Max Payne 3: Problems

I don't know how to feel about this game. Playing it is generally fun: the gunplay has heft and Max carries himself with a believable weight. However, I'm playing on Hard and the checkpointing is absolutely abysmal. Multi-tier fights often restart at the very beginning and when combined with the iffy Last Man Standing mechanic can lead to tremendous frustration. On the flip side, when you nail a sequence it can be thrilling.

The real problems lie in the writing. The first two games struck a balance between outright camp and winking homage, but transposing the ridiculously hard-boiled narration into Rockstar's newly po-faced Payne makes things ridiculous. Max is more wordy than ever before, but most of his voiceover is directed at his own apparent incompetence with a little left over for the "rich fools" he's surrounded with. The dissonance here comes when Max chastises himself after a lengthy shootout, during which he has pulled off incredible feats such as flying through the air while shooting six guys in the head, or sliding down a roof to pop a hostage-taker in the skull. Or, you know, slowing down time. It doesn't make sense, and with trademark Rockstar subtlety the game bombards you with scenes of Max chasing pills with whiskey or calling himself a moron with a bad shirt. The past couple Rockstar titles haven't appeared to grasp the connection between what happens in cutscenes and what happens in gameplay - they want to tell you their amazing story, and what you do with your play time is up to you. Just don't expect it to interrupt the narrative unless there's a big flashing "CHOICE" across the screen.

If writer Dan Houser - also the architect of the spectacularly noncommittal John Marston - had gone with a more spare, terse Dashiell Hammett style to fit with the harsh world the game creates, things might be different. Throwing in some addled, associative White Jazz-era James Ellroy prose, or even tightening up the Chandleresque similies the game stuffs Max's mouth with would do wonders. There's a whole world of brutal crime fiction out there to work with, and while Rockstar pay due diligence to Tony Scott and Michael Mann, the game suffers from cheap, imitation-noir writing: dialogue that runs on and on like a man spending his whole life trying to escape his dead wife and child.

PS: I still play and love Red Dead Redemption, and I do like this game. There are just some really clear issues with the execution and it's frustrating that they were passed over.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by hastapura

I don't know how to feel about this game. Playing it is generally fun: the gunplay has heft and Max carries himself with a believable weight. However, I'm playing on Hard and the checkpointing is absolutely abysmal. Multi-tier fights often restart at the very beginning and when combined with the iffy Last Man Standing mechanic can lead to tremendous frustration. On the flip side, when you nail a sequence it can be thrilling.

The real problems lie in the writing. The first two games struck a balance between outright camp and winking homage, but transposing the ridiculously hard-boiled narration into Rockstar's newly po-faced Payne makes things ridiculous. Max is more wordy than ever before, but most of his voiceover is directed at his own apparent incompetence with a little left over for the "rich fools" he's surrounded with. The dissonance here comes when Max chastises himself after a lengthy shootout, during which he has pulled off incredible feats such as flying through the air while shooting six guys in the head, or sliding down a roof to pop a hostage-taker in the skull. Or, you know, slowing down time. It doesn't make sense, and with trademark Rockstar subtlety the game bombards you with scenes of Max chasing pills with whiskey or calling himself a moron with a bad shirt. The past couple Rockstar titles haven't appeared to grasp the connection between what happens in cutscenes and what happens in gameplay - they want to tell you their amazing story, and what you do with your play time is up to you. Just don't expect it to interrupt the narrative unless there's a big flashing "CHOICE" across the screen.

If writer Dan Houser - also the architect of the spectacularly noncommittal John Marston - had gone with a more spare, terse Dashiell Hammett style to fit with the harsh world the game creates, things might be different. Throwing in some addled, associative White Jazz-era James Ellroy prose, or even tightening up the Chandleresque similies the game stuffs Max's mouth with would do wonders. There's a whole world of brutal crime fiction out there to work with, and while Rockstar pay due diligence to Tony Scott and Michael Mann, the game suffers from cheap, imitation-noir writing: dialogue that runs on and on like a man spending his whole life trying to escape his dead wife and child.

PS: I still play and love Red Dead Redemption, and I do like this game. There are just some really clear issues with the execution and it's frustrating that they were passed over.

Posted by BigChickenDinner

Well Max is clearly depressed and angry at himself. The slowing down time is just Max's brain working in overdrive, giving the illusion of time slowing down (or so i tell myself). So his dialogue is believable from what I've heard.

This game needs to hurry to PC.

Posted by Insectecutor

His new dialogue is lacking, to say the least. It lacks any of the wit or poetic charm of the previous games.

