Monday, 4 August 2014

Max Payne 3 (PC)

Max Payne 3 title logo
Hello and welcome to my humble website where I share my first impressions of video games in "humorous" long-winded "articles" that are totally not just lazy game "reviews".

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.)

Rockstar Social Club select profile sign in screen
Uh-oh, this is not a good sign. Okay, hang on I'll just quit out and tell my firewall to let the game through.

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!

The game begins with... absolutely no way to change my graphics options or even skip the intro, so I'm stuck with 1024x768 for now. Man, I used to think those graphics option windows that sometimes pop up before a game starts looked amateurish and were often indicative of a lazy console port, but lately I've come to realise I was so so wrong.

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.

Speaking of the earlier games, Max seems to regenerate his face every time he makes an appearance. I mean sure it's been over a decade between the games, you'd expect him to age a bit, but that's clearly three separate people we're looking at here.

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.

Alright the intro is over and I now have the power to set my own graphics options. Doesn't look like I'll be running this one on full though sadly, as it simply won't let me exceed the video card memory on my ancient Radeon HD 4770. It makes me wonder why this is the first and only game I've ever seen this feature in, if maximum settings can be determined automatically like this.

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.

The second intro begins where the first left off, with Max moping around in his apartment, before grabbing his empty bottle, getting up, and walking straight into a flash forward. It's all very slick and everything (and likely pre-rendered), but I can't help but notice he's left behind his hair.
"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.


Cut to a few weeks earlier... in the daytime? Whoa, now Rockstar are really pushing things too far, as every true fan knows that Max Payne games take place entirely at night. Look at him, transfixed by the sight of a city lit up by natural light, he's never seen anything like it before except on neon lit posters in some grubby subway station.

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.

He explains that that his main job is to protect a businessman called Rodrigo Branco and his wife Fabiana. His commentary then continues to reveal a number of personal thoughts about them and the other guests at this party that'd likely get him fired if any one of them ever got hold of whatever he's narrating to. The guy holds these people in even lower esteem than he holds himself right now.

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.

Suddenly things go from fine to fucked up in about a second as a armed gang comes out from the lift and then walks right off with everyone that Max has been hired to protect. The kidnappers leave him alive though, which I'm sure will be something they'll later come to regard as being 'a bit of a mistake'.

Alright after five minutes of cinematics (not counting the five minutes it took to get from his apartment to the main menu), I have finally reached gameplay!

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.

There, I did a shootdodge, aimed my reticle at each of the enemy's heads in turn during my slow-motion descent, pulled the trigger at the appropriate times, and now I just have to wait for them to realise they're dead. Bullets definitely travel a bit faster than in Max Payne 1, but other than that it's all feeling very familiar to me.

Wow, just five enemies in two rooms, and I'm already up to the next cutscene?

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

Did I mention I found a piano up here? Max is a little rusty though so he can't quite manage to play his theme tune on it. Besides, it's not really the time.

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.

I mean look at those dumb blocky leaves on the right, ruining my whole shot!

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.

Okay, things now have started to break away a bit from Max Payne tradition. This next tutorial lesson is about how to attach myself to cover and zoom the camera in for more precise aiming, two features that were very much not in the other two games. I'm not getting the feeling they're going to dramatically change the experience though, at least not for the worse.

Because why would I want to cower behind walls when I can fly?

Oh hang on, I'm definitely seeing the benefits to cowering right about now; especially considering that they've confiscated my quicksave button and replaced it with checkpoints.

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.

"Take a painkiller and restore some health" the game suggests. In the earlier games I'd usually save these things up and never bother to use them, seeing as Max would die in a couple of hits either way... but just this once I'll have a tablet. Funny how there's only ever one pill left in these jars I pick up.

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.

Wow, this cocky asshole just flanked me! I saw the others taking cover and assumed they were all planning to stick to the pillars, but it seems that they've got tactics in mind. He would have to choose the moment that my gun rings empty to charge out of nowhere and flush me out into the open.

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.

After I survived the kidnapper ambush in the garage the game told me to look for clues, and I found one on the floor! Hmm, it's a photo of the Rodrigo and Fabiana... hey wait a minute, these are the exact people that they came here to kidnap!

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.

Crap, I stopped the kidnappers driving off with a well placed shot to the tires, but I wasn't quite prepared for them to then pour out of the van and start sending a few well placed shots right back to me.

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.

Oh. Well that's... interesting, they've put in a score attack mode to let me replay a level afterwards with all kinds of modifiers. I can turn on black and white graphics, make the AI more aggressive, use exploding rounds... and my favourite mode, 'headshots only'! It's easy to get a headshot achievement when you can't kill people any other way.

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.

The evening after his encounter with the kidnappers (now revealed to be part of a gang called the Comando Sombra), Max decides to unwind the only way he knows how: by downing shots of painkillers. I always thought the references to his painkiller addiction was a nod to how he chews through hundreds during gameplay, but he takes just as many in cutscenes this time around.

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)
A bit of research reveals the shocking truth: it's actually a callback to adverts featured in Max Payne 1. What a shocking and blatant display of the developers giving a shit about the series' prior entries and the setting they established!

Though seeing the original game again makes me realise just how much I miss the trenchcoat.


Chapter 2 begins with Max taking a helicopter ride to a nightclub as a bodyguard for Fabiana and company.

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.

Oh great, the Comando Sombra have crashed the party and run off with the guests again, so now I have to jump out of a glass window and shoot them all in slow motion. Preferably before I hit the ground.

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.

Hey look what I just found. This is an interesting collectable, for two reasons:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
So... I'm getting mixed signals here. Should I stay or should I go? To be fair Max is always insisting that I leave as soon as possible, so exploration isn't exactly encouraged, but then he never wanted to be here in the first place and his advice is kind of biased.

