FIFTY-SOMETHING KILLS BRAZIL
“A Max Payne game by not-Remedy? Such dribble. I do not condone such sacrilegious language. Such a sequence of words is and forever will be prohibited,” you spit out to the Internet.
“Yes, yes, yes,” the Internet says.
A loud agreement was finally in order – Rockstar, this not-Remedy, would definitely not be able to make a proper Max Payne game. A Max Plank game? Maybe. A Mark Plum game? Definitely, but not a Max Payne game.
So here we are with Max Payne 3 and that's what it definitely should be called. A Max Payne game. The third one.
It's the stuff of legends. No one will believe what Rockstar has accomplished a century from now. It has its place in the Great Accomplishments of Man, but the thought of them pulling it off is so ludicrous that no, it must be an elaborate fiction.
It's not your mother's, father's, when-you-were-twelve-years-old, or anyone else's Max Payne; this is Rockstar's. Their snarky, cynical and well-written dialogue is all over Max Payne 3. Max is less poetic and absurd with his language, but it's still distinctively Max. When he compares a nightclub shootout in São Paulo to “Baghdad in G-strings.”, you know who's talking.
The atmosphere too, has lost the flavors of comic book noir in favor of something more grounded. It's Rockstar – for as satirical as their games can get, they tend to be very sobering renditions of the world and Max Payne 3 is absolutely no different. The fastidious attention to detail when depicting the fabulously wealthy, the corruption of the law and the insane class divide is so authentically rendered that the sheer believability of Rockstar's interpretation of Brazil is so striking that if this is what Max embellishes with his metaphors and his bullets, then that's fine.
So tonally, it's extremely self-serious and completely dedicated to presenting a grounded reality. Max's quality as an unreliable narrator has always given the striking death tolls in these games a solid enough context and that continues to be the case in Max Payne 3. It's a ludicrous interpretation of events and as a result, a bit more believable.
And that's the key, that's it. Max Payne 3 is still a story about Max and a story that Max is telling and since Rockstar is true to his character, the game also is truly a Max Payne game. Well, half of one, because the other half, the gun show of insane, drug-addled human strength is just as important.
Rockstar nails it. They took the hammer, struck it right down at the center and the plank of lumber exploded into a trillion stylish little pieces in the slowest of motions. Staying in cover too long is compromising and the AI has a great tendency to whiff their shots when you're on the move, encouraging you to bullet time all the time and shoot dodge most of the time. The game isn't easy – its difficulty is more in line with Max Payne 1 than Max Payne 2 and a few difficulty spikes can really be a wet towel around all the super cool madness – but it's just hard enough to always frame Max as a man on the edge, on the precipice of take-a-bullet-to-the-everywhere death. It's hard to imagine the game being fun throughout its entirety with a gamepad. The difficulty feels tuned to the precision of a mouse, because the game demands the lining up of three headshots in a row before bellyflopping onto the concrete be as easy as forgetting to do important things, as in, it should come naturally.
It all looks pretty amazing too and Max's animations in particular are almost revelatory. He controls uniquely, like a fifty-something alcoholic fat guy who can still fly off balconies and destroy lives with dual-wielded shotguns. There's a fine balance of heft and weight and a snappy responsiveness to Max; he feels real and his animations and movements aren't prioritized over your inputs because of engineers and animators far too proud of their work. No other third-person shooter plays or controls like Max Payne 3 and that's a great achievement.
It all synthesizes into something thrilling and you're constantly crafting The Greatest Action Thing of All-Time over and over again, with each new slow-motion moment making you wonder why so many third-person shooters took such a sad turn to resting your back against a wall and occasionally peeking out to shoot a guy. Rockstar also makes great judgment calls of when the game should go into movie mode and when it should go back into video game mode. Exposition and lengthy dialogues relinquish all control from you, so Rockstar can do their cutscene thing, which they're really, really good at, and then puts you back in control at just the right moment, like when you have to shoot at an RPG barreling towards you in slow-motion while Max is on the underside of a helicopter. It's no easy feat to make such completely different mediums cooperate and work together so amicably and initially it's hard to see in Max Payne 3, because it's done so naturally.
It's almost perfect with how Rockstar does it, but a few moments can throw you into some compromising situations, like say, when the movie ends and the video game begins with Max running into an almost-literal wall of angry Brazilians. It's a slight mark against a game that is totally a Max Payne game and it feels so refreshing and so new that a distant thought suddenly comes into the forefront of conscience: There hasn't been a game like Max Payne for the past nine years. Christ.
There's a multiplayer that comes with it too and it's quite fun and its implementation of bullet time makes sense once you start playing it and well, yeah, it's fun, but that's not why Max Payne 3 is being celebrated as the great return of this guy, the coolest guy.
Talk about your reunions, your “How have you been doing?”s. It's been awhile since a Diablo, but it seemed even longer for a new Max Payne game, because that's the kind of game you don't play for infinity. It's more of something that you take to heart once, lock it away and then let nostalgia age those memories into what must now be a product of utter perfection. That's a tall order to live up to and Rockstar took a look at those demands, took a few core principles and then gave us a Max Payne game worth talking about and absolutely worth playing with a ballsy willingness to not compromise on their own artistic direction.