Posted by Demoskinos

I disagree. I thought every second of the story and action both were absolutely top notch stuff. And of course Max is going to be self loathing he feels he is responsible for the deaths of multiple women that he was supposed to be protecting. The writing is decidedly less verbose but it also reflects Max's state of drowning in self pity and they play that angle up very nicely. I think this may just be my GOTY quite honestly. Everything about it is top shelf stuff and I think it may also be my favorite installment of the series. If not one of the best shooters period that I've ever played. I think it outdoes even Uncharted in presentation and story in just about every turn. I have not enjoyed a game this much in forever. Extremely glad I was wrong.

Posted by Insectecutor

@Demoskinos said:

I disagree. I thought every second of the story and action both were absolutely top notch stuff. And of course Max is going to be self loathing he feels he is responsible for the deaths of multiple women that he was supposed to be protecting. The writing is decidedly less verbose but it also reflects Max's state of drowning in self pity and they play that angle up very nicely. I think this may just be my GOTY quite honestly. Everything about it is top shelf stuff and I think it may also be my favorite installment of the series. If not one of the best shooters period that I've ever played. I think it outdoes even Uncharted in presentation and story in just about every turn. I have not enjoyed a game this much in forever. Extremely glad I was wrong.

I'd say it's more verbose and says less. I agree the overall story arc is great, probably a more interesting framework than the previous games, but the moment-to-moment dialogue is flat and uninteresting. They ram Max's self pity down your throat with these brutal utilitarian lines that endlessly reinforce his alcoholism and drug addiction, but there's no pathos. I don't feel for him at all.

Posted by jillsandwich

Yeah, the writing is good, but it's a little grating at times. No where near as good as the first two games for sure.

Posted by Demoskinos

@Insectecutor: I don't really think your supposed to. He is kinda a piece of shit. I mean he was drinking on the job multiple times when shit happened. Possibly Fabiana would have been kidnapped anyways but its the reason he beats himself up about it. Like he says he isn't a hero. He is a fat bald dude with a bad temper. In Max Payne 1 and to some extent 2 you could connect with Max on that level but in 3 hes let the ghost of his dead wife and his self pity become such a suffocating demon for him that his disregard for his own well being often translates into misfortune for others and that is pretty shitty. I think by the end he at least reached some sort of neutral state where he at least realized what he was doing and decided to at least try to clean up the mess.

Posted by Insectecutor

@Demoskinos: Well I haven't finished it yet, I reckon I'm about halfway through. Maybe I'll come around to your perspective when I'm done with it.

Edited by DharmaBum

I never had a disconnect from the self-critical internal monologue after pulling off some incredible stunt. It's a video game after all. The only moments that seemed strange to me were transition cutscenes when, after patiently performing said incredible feats, Max would carelessly walk into a situation and lose any advantage he had.

@hastapura said:

dialogue that runs on and on like a man spending his whole life trying to escape his dead wife and child.

I thought that was supposed to be the essence of Max Payne. Should they have included more mentions of Mona?

Posted by AhmadMetallic
@BigChickenDinner said:

The slowing down time is just Max's brain working in overdrive, giving the illusion of time slowing down (or so i tell myself). 

That's beautiful man.
Edited by squirrelnacho

Yes the writing in this game is not as good as the originals. It just sounds like whining all the time now (unlike the reserved seriousness he had in Max Payne 2). Then there's over the top characters Rockstar forces into their games (fine for GTA but not Max Payne), they are not known for their subtlety. There are also too many ridiculous stunts. Hanging off a helicopter shooting incoming missiles is so far over the top from the original games it just seems corny, and it's not fun a gameplay mechanic anyway. The craziest stunt Max ever did in the first two was jumping over a collapsing walkway. It just feels disconnected without the consistent and awesome hard boiled narrative of the originals.

@Lebensbaum said:

I thought that was supposed to be the essence of Max Payne. Should they have included more mentions of Mona?

No, that's not correct. He was not constantly miserable, and whining, in either of the first two games. In fact, the way the second game ends almost makes it sound like he will be able to be somewhat content. It seems extremely forced in this game.

Edited by DharmaBum

@squirrelnacho: so the catalyst for Max Payne wasn't coming home to his family murdered, and the guilt didn't cause him misery in the previous games?

The line I quoted from the OP suggested bringing up traumatic events from his past in Max Payne 3 as being inconsistent for the series.

Posted by Napalm

@hastapura: I agree with your sentiments regarding the writing. My issue is it has the same tone throughout the whole arc and never lets up. I figured him hitting the point where he's the target, shaves his head and goes by himself would mark a tonal shift in the inner-monologue; not necessarily happy or positive thoughts, but maybe a little less loathing and showing more determination and a willingness to make things right. That was my biggest disconnect with the story. In terms of the actual verbiage, I like that the dialogue is a little more on the nose and not as metaphorical and wordy.

