Review by goatlps
Extremely One-Dimensional, Linear and Overrated
This game's high ratings, "stinks of corruption", a line no doubt similar to ones used several times by Max during his endless, whining narratives that this game uses extensively to try to be original (but were already done, and much better, by LA Noire).
At the beginning of the game these noirish monologues last longer than the gun battles but, unfortunately, never engages you or particularly enlightens you as to the, deceptively basic, plot. All Max talks (whines) about is how washed-up, alcoholic and dumb he is, yet doing so in a way that clearly suggests he fancies himself as a bit of a writer. This was done to far greater effect in LA Noire - advancing the story and giving you insight into the character's thoughts (other than what a failed human being they are - did I mention Max likes painkillers too? Total junkie).
There are countless cutscenes, long and short, throughout the game, all with somewhat irritating blurred transitions and visual interference, trying to look stylish (but seem confused - is Max drunk?), but all they really bring is padding to an otherwise very short game (Story Mode completion in a couple of days). The long cutscenes also serve to hide some very long loading times of over a minute or two and cannot be skipped!
The story itself is not the great novel Max's narration would have you believe it is - you start out as the drunk bodyguard of some rich Brazilian political family of whom one or two are soon abducted resulting in you spending the entire game trying to make amends. Despite his self-loathing and the pretence of a serious, gritty storyline these two things are completely contradicted by the preposterous action when the player takes over the controls. The self-deprecating Max is suddenly Superman and by the end of the game his Kill/Death score would be 2000-0 - this makes Rambo III seem believable. Most of this time Max is sporting a stupid-looking shaved head and beard - clearly some kind of pathetic 'Breaking Bad' rip-off/cash-in (Breaking Bad is the best show I've never seen, except for maybe The Wire) - this is clearly not the same Max as the original 'stink-face'.
The story is one-dimensional with scenarios repeating and, to add insult to injury, when you finally catch up with the worst of the kidnap ringleaders you have little or no say in the punishment meted out. Rockstar's idea of justice and your own are unlikely to be the same, so outcomes can feel very unsatisfying.
So, as the game's story and narrative device is unoriginal and uninteresting, what about the actual gameplay? Well, truthfully, it is extremely one-dimensional and linear, with the gunplay done much better by Red Dead Redemption. There's zero puzzling or scene interaction, you simply press B once in awhile to view evidence, like a memorial to some dead footballer who has no link to the plot, but these 'clues' have no impact on your progress whether you view them or not.
Other than walking a totally linear route through buildings or back alleyways (invariably, you can only open the exit door, which then locks behind you - understandable for GTAV's open-world, but very cheap for a game that's made of small, loaded-up levels) there's nothing to the game. There are some tacked-on 'hidden' golden gun parts collectables that, once collected, result in you wielding an out-of-place shimmering gold version of that gun later - providing larger magazines and a 10% damage increase (plus a golden coloration unlock for them online). The gun parts are not that hard to find as all the levels are small and linear.
So, all the game basically is is countless gun-battles, around every corner, until you've completed the game - besides from a handful of on-rails ride and gun (as passenger) set pieces (which happen too fast to really enjoy) and one very weak sniper section (apparently, snipers have to lead 6" to shoot a walking man at 100 yards). There are no vehicles, there's no exploration or travelling, no optional scene interaction, no character interaction, no weapon upgrades or choices (other than dropped weapon pick-ups) and there aren't even any grenades or melee weapons. There's nothing but shooting enemy groups, pill-popping, then walking round the corner to the next group - Max can 'run' but it's pretty much EXACTLY THE SAME SPEED AS HE WALKS!
As for the gunplay, which is all this game actually is, it's surprisingly dull and nowhere near as satisfiying as in Red Dead Redemption (I played on Medium difficulty, Easy is probably more fun). You're told the mechanics early in the game and then for the rest of the game you're left wondering if you've forgotten something or if you're doing it right, like you're missing a key mechanic - but you're not, it's just not great gunplay. To add some tiny degree of variation, there are some chain-hanging-and-shoot set-pieces, but they are rare and not well done as sometimes your victims will suddenly be killable from a single shot to the foot. Later in the game you'll face near-bulletproof soldiers - yes they have armour, but they'll take several rounds to the face too. It's laughable how harmless your guns become - it's like the game was sponsored by America's NRA (also shown by Max's near-fatal sniper wound early on, simply bandaged up and then he's good to go).
The absolute worst thing about the gameplay is the imbecilically-devised Last Man Standing system, where you're given a chance to kill or be killed. Did the game-testers not notice that if you have no bullets left you're simply left diving helplessly through the air for 10 seconds, awaiting unavoidable death (even if you've actually dived behind cover)?! What's more, the LMS target is often unclear when they're standing amongst others and, not only that, often placed in an area you can't even shoot!
Second only in extreme annoyance to LMS, perhaps even surpassing it, is the fact that after sitting through a short (or VERY long), mid-level cutscene you'll be thrust immediately into battle only to discover that your selected machine gun has been switched back to your pistol, or removed from your arsenal completely! This is infuriating as you'll then be half shot-to-death whilst you reselect your best gun, which you were happily holding moments before! This incredibly rude, unauthorised switching of weapons happens all the time, yet your anger and disbelief of it will never diminish. Other times you'll trigger the next wave of foes and be getting badly shot-up due to standing in the open far from cover.