My power to slow down time requires having some bullet time power left in my tank, my power to resurrect myself (with a well aimed shot at my would-be murderer) costs a painkiller, but I get to do my slow-motion shootdodging for free this time around!

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 II didn't go all that well for Mr Payne in the end, leading to another night of verbal and pharmaceutical self-flagellation. We did get two of the kidnappees back, which is a silver medal in my book, but Rodrigo Branco sees it a little differently.

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.

Speaking of hostages, the transition from a newspaper in Max's apartment to the ransom note earlier was masterfully done. They used a similar transition to get from the fan of Max's ceiling to the rotorblades of the helicopter taking them to the nightclub. This is two years old now, but the direction of these cinematics is still a real step beyond what I'm used to seeing in games.

Well, except for when it literally turns into a soap opera.

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.

Speaking of cutscene cleverness, they've even taken into account that Max might be holding a shotgun or rifle during the motion captured cutscenes. Occasionally a holstered Uzi might magically transform into a pistol, but it's not something I noticed until I deliberately watched for it. It's all so... natural looking. I'm not sure I've ever seen better animation in a game to be honest.

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.

Actually Passos claims that they've know each other a while, as he and Max were at the police academy together, but Max doesn't remember this at all. Though he's quick to accept the stranger as a friend when the guy buys him a drink. It probably also helped that he introduced himself by kicking out a local mob boss's son at gunpoint. Passos came here looking for Max to offer him the protection job in Brazil, but our miserable hero isn't all that interested in straying too far from the bar.

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.

We may never know his name, but he'll always be a star to me.

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)
Well now I can finally find out for sure how dated Max Payne looks now compared to Max Payne 3!

Wow it's funny how much of a difference a decade can make. Then again, ten years before Max Payne came out 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?

I should really stop playing at this point, but first I must mention the hall of lasers.

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.


Damn, why am I still playing this? I had every intention of turning it off after my return to Hoboken. At least this gives me a chance to whine about rail shooter turret levels.

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.


Alright, I've finally seen what motivates Max to grow a beard and shave his head and now I really can turn this off (spoiler: he watches a marathon of Breaking Bad). Not yet sure what motivated that shirt though, except for a deep self-loathing and general lack of self-respect of course.


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.


Well that's what I think about Max Payne 3 anyway. I'm not sure how anyone could ever disagree with me, but you're welcome to share your opinions, observations and insight in that message box below anyway. You can also discuss my website, suggest ways I can improve it, try to guess what the next game will be... there's a million things you could write about in there!


  1. Chuckled while reading this lazy review: he can only carry two and a half guns at once now instead of the 15

    like a vampire he can sap the lifeforce from others to sustain himself and cheat death

    they could've added high scores and the next screenshot shows points

    drunk enough to see random words floating in front of him

  2. When I heard there was going to be a Max Payne 3 I thought "Okay, sounds interesting. Remedy's not involved but I'm sure they'll give out something worthwhile" and even the location change, I thought it was an odd location but I thought a good story would pull through even with Max looking like the lovechild of Agent 47 and Obidiah Stane... No.

    The plot is that Max is asked to protect a family in Brazil because... Why the hell not? (to be fair the body count in both the previous games might go up to the 1000's) and they get captured but you stop them. Only for one chapter later for them to get captured... is this Max Payne or "Max Payne in Super Mario Bros."? Seriously, these people are captured more often than Princess Peach. So Max rescues all but one and the rest of the game is pretty much you running around trying to save this person.

    Okay, so my biggest problems with this is the story. The characters of the Bronco family might have been likable characters or at least worth a damn to run around leaping around corridors shooting people... the big problem is nobody and I mean NOBODY is interesting enough aside from Max. Nobody is given any development aside from what you played in the last 2 games.

    The continuity is literally all over the place. Let me explain why, at the end of Max Payne 2, Max is in a US Senator's mansion and he is shot by the main antagonist. Max picks up his gun because in the chaos he loses it and decides to kill him and when that finally happens he hears his love interest say her last words as cops raid the place. Now he got off the hook for killing the people in the first game because of a deal he made with "The Inner Circle" of which the US Senator was a part of, and guess what - THEY'RE ALL DEAD! So naturally killing hundreds of Russian mobsters and having his fingerprints on a gun that killed a US Senator would have him either in jail or fleeing the country... TOTALLY FORGOTTEN IN THIS GAME! No, literally, Max not only talked his way out of the whole "gun on the US Senator" thing but also got rid of the Russian mafia... anyone else think we missed a much better Max Payne game in-between the ending of the second one and when he got his job offer in the flashback levels? Because if I saw "Max Payne 2.5" basically chronicling that, I'd play it.

    Oh, how there's more for me to harp on. There are no nightmare sequences in this game. That to some people was one of the best things in those games, it showed what Max is really going through. Here? Although he's worse off than before - gone! Hey, if you wanted to change so much and displace people like me - Reboot it!... I am literally suggesting to turn over a new leaf with this series because the story of the first game has a lot of potential (although if the Mark Whalberg movie taught us anything, that can also backfire) and if they did that, while it wouldn't be as good - They wouldn't be screwing the continuity sideways and it would be good to actually see these memorable characters again.

    If you want to play this game with the intention of maybe connecting to a video game series you know and love, this isn't it. However if you have no knowledge of the previous games (or at least the bare minimum) then this will be a fun ride. It doesn't really offer that much in terms of story but if your sole intention for buying this game is to leap around corridors and shoot everyone like you're in the Bestheda game WET without the acrobatic stuff then you will get your money's worth.


Semi-Random Game Box