Max Payne shares a lot of similarities with Die Hard's John McClane. Like Brucie's signature role, Max was a fresh take on an old genre, and like McLane Max loses his hair as he chalks up more victories. Sadly they also both forget who they are in their later instalments, their new directors instead adopting a kind of generic modernism that does few favours for their aging heroes.
First, though, what has Rockstar gotten right? A great deal, for sure. In terms of gameplay, they've fairly precisely captured the first two games. This is still Max Payne as far as shooting stuff very slowly goes. If anything, in fact, I'd argue they've been too thorough - but more on that later.
More important, for me, is how Rockstar have developed and delivered a new take on Max's storytelling. The exchange of New York for São Paulo is a success. I'm not so staunch in my traditionalism that I'd want to say you can't do noir outside of American cities, and the unlikely pairing of a bald, bearded Max donning his Hawaiian shirt for the first time with the vibrancy and filth of the favellas is one that feels apt for a character who gets his kicks from being alone against the world. Sadly the on-screen buzz of this new Max is short-lived: the game never really never really changes, Max never really seems to hit rock bottom or kick into gear, and it's quickly clear this will be a long, single-note shoot fest.
Rockstar haven't done a bad job of filling the gaps with something interesting, but they have not filled them with Max Payne - or at least, not in his best light. The new approach eliminates the comic book panes of Remedy's originals in favour of long cut-scenes, constantly overlayed with what are presumably alcohol-induced visual distortions and glares which I suppose accurately depict alcoholism in so far as they made me feel sick and annoyed. This more immediate presentation is used to create a gritter, more real urban environment and protagonist, and Max has some fantastically dry, self-loathing bad-assery to deliver - but little else. He takes his own failures so much in his stride that it's hard to really feel like he cares about anything. Perhaps that's realistic, but it's not interesting - in fact it gets quite boring after a while. You never really see Max hurt, so he has nothing to come back on, no stake to invest.
The other characters, as well as the central plot thread, lack the personality and personal importance of the originals'. No one stands out like Vladimir Lem or Mona Sax (the women here are all gunfire-drawing airheads), and Max isn't out for revenge on the people who killed his loved ones or destroyed his life - he's doing a job because he's got nothing better to do. It's just so hard for anyone involved to care.
Sense of Humour
Salt to the wound is that the focus on cinematic realism necessarily winds in the oddball side that was so central before. Who doesn't remember the Pink Flamingo Theme Park, or the self-referential Dick Justice serial about a cop who takes revenge on his wife's (Sharon Justice's), killers? These were bits of narrative design that made Max Payne not just another shooter for me; but they were also a nod from the developers to say that they knew Max was a bad joke, and it was that that prevented the game itself from being one.
Perhaps what most surprises me about Rockstar's Max, though, are some features that feel glaringly early-noughties. A joy of Max Payne has always been the almost pornographic level of detail applied to the weapons and firing animations. Here that same detail is applied, but little seems to have been improved outside of polygon counts. When killed, enemies' hats and helmets fly off as if the final bullet has severed an invisible chin strap. GTA's dynamic Euphoria animation system produces odd results when examined up close. Rounds fired often look larger than the gun barrel they came from. Bullet wounds look like crap - you can usually still see the clothing texture beneath them - and visual damage to Max remains even after healing, meaning Max saunters into cutscenes sporting slews of open chest wounds. Bullet cams are uninspired. The bosses are horrible (you kill one by dropping roof tiles on his head).
It's difficult to forget that games have moved on since 2003, and combat in Max feels far simpler fare than something genuinely contemporary like Arkham Asylum The Darkness 2. The damning conclusion is that at times Max Payne 3 feels a bit like GTA with less driving and more bullet time, and that these days that's not quite enough.
Polish: 2 out of 2
Tilt: 0 out of 2(Scoring explained here)