Taking a cue from Mr. Davis, I figured we could make this Single-Player Summer shindig a whole hoot-hollerin’ kerfuffle. These are words that people use regularly, I am told. Not in Max Payne 3, though. In Max Payne 3, people (mostly Max) (only Max) like to descend into depressing, poetically worded ramblings of utter sadness and hopelessness, all the time. Which, believe it or not, is completely OK, thanks in large part to the stellar and believable performance turned in by series veteran James McCaffrey. He’s the only one back for the fun, however, as normal development squad Remedy Entertainment (Max Paynes 1 & 2, Alan Wake) and series writer Sam Lake do not return.
I should probably start by mentioning that I never beat either of the first two Max Payne titles. This is in no way due to the fact that, at the time of their release, I was a young sprout that would dissolve into fits of terror at any sign of real, sudden challenge in a video game (“Why do all these people keep trying to shoot me with guns, dad, why!?”). No, I chock it up to my ridiculously short attention span. I would never beat games that didn’t have “Legend” or “of Zelda” in the title. This year, however, I was finally a grown-up, and there was finally a new Max Payne game.
This sudden return of interest in the series for me didn’t begin with the newly released title, however. Rather, I told myself that it was only right that I go back and start from the beginning. That’s what cool gamers do. So, naturally, the way I decided to do this was to purchase the Max Payne 1 port for iPhone. Yet another thing that cool gamers do. Except the thing is, the Max Payne 1 port for iPhone isn’t cool. It’s the epitome of not-cool. It controls worse than the original Resident Evil, and can’t even claim to be doing it on purpose. Steer clear of that one.
Hey, would you look at that! This website just gave you some good advice! Definitely not what we were expecting when we started it.
Anyway, back on topic. I soon became reserved to the fact that Max Payne for iPhone was not going to work out. However, I still wanted to hear all the important details about the story. Instead of reading up on the series on Wikipedia the cheap, non cool-gamer way, I heard tell that there had been a movie adaptation in 2008. Perfect! Tightly edited, stylish images with accompanying music for me to consume without obscuring the screen with my thumbs! Except, wouldn’t you know it, turns out that the Max Payne film is ALSO not cool at all. Sure, parts of it look relatively pretty, but it’s badly acted and not very faithful to its game counter-part. Also, Mark Wahlberg is from Bah-stin.
I was forced to read up on extensive summaries of the game’s story, as well as its sequels’. What I came across was a series that, despite technological limitations, captured the fundamentals of a film. Long before Bioshock came along to further blur the line between films and games, there was Max Payne. To say that I was excited to dive into Max Payne 3 would be an understatement. And then I played it.
Readers, Max Payne shaves his head. He. Shaves. His. Head. For long portions of the game, his head is shaved. I repeat this fact three times because I absolutely hate it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a bad creative decision on Rockstar’s part. Sure, there’s a reason given for it in the story. Sure, the decision makes sense in context. But I still hate it. It stinks too much of Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, or Bruce Willis’s John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard, or Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this, but the game would not have been changed one bit if he’d just not shaved his head. Let’s not make it a gaming convention that when a famous character goes off the deep end, they shave their heads.
While it may shock you to hear after that rant, I still love the game. The shooting mechanics are as fluid as ever. Some may complain that they haven’t changed a bit since the series inception. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The narrative is the most important part of the Max Payne series, and this third iteration is easily the best one. Though the game no longer takes place in New York, the noir overtones that permeate throughout the two preceding titles are still as present as ever. Max is unhinged in this story, and taking away familiar surroundings puts us right there with him. As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is strong in general, but the highlight is definitely McCaffrey. He easily matches Nolan North’s turn as Nathan Drake in the second Uncharted game as the benchmark for believable/entertaining game voice acting (as far as I’m concerned, anyway).
A lot of people seem to have been having an issue with when the game gives you control and when they leave it to cut-scenes. Since the narrative is so engrossing, it never bothered me, and I really don’t think it’ll bother any other fans of the series. Something I do wish the game had, however, was an open world. At least to some degree. That can be taken as a testament to the world Rockstar have put together, but I really wanted to explore it more. Maybe next time.
I’m glad Rockstar have brought the gritty hero back, and I hope the next game in the series comes sooner, rather than later.
Single Player Summer game count: 3