usage and bad camera angles.

I felt like I was fighting the game rather than just my enemies, that random chance played too much of a factor and that the entire game was conspiring to annoy me. Towards the end of the game, enemies were taking upwards of 20-30 rounds to kill and like zombies they would take rounds in their body, fall and then just get back up and keep fighting over and over. Shooting guys in the face with helmets usually meant the helmets popped off and you had to shoot them again, ignoring the fact you didn’t miss the first time. It got so silly sometimes I was unloading entire magazines into a single enemy just to guarantee he was dead and I could move on.

Overall, this is a poor game, fantastic presentation totally ruined by frustrating game design elements. Considering how Rockstar has been a reliably good developer over the last decade I’m quite shocked that this turned out the way it did. Only buy this game if you like watching the game play itself in cut scenes, or it’s heavily discounted and you’re a masochist.

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