[Editor’s Note: A while back, we published a review of Max Payne 3 by Dan Horowitz. He rather liked it. However, in the interest of balance, it’s only fair that we also provide a counter-argument. In that spirit, here’s Ben Burns with his explanation as to why Max Payne 3 deserves a special place in hell.]
It’s 1999. A school friend introduces me to a crazy looking film called The Matrix. The cynical part of me thinks “well this is just an anime film with real actors, nothing I haven’t seen before. This is pure rip-off territory!” The wise part of me thinks, “Dude, the people who made this are massive manga nerds like me and they’ve managed to pull something amazing off.”
The Matrix brought Japanese action film sensibilities in such an adoring, barely filtered form that Keanu Reeves went from being Ted “Theodore” Logan into action hero, Neo, with one watch.
In short: I absolutely love The Matrix.
As I watched the film I realized that it would open the floodgates to allow Asian action cinema influences into mainstream Western entertainment. It was truly a great thing that the Wachowski brothers did.
So when Max Payne came along, as you can imagine, I was barely able to contain my excitement. A hardboiled detective neo-noir story with bullet time elements. Also good: The Duke Nukem 3D people were involved, somehow (never figured that part out, but the game throws up a 3D Realms logo when you load it up). And best of all, it’s published by the Grand Theft Auto folk.
Not only that, but the main character’s name is Max Payne! The most bad-ass name since Bruce Manly. This is going to be one hell of a ride!
And it was. Well, aside from those irritating-as-hell running-along-lines-of-blood-in-the-middle-of-nowhere levels. They sucked.
So, imagine my overwhelming joy when, more than 10 years later, I had the chance to revisit one of my most beloved characters from one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played.
Max Payne 3 is one of the least fun, least gaming related games I have ever had the misfortune to preorder.
It’s an anaemic turd of a game.
The first game was dripping with noir atmosphere, cheeky comments, a comic book sensibility and a huge dash of heroic fun. The third iteration features an embarrassingly earnest look at a character called “Max Payne”, as if he could possibly be a real person. The game tries to mix the over-the-top elements of the character with Rockstar’s post San Andreas scripting ethos. God, I wish they’d stop their anger-inducing obsession with “realism”; It doesn’t work. Max Payne is a joke character. He is a cipher. He exists as a narrative device to give a very basic frame work for lots of fun shooting. We don’t need to see his bloody therapy sessions.
Also: Unskippable cut scenes? Seriously? I try not to swear, honestly… but Rockstar can go fuck themselves with an arcade mode that has unskippable cut scenes (apologies to the Editors for that one).
Sorry, back onto the realism. Max Payne does not need realism. Max Payne is pure escapism. As a character, he doesn’t need real motivations, real emotions, guilt or misery. He just needs to shoot the crap out of people and look badass at the same time. If you are going to do realism, do it right. You can’t try and add the depth to a character while still allowing him to heal bullet wounds with painkillers.
If I was a better writer, I would find a clever way to summarise my annoyance with what Max Payne 3 does to a character I loved. If I was a worse writer, I would use the word “rape” somewhere along the way. As it is, I’ll just summarize my experience of playing Max Payne 3 thusly:
Seriously. It sucks. The story is balls, the cutscenes are redolent of an undergraduate film student’s coursework on the dangers of drinking, the gameplay is like a less good version of Uncharted without the climbing bits, and most importantly – not a single second of it feels like a Max Payne game.