25/05/2012

symmetry of destruction



Surprising really how little Rockstar Games reinvented the wheel with Max Payne 3's gameplay. To its credit or otherwise its all pretty much intact from the earlier games in the series. Me I loved it, but I can see why some might take issue with it given that it's been nigh on nine years since the last one. Altogether the formula is untouched. You shoot and you dive, dodging bullets in slow motion and returning your own. Then you shoot shoot and shoot again. 

Of all the game makers to ape Hollywood conventions, Rockstar might be the only ones who do it with any real panache and that's certainly in evidence here. Max Payne, embittered ex-cop and eponymous anti-hero of his previous tales of woe, returns for a third outing about as jolly as he ever was. Pills, booze and bad habits aplenty, Max finds himself in Brazil providing private security to a rich family, it's all in a bid to move on with his life after the loss of his family, but as these things go it's a one step forward, two steps back kind of deal. Suffice to say there is violence, and lots of it.

Outside of Max himself, the writing's a little lacking for a Rockstar game, but as he comprises most of the screen time it doesn't impact too much upon the experience. The bad guys especially are woefully underdeveloped and remain that way until the plot threads come together and you blow them away. It's a one man show in this respect co-starring moving targets disguised as human flesh-bags. So not altogether removed then from the high octane action thrillers from which this game takes so much of its inspiration. 

The vaguely supernatural and mythic leanings of the earlier games has also been dropped, the playful storytelling antics toned down too. No Nordic allusions here, now it's hard-boiled noir filtered through a tropic lens, noir on holiday if you will. Perpetual winter has been swapped out for a sun-baked haze ready-mixed with drink, drugs and witty rejoinders. Shades of Man on Fire, Miami Vice and Heat now predominate throughout and Rockstar's feel for atmosphere nails it quite nicely actually. Ragnarok in the rainforest might've been a trick even these guys couldn't pull off but I daresay I would have liked to see them try.


Soundtrack's a corker, and Rockstar's use of music to punctuate key moments returns from Red Dead Redemption with aplomb. The track that plays throughout the end-game is a real highlight here, epic and shot-through with foreboding finality. But throughout the game it's seamless when it needs to be and a sonic onslaught when it has to be. A tag team of noise and light. Yeah, needless to say it's a looker too, a redundant observation these days when it comes to AAA games financed by the kind of Hollywood budgets small countries would kill for.

A note about the challenge on offer here. Difficulty spikes occur throughout the main story with enough frequency to unsettle those used to games that do all they can to usher the player through to their big shiny set-pieces. Even on normal settings it requires a certain degree of perseverance but there's not much here that will grind the game to a halt beyond a second or third attempt. Nothing too out of the ordinary then, the prequels were pretty unforgiving creatures of habit too. 

Playing the other modes now, score attack and New York Minute, I seem destined to infuriate myself with these difficulty enhanced remixes of the single player game. Multiplayer seems to have more lasting power than I expected, least so far. If you like getting shot in the back as much as I evidently do, then you will love and hate it in turn. Rockstar's attempts to weave narrative into the anarchy of online play keep it interesting anyhow, varied enough to keep me playing at any rate.

So case closed or is it? Overall I enjoyed Max Payne 3 but there's still that question knocking around in the back of my head. Is its gameplay defined by simplicity or repetition? It's a glass half full proposition for yours truly but in the absence of its other fine qualities I might think differently. It certainly treads that fine line but gameplay alone doesn't exist in a vacuum, certainly not here. The gameplay, the core of the game such as it is, is as much a part of the package as everything else on offer here. It all fits together in a glorious symmetry of destruction. It's violence expressed with elegance, and it works.