By TAN KIT HOONGbytz@thestar.com.my
The classic bullet-time third-person shooter returns helmed by a new developer.
I REMEMBER way back in 2001, shortly after I joined the newspaper, Max Payne was one of the first PC games that I reviewed, followed by Max Payne 2 in 2003.
Back then, the game was one of the first (if not the first) game to feature the "bullet time" effect seen in The Matrix, and with some great gunplay, both the original titles were quite enjoyable.
Fast forward to 2012, and Max Payne is back for his third outing, this time not with original developer Remedy but with Rockstar Games.
If you had any worries that Rockstar would turn Max Payne into an open-world, free-roaming shooter like Grand Theft Auto, well you can put your concerns to rest - while Max Payne 3 does have some Rockstar DNA in it, it's very much the linear, bullet-time, third-person shooter it was before.
A different Payne
Poor Max, he never seems to get a break, does he? In the original game, his wife and kid are killed and from there he descends into a dark pit of revenge and slow-mo killing.
Max Payne 3 picks up the story a number of years later, with an older and more grizzled Max now having left the police force for good and taking on a job as a bodyguard for a rich family in Brazil.
If anything, Max never really got over his depression and now spends a lot of his time drinking while on the job.
Of course trouble follows Max like a bad penny (or one sen coin, if you want to Malaysian-ise it) and it's not long before the trophy wife of the head of the family is kidnapped and Max and his partner Raul Passos are tasked with getting her back.
Obviously, it's not going to be easy for Max and the "simple" kidnapping and ransom turns out to be a convoluted story of corruption, revenge and conspiracy in which the only solution is for Max to once again engage in lots of slow-mo killing.
So how does Max Payne 3 fare under Rockstar's wing? Surprisingly well, all things considered.
Like many old games, we perhaps remember the Max Payne series as being better than it really was.
What Rockstar has done is to update the graphics and gameplay while keeping enough of the flavour of the original that it does not feel like a totally different game.
Yes, the graphics look phenomenal - backgrounds look great, and character models and movements are also similarly detailed and realistic.
We also still get the third-person shooting mechanic along with an extensively reworked bullet-time effect that still feels similar.
Like in the old games, Max is only human, and as such he'll be killed after taking two or three direct hits - there's no auto-regenerating health here and you have to rely on painkillers that you find along the way to heal you.
Talking about painkillers, one of the new mechanics initiates bullet-time automatically when you are near death, allowing you to take a shot at the person before he kills you, but only if you have painkillers in your inventory.
And yes, there still is the hard-boiled detective narration going on in the background, but with the polish and quality that we've come to expect in a Rockstar game.
However, what's out the window is the comic style scene transitions in the old games - instead, we now have multi-panel scene transitions in the style of the TV show 24 all done with the game's engine.
This works well most of the time, but the real problem is that it happens too often in the game. You can be playing for maybe a minute or two before a scene transition and dialogue sequence will happen, and by the middle of the game, you'll find that it tends to break the flow of the game too much.
As far as the shooting mechanics go, it's actually essentially a third-person shooter and that's it - there's very little exploration allowed and certainly a lot less than was available in the old Max Payne games. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this compounds the problem with the cutscenes, since almost every change of scenery is strung together with yet another multi-panel (and sometimes overly long) cutscene.
Gameplay-wise, while it feels like Max Payne, the shooting has more in common with Rockstar's GTA games - your aiming reticle is a tiny dot (though that can be changed in the settings) and the auto-aim and general feel is similar to GTA IV.
The one problem with Max Payne 3 is perhaps its repetitive nature and save points which are too far apart - the game usually puts you in an arena where all you do is shoot and shoot for a good 10 or 20 minutes, and if you die, it often puts you back right at the beginning.
Rockstar tries to give you a bit of variety in the early stages.
There are sniper levels, and even sections where you slide down rooftops while shooting but most of this variety is gone by the time you reach the halfway mark. After that the game turns into a long shooting sequence like in Uncharted 2 but without the traversal mechanic.
I'd think that Rockstar could have made a tighter and more enjoyable game if they had cut out two or three sequences from the game, which felt like fillers.
I don't know if it's just me, but I felt many sequences towards the end were too difficult, ran on for far too long and had save points that were too far back, which made them very frustrating to play.
There is also multiplayer in the game and the bullet-time mechanic is also featured. I didn't spend time with multiplayer myself but there are the usual levelling mechanics as well as weapons to buy.
Newbies also have a rookie mode to get some experience before going into the hardcore stuff.
Rockstar did a pretty good job of translating a classic for a modern audience and giving it a level of polish that was not present even in the original.
The problem is that while most of the gameplay is reasonably enjoyable, one feels that Max Payne 3 runs a bit too long for its own good.
Since it's essentially one long hide-behind-cover-and-shoot sequence, it gets a bit tiring later in the game where it feels like it wore out its welcome two hours before the end. That's not to say that it's a bad game - far from it - but Rockstar could have made it better by either making the game shorter or injecting it with a bit more variety.
Pros: Great graphics; solid gameplay mechanics; good story.
Cons: Feels a little too long and repetitive towards the end.
Max Payne 3
Third-person shooter for PS3/Xbox 360/PC
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows 7/Vista/XP, dual-core Intel 3GHz processor/ AMD equivalent, 3GB RAM, 512MB nVidia GeForce 450/512MB AMD Radeon HD 4870
PRICE: RM189 (PS3); RM179 (Xbox 360), US$59.99 or RM180 (PC)