Okay Rockstar, fine. I'll admit it. You get Max Payne. You get it.
I'm been following the progress of Max Payne 3 since it was first announced, and it occurred to me that, more than the game itself, I've really enjoyed the manner in which Rockstar has slowly unveiled the game — via an elaborate series of trolls and baits. Fans have been reeled in, caught on hooks, toyed with, and tossed back into the ocean at Rockstar's discretion.
Personally, I've thoroughly enjoyed the whole trolling process. Trolling is an art, and Rockstar is a true master.
But now the foreplay is over. I'm sat in front of a screen, controller in hand, and it's time to get busy.
Discussing the pure mechanics of a third person shooter like Max Payne is almost a redundant exercise — you know what to expect. In Max Payne you shoot bad guys. You shoot them with different weapons. Different weapons work better in specific situations. Sniper for precision at distance, shotgun for blasting fools close range.
The design tropes are present and correct — Max Payne is a mostly linear third person shooter with bells and whistles — but you can see Rockstar almost trying to kick the doors down, attempting to wriggle its way out of the straight jacket. In most respects it succeeds, but in a handful of areas the struggle is fruitless.
The core gameplay of Max Payne 3 is solid. Its weaponry has weight and, more importantly, Max has weight. The game's combat encounters are fun, and throw up a series of interesting situations, interesting choices. The new cover system provides a neat respite from what is usually a frantically paced ballistic ballet and, contrary to what you might think, actually works really well within the Max Payne universe.
But, of course, the real fireworks manifest when you cut loose from cover and leap around like a beer bellied buffoon on red cordial, probing for inventive ways to use the game's bullet time. As I mentioned in earlier previews, Max Payne 3 is a game built from the ground up for slow motion, and it shows in every aspect. Animation is fluid, and pornographic in its presentation of ultra-violence. Every movement you make is represented accurately, and your movement feels tactile as a result — as if you were the one who made these deft movements occur. This sounds like simple design, but Max Payne executes where most games feel lazy, and that's rewarding.
Movements in Max Payne 3 are seamless, and that's where Rockstar's determination to push boundaries works most efficiently. It blurs the lines between cinematics and gameplay, blending interactivity into the story in innovative ways that just make sense. It's disorientating at first — previous experience tells gamers that when a camera cuts away from its usual position, it's time to sit back and watch — but in Max Payne 3 you often have an element of control. Is it wrong to describe the ability to continue blasting enemies in slow-motion after you've killed him as a 'delicate touch'?
But there are moments when you wonder if less is more. I get the sense that while Rockstar has had little problem recreating the frenetic pace of Max Payne's shoot-outs, it may have struggled with bringing Max Payne's comic book style cut-scenes up to speed. Their solution isn't quite to my tastes. Instead of a simple comic book style with voice overs, Rockstar has decided to go with traditional cut-scenes interspersed with multiple flashy camera tricks — all flares and filters. Occasionally a line of dialogue will be spoken, but also written on the screen for emphasis. It feels a little obtrusive, as if Rockstar is either afraid to simply let the dialogue do the talking, or intent on adding too much pizzazz. It's a sort of halfway house between the comic book style and playing it straight, and I sort of wish they'd just gone one way or the other.
You can almost feel Rockstar bursting out of the strait jacket of third person design, trying to make the lines between cinematics and gameplay invisible — trying to preserve consumer nostalgia whilst pushing Max Payne into a brave new world of Rockstar's design. Thankfully, it treads that tightrope successfully, where it counts, only occasionally floundering.
Rockstar gets how to make a pure third person shooter, and it definitely gets Max Payne.