Thursday, May 17, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review


The years haven't been kind to the iconic Max Payne. Our favorite Bullet Time badass cop has been reduced to an pill popping, alcoholic, bum ex-cop. After years of tragic loss and a truckload of bloodshed, by the time Max Payne 3 starts, Max is a broken man. Luckily for us gamers, no matter how low Max's character has fallen in the 9 years since Max Payne 2, Rockstar Games's Max Payne 3 soars as an intense and brutal modern shooter.

One of the best things about Max Payne 3 is the setting. After 2 outings in the snowy grime of NYC and NJ, Max Payne 3 has set sail to the sun drenched madness of Brazil. From million dollar penthouse suites and flashy nightclubs to the horrors of the Favelas, Max cuts a slow-mo swatch through the city of São Paulo, solving a huge mystery and riddling countless baddies with lots of beautifully rendered bullets. The story starts off with a world worn Max taking a job as a body guard for the family of a rich industrialist. Max being the grimly sarcastic NYC cop we all love, spends quite a bit of time "half-cut" (drunk) while lamenting his fall from a once great career in law enforcement to babysitting the coke fueled rich and famous.

Max's inner-monolouge is a really funny mix of John McClane-esque gruff and old beat cop metaphor. The great voice of James McCaffrey returns once again as our hero, but this time McCaffrey not only lends his voice and some of the movement of the character, but Max's appearance is now modeled after the actor himself. This adds a lot to the already cinematic nature of the story.


Like a lot of Rockstar games, Max Payne 3 feels like you're playing a movie. Max feels real and grizzled, and when the S- hits the fan and the wife of the rich industrialist gets kidnapped, Max's easy retirement gig deep sixes into a dark mystery set in some of most dangerous locations on earth. One of the most dangerous things about this environment isn't just the hundreds of armored commandos out for your crazy gringo head, but also the fact that Rockstar was brave enough to make a lot of the dialogue in Max Payne 3 the native tongue of Brazil, Portuguese. That's right, a lot of the dialogue in this game is not in English! This is crazy, even when you turn on the subtitles, most of the bad guys dialogue is written out in Portuguese, therefore unless your fluent in that language, you're just as in the dark as poor pill popping Max. This is one of those artistic choices that to some are WTF annoying, and to others is a stroke of genius. I for one thought it added a lot of reality and fear to playing the game, it's one thing to be hunted down by gun thugs and paramilitary forces, but to not even understand them when your overhearing their conversations? Amazing.

All this makes for a compelling, great story, but let's be honest, at the end of the day the joy of Max Payne is shooting bad guys... a lot. The bread and butter of this 3rd person franchise has been Bullet Time, a strong mix of slow-mo Matrix action with the 2 gun sensibilities of a John Woo Hong Kong movie. It occurred to me while playing this game that comic-book adaptation Wanted has has a lot in common with Max Payne. When you have adrenaline you can go into Bullet Time which slows everything down, allowing you to dive and roll around your enemies' bullets while you turn them into swiss cheese (wait, whats the native cheese of Brazil? That would be a funnier metaphor). In Max Payne 3, Bullet Time has never worked better, and this time there's an added edge of realism to the shoot dodge.   Max now reacts to the environment in a realistic way, so if you try to fly through the air Chow Yun Fat style and there's a desk a few feet away, you'll smash into it, bullet time abruptly ending and you'll take a little damage, and the bad guys will laugh at you (well not the last part, but that's what should happen for failing at trying to look so cool during a gun fight!).


Speaking of damage, Max Payne 3 continues with the idea of Max taking pain killers to give him health. Over the last few years we've all grown accustomed to hiding behind a wall from video game gunfire for a few seconds until your health goes back to 100%. May Payne 3 however is old school, if you're hurt and don't have painkillers, you're dead. If you're in the middle of a fire fight with a pocket full of painkillers and you get a mortal wound, Last Man Standing will activate, you automatically enter Bullet time and you get the opportunity to return fire. If you end up the victor, you'll receive a small boost of health for the price of one pain killer.

What really helps Max Payne 3 compete with other modern shooters is they've added a cover mechanic for the first time in the franchise. The mechanics work great, and especially help you deal with some pretty aggressive AI that will run at you mid-firefight, throw grenades, and try to flank you. I found myself really enjoying using Bullet Time for more than just reliving my favorite scene from Hard Boiled, but using it strategically while covering.  Since most of the levels find you continously fighting mini-armies, and many of them are well armored, Bullet Time + covering really helps you survive some tough battles. There's really nothings scarier than shooting a bunch of guys countless times, watching them fall over and get right back up again (Aim for the Head! and the Groin!).


One of the great things about Max Payne 2 was bullet cams. When you used a sniper rifle in MP2, the last kill would cut away to a glorious slow-mo shot, following the bullet into the brain of last bad guy. Bullet cam has evolved in Max Payne 3 so now no matter what gun you're using, once you take out the last enemy in a specific area or wave, a bullet cam starts. Not only that, but you can manually control the speed of the bullet in bullet cam, and fans of excessive gore can continuously fire into the fresh corpse of the baddie turning your quarry into a digital Jackson Pollack painting. The blood and bullet holes are really wonderfully rendered, and even without bullet cam, during firefights you'll often see blood spurting out of one of the dead bad guys lying on the ground, ahh verisimilitude!

Max Payne 3 also includes a melee function, when enemies get close Bullet Time kicks in and you're able to execute the bad guy up close and personal. There's also a huge array of weapons available in the game (Auto-Glock! That's all I'm saying), you can carry up to 3 weapons at once, 2 hand held guns (pistols or SMGs) and a heavy weapon (machine guns, rifles, shotguns, etc.). One of the interesting aspects of carrying the weapons is that at any time you can duel wield your hand held guns. This is essential Max Payne and also freaking awesome. That being said, beware, because if you chose to dual wield, you'll drop your heavy weapon, Max doesn't just strap it on his back. This didn't end up bothering me at all considering the nature of the game is picking up and dropping weapons as the game progresses. Rockstar has also made the weapons easy to access thanks to a weapon wheel a la Red Dead Redemption.

Along with the great non-linear story telling, Max Payne 3 continues the franchise's tradition of graphic novel cut scenes, but this time instead of static panels they've mixed in-game footage with specific words splattered across the screen for effect. This function is fun (especially with Max's pithy prose), but more importantly the graphics of the cut scenes are seamlessly