I do think the constant shots of him in his apartment drinking becomes grating and a little overwrought. They could have just showed the screen derezzing while he takes a few drinks, and then cut to the next scene, and still get the same point across while saving a lot of time. I also think that was one of the easiest ways to portray his scenario, but not necessarily the most inventive or interesting. It works at the beginning, because that's the first you seem him like that, but the third or fourth time, it's like, "come on. Lets keep the story moving." I find the in-the-moment scenes like Passos asking, "were you drinking down there?!" "Of course I was! I could barely handle all the noise!" to be much more effective than the apartment scenes.

Posted by TheHumanDove

Honestly, I played Max Payne and Max Payne 2 as a refresher less than 48 hours before getting right into MP3, and a lot of style is similar. It's definitely not any worse than the writing of the previous games, but it's quite different. Then again, the character is different. And going by the story, it all sort of makes sense. He can't even play his piano tune until the very end, because his brain has been so muddled by booze and pills. I'm a pretty big fan of the third game, but it's definitely a step away from the previous two.

Posted by BigChickenDinner

@AhmadMetallic said:

@BigChickenDinner said:

The slowing down time is just Max's brain working in overdrive, giving the illusion of time slowing down (or so i tell myself).

That's beautiful man.

I'm a fucking poet what can I say?

Edited by hastapura

I was being a little facetious with the simile there, and let's not forget that Max Payne 2 opens with the line "The past was a gaping hole." But then Max asserts that the only thing to do is turn and face it. Not to mention the last line: "I had a dream of my wife. She was dead, but it was alright."

The writing in the first two games played with the hard-boiled style even as it offered up some legitimately poetic lines of its own. The writing in Max Payne 3 goes for a serious imitation of that style without any irony, and falls flat. The blunt, repetitive nature of Max's monologues wears thin really fast, and the character established at the end of the second game is nowhere to be found. It's not a terrible game but Max's journey into the night has taken a drastic turn for the mundane.

Edited by DharmaBum

I suppose I just didn't think the writing fell flat. Sure, it has a different style than the comic panel poetry from before, but the use of cutscenes alone means faster-paced, succinct dialogue and quips that take into account scene blocking and movement. I don't think his character was lost in the adaptation though.

For them to continue a story from a decade ago, after everything Max has been through - losing everyone he loves, being suspected for Winterson's death - it makes sense that he would lack purpose or eventually hit rock bottom and resort to pills and booze.

I thought the prologue comic co-written with Sam Lake sufficiently fleshed out his current state of mind, describing his life as "a nonstop jamboree of frivolity." The set up in-game was well done too and gave him proper justification to leave Jersey behind or risk going insane like the neighbor in his apartment building.

Posted by WVUEers

I'll agree it's a big departure in terms of tone and writing from the previous games (one has to wonder how much a bright setting change plays into that). That said I think it's believable and passable in MP's universe. I'm okay with the lack of comic panels, I'm okay with the shift in tone, I think that put out today in the same tone and style this game would just look awkward. Even more so it's a different studio, I appreciate that they didn't simply try to do an MP game, but they tried to do their Max Payne game. I liken it to music or writing, if someone tries to emulate a specific style sure it can be good sometimes even great but it's working in a confined environment. I'm much more interested in seeing a studio work with out restrictions in their vision of a franchise, just like we all have ideas of how MP should be so did Rockstar, they felt he needed to evolve both in a literal character sense but a storytelling one as well. If a player checks his expectations of "the game is going to be like this" at the door he's left with a very quality game.

Honestly aside from the numerous (and I guess I'm a minority in this department) technical issues, the only major gripe I've had with the game was really understanding Max Payne's motivation at times. Like I said R* evolves him as a character in game, but (without spoiling anything) I just don't really find it that believable of an evolution. I still find myself saying, why doesn't he just leave all this BS behind him now? MP doesn't seem like he's particularly one who gets hung up on being treated like shit. I mean his New Jersey storyline almost demonstrates this perfectly, and yet he can't seem to leave his Brazilian storyline alone. Long after everything that would motivate old MP is out of the picture and he finds out that the lines between good and bad in this tale are a lot more blurred he still acts as if he has a vested interest... he doesn't. Towards the latter part of the game the only thing motivating MP is some sort of sense of justice, but not really out of a personal grievance, it just doesn't mesh well with any iteration of his character including the current one.