As for the cover system, although you never accidentally glue yourself to it, which is the bane of many games, it does feel like it wasn't fully implemented. Many seemingly ideal doorways and objects will not allow you to properly interact with them and shoot from cover - Max will sometimes fire his gun straight up into the ceiling, bizarrely exposing the rushed programming of the system. There are also moments where walking is forced for no reason and times when you're temporarily stuck in the crouch stance, which also occurs online (possibly just for Type 4 controls - see below) - the game is clearly unpolished.
The gunplay is the game's only gimmick but it's nowhere near as cool or slick as other reviewers have claimed. It can feel clunky and even 'soft' auto-aim has you firing into enemy body-armour and, not having GTAIV's analogue stick aim-tweaking for headshots, you'll tend to fill them with lead rather than use skill. Being unable to switch between targets by flicking the left stick is another strange omission from the GTAIV mechanics - instead you have to release and hold the left trigger, which involves less skill or control, and often results in you locking on to someone who's partially incapacitated rather than a person who's shooting you.
As for other elements - the graphics are good, but somewhat spoilt by an unresolvable cloudy, dull contrast and the incidental music score will rarely gain your attention above the constant sound of gunfire. Also, there are some slow-motion Bullet Time/Kill Cam scenes which at first seem quite gruesome, but quickly become run-of-the-mill as you realise the bullet-wounds are superficial and unvaried (you'll be wanting JFK-esque brain-bubbles popping out of skulls after half an hour).
Once the Story Mode is finished you may then wish to replay chapters or try them in one or two Arcade Modes. These score/time-attack variations of the same Story Mode chapters would add replay value - if you weren't already sick of the gameplay. If you'd sat through all the cutscenes during your first play-through it is now you'll notice, to your horror, that many cannot be skipped as they play during some very long level-loads.
There are online game modes but I did not play them all because if you've not bought all the DLC you'll mostly only find Large Team Deathmatches, with other modes rarely played or resulting in you being kicked for non-purchases. The multiplayer seemed to have potential to be the best thing about Max Payne 3, a la CoD, because the maps are large and multi-tiered, despite the odd connection problem and some bad respawns. However, nowadays the online modes will be hard to find and you'll encounter the same crews/players regularly who'll continually overpower (actual meaning of the word) you due to them being invincible (possibly due to cheating, lag or hugely unfair levelling). I did see some players with scores of 30-0, to whom my bullets had no effect, so if there's cheating or not, that's what you'll face and levelling up is very, very slow.
Of greater concern, when online I changed my controls to Type 4, because they're better than the default, but the following autosave resulted in my file being corrupted - it used my single-player save, so I lost ALL my Story Mode data! Online even re-locked the golden guns I'd unlocked via Story Mode!
So, I strongly suggest you use Cloud for saves and make back-ups on your HDD or a USB memory stick!
On the subject of gamepad controls - the default Type 1 is less effective than Type 4, although that isn't ideal either - is it that hard to make them customisable? Type 4 is best as run is toggled with L3 (left stick button) whereas Type 1 requires you to hold A, therefore Type 4 frees your right thumb to move the camera whilst running. However, Type 4 is also actually broken - if you press A to respawn you'll often respawn crouched and stuck in this stance for some time! Type 4 also should have melee on R3 (RSB), so it can be aimed, with the less vital Boost (various online power-ups, Big Dog seemingly the best) button on Y, but they've got them the wrong way round. With Type 4 they also put Looting on D-pad Down, which doubles as (180 degree) fast turn - so it doesn't take a genius to imagine what actually happens when you try to loot!...Shoot Dodge should also be on LB/L1...Just give me customisable controls and I'll fix your moronic control scheme for you!
With regard to Xbox Achievements, there are 46 - 36 offline and 10 online, with (paid-for) DLC taking the total to 67 - all with lazy descriptions that don't tell you which is which. To add to your annoyance, you'll probably only get a handful to pop during the completion of Story Mode (I had 10) - the rest will require extensive Internet research, whilst others involve Free Aim and completing unfairly tough single-player replays - 5 play-throughs in total! Medium difficulty can be unfair, harder difficulties (with Free Aim only) would be maddening - I strongly suggest you play the game on Easy and move on. The achievements are actually nothing like GTAV's - they are shameless game-fillers or attempts to force DLC purchases. If the 5 play-throughs weren't enough of a grind they actually have one achievement which involves countless (28?) actual 'Grinds', such as 2500 kills, etc (I had nearly 1900 after 1 play-through, but some will require more deliberate and tedious grinding than others).
NB: If you wish to try the harder Story Mode replays do not do it via Chapter Select - the game does not keep record of what difficulty you completed them on and you'll achieve nothing! Chapter Select is only for 'Grinds' and mopping up single achievements, not Story completions - they don't warn you of that.
In summary - when it comes to Rockstar third-person games - if you like true story-led detection then LA Noire is far better (albeit repetitive and not that great either). If you like third-person gun battles with a great story, Red Dead Redemption is for you (a truly great game).
Max Payne 3 feels like a very poor cross between those two games and as a result can be compared to, and totally outclassed by, Resident Evil 4 (so, if you've never played it download yourself the HD version of that instead).
Review score: 5/10
This score may seem low, but is fair and truthful. If the content of this game had been polished to perfection the maximum score it could attain should still only be 7/10.
Due to sheer lack of gameplay variety, content and its linearity any score of 7 or above is impossible, or Rockstar's best games, which are at least 10x bigger and better, would be due scores far greater than 10/10.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Max Payne 3 (EU, 09/11/12)
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