WHILE IT’S BEEN NEARLY A DECADE since its last iteration, Max Payne 3 brings back that same old feeling, of leaping recklessly over tables and slowing down time and spraying bullets at baddies. It’s truly a delight, and Rockstar’s produced a worthy successor in the franchise they purchased from Remedy.
What they’ve done is shine a sizzling, sweltering spotlight on noir. The new setting in Sao Paulo, Brazil is an apt reboot, suggesting that betrayal and atrocities aren’t limited to New York City — indeed, are more than rampant closer to the equator.
In this game, Max is employed as a bodyguard, providing personal protection for the rich, and he’s a lot older. You see it in the character’s wrinkles, the heft of his walk, his beer belly, and his world-weary eyes, caught in perpetual half-squint. He’s an improbable hero, and Rockstar’s to be commended for ushering into the gaming environment some of the most interesting protagonists in recent decades. It was gutsy of them to make a young, black gangland youth the star of their biggest franchise in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Even today, almost all protagonists of triple A games are young white men with five o’clock shadows. It was gutsy of them to release DLC for GTA IV and call it “The Ballad of Gay Tony,” knowing the inherent homophobia in an audience of largely heteronormative young men.
Among Brazil’s glitterati, Max is clearly an anomaly, and very much a fish out of water, but it’s fascinating to grow old with this guy I’ve already gone on two long journeys with. Throughout the game, we are privy to his elegant and scathing monologues, cutting up not only himself, but everyone else. He’s like a crochety bitter uncle who’s also a stone cold killer, always getting beat-up and shot, but always pressing forward. There’s something to admire in that.
Max Payne 3 Launch Trailer
One of the most best aspects of the game are the callbacks to prior setpieces in the other two games. For instance, there’s this one sniper-escort mission in a stadium that recalls one in a construction site in Max Payne 2. The resemblance is enough to conjure a kind of deja vu effect. And that’s not the only thing making a comeback – throughout the game are playable flashbacks to a time in NYC that leads up to how he found himself in Sao Paulo. It is a lovely environmental foil, to go from the snowy night-time streets of Manhattan to the sun-soaked streets of Brazil and back again. It keeps the game from feeling too one-note, and serves a double-duty as exposition. (As an aside, right now I am playing through Spec Ops: The Line, which is also set in an unusual setting – a sandstorm-ravaged Dubai, but the constant desert is getting a little wearying.) Additionally, the scenes in NYC allowed this iteration to firmly root itself in those stories. I loved being back in Max’s apartment. It was like going back to a place where I used to live years ago. Everything is utterly familiar, but simultaneously, very strange.
While the difficulty certainly ramps up in later levels, it’s all made quite viable. The enemies you face become bullet-sponges, but only because they are wearing body armour and helmets. The game will require more well-placed headshots from you, as well as liberal use of the bullet-time, which is to be expected. And while your bodycount at the end is fairly ridiculous, Max Payne was always a mildly outlandish premise – from his cliched origin story (wife and child killed in a break-in so now he fights crime) to his laughably punny name. But I can’t help but be fond of this man, who always strives to be a good cop, despite his twin demons of alcohol and painkillers, and his inability to heal the wound of his loss.
I have a few quibbles with the game. The fact that the frequent cut-scenes (to hide loading times) are way too frequent. The fact that Max always defaults to a handgun after a cut-scene, even if he was carrying an UZI before it. The sometimes jarring and annoying cosmetic effects overlaid on certain scenes to suggest the effects of drunkeness. And the overlong lead-up to the final confrontation at the end. But all these are just quibbles. Overwhelmingly, the shooting was tight and satisfying, the enemies were surprisingly aggressive, and every scene led organically and cinematically from the last. The larger narrative is that this was like going on a long, beautiful road trip with an old pal, and I can’t wait to see what dark places we might go next.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.