I’ve been spending a few hours this past week on Max Payne 3. I’m a quite a fan of the series, and consider Max Payne 1 & 2 among two of the best action games I’ve ever played (which is a limited selection, I’ll admit). As such, I was quite enthusiastic about the 3rd installment, but halfway through I’m sorely disappointed.
My main issues with this Rockstar production are two-fold – 1) narrative over gameplay; 2) frustrations at the core gameplay design.
The first is by far my biggest complaint with this title. The previous titles in this franchise were noted for their noir style as well as comic-book narrative device, which I felt worked extremely well with the action gameplay. The series has always been story-heavy, with fairly complex plots (for action games), but the story development never took too long or got in the way of the action. With Max Payne 3, it seems Rockstar has got the relationship backwards – the gameplay is very frequently disrupted by cut-scenes, some of which are often drawn-out sequences. These cut-scenes also serve as save points for the “chapters,” which is how the game is organized (missions, effectively). Each mission is therefore typically broken down into half a dozen save points; a mission usually do not last more than an hour if the player is not getting stuck. This means that the core gameplay is effectively being given out to the player at 10-minute (or even less) installments, which breaks all sense of flow and suspension of disbelief. Additionally, while Max Payne was never a franchise about open exploration of levels, the game at least offered flexibility and progression in terms of gearing; 3‘s structure completely breaks this – guns come by easily, and are also lost easily (some cut-scenes/save points seem to reset/adjust the inventory).
Regarding gameplay, my frustrations so far are:
- Extremely restrictive and linear level design, with a extended on-rails shooter sequence in one level being especially blatant and bad
- The extremely fragmented level design, with cut-scenes liberally sprinkled about. Also, the player is often immediately placed in a boxed setting with immediate threats, which may seem like a good way to throw the player straight into the heat of the action, but after a while becomes highly repetitive. It doesn’t feel like a free-flow action game, but instead a sequence of action puzzles, where the player has to figure out the path of least resistance out of a scripted setting.
- The introduction of cover mechanics, while in line with modern shooters, doesn’t seem to fit well with the frantic (and arcade run-and-gun) style that the series is known for. My memory of Max Payne 2 is the extremely enjoyable (and definitely arcade-like) combat sequences where you are overwhelmed by enemies and have to charge in with bullet time; this type of experience rarely happens in this title, and bullet time effectively becomes a support to fast aiming from cover.
- The under-emphasis of weapons – it seems, based on the 7 or so chapters I’ve played through, that Rockstar decided that gun variety / uniqueness is not important at all to this game. Sure, the previous titles didn’t have any ridiculous sci-fi weapons, but previously each gun felt unique and acquiring a new weapon was an exciting moment; in this game, the guns are extremely generic, and because of the “streamlining” of inventory (reset every chapter, and sometimes within a chapter) there was little excitement when you ran across new arsenal.
So far, I’m still enjoying this title, but barely. There are genuine moments of suspension of disbelief, where you have an extended action sequence uninterrupted by cut-scenes and you are focused on making pathing decisions instead of being presented with a scripted scenario which you have to get out of. But these moments are hard to come by and I keep invoking memories of Max Payne 2.