By Egge 5 Comments
Sequels made long after the original game(s) by a completely different developer are bound to make the Internet rage-o-meter rise to 11 and flood the global computational pathways with cries of "sell-out". However, in the case of Max Payne 3 I think the more interesting question is whether the series is even relevant at all in 2012. When MP1 came out 11 years ago it was arguably the most technologically advanced and impressively cinematic 3D action title ever released, but the third-person shooter genre has moved on since then and few of the series' hallmark features seem particularly amazing or ground-breaking today.
Rockstar's strategy has clearly been to retain some of the elements which made Max Payne unique while bringing in a few standard mechanics of modern action games and simultaneously suffusing the whole package with their own distinctive brand of cinematic storytelling (which apparently is referred to derogatorily as "Houser writing" these days). What's particularly Max Payne-ish about MP3 is of course first and foremost the inclusion of a "bullet time" mode as well as the comically absurd painkiller-based health replenishment. Also worthy of note, however, are some rather finicky shooting mechanics which - at least for a modern third-person shooter - seem unusually tailored to precision-based mouse aiming on a PC. The addition of Gears of War-style cover controls have been much-discussed, and there's no question that it fundamentally alters the gameplay formula by effectively relegating bullet time to a secondary role. Apart from the more questionable aspect of merely conforming to contemporary genre standards, I have a feeling the cover mechanics were added because Rockstar realized that handling most shoot-outs by constantly flinging Max through the air in slo-mo would get boring (not to mention silly). That they didn't dare bringing in any other, more original ideas of their own on how to modernize the gameplay is probably a sign that Rockstar still is surprisingly uncomfortable with the whole process of designing basic shooter controls.
Max Payne as a series has always been focused on delivering a more sophisticated, more stylized and arguably also more engaging form of storytelling than most other action titles, and in some ways that makes Rockstar the perfect fit for a sequel/semi-reboot of the franchise. Given that Remedy Entertainment is still around one might argue that they would have made a better job, but considering Alan Wake's flat characters, wooden dialogue and convoluted plot I'm actually somewhat relieved that they're not involved this time around. Rockstar has their own share of problems, though; most notably a one-dimensional and only vaguely political cynicism which dragged down the intermittently amazing Red Dead Redemption and could very well end up making MP3 into more of a downer than is absolutely necessary given the source material. So far it's clear that the writing in this game is less absurd and flowery than in its predecessors, but it remains to be seen if that was a wise choice or not.
The main reason I bought Max Payne 3 wasn't the actual gameplay per se but simply the promise of getting to experience an unusual and well-realized setting (the various locales of São Paolo with all its ruthless inequality and organized brutality) brought to life by Rockstar's usual attention to detail. If it ends up being an OK shooter too that's fine, but I feel the gaming world of 2012 doesn't necessarily need another Max Payne and has enough linear, story-driven action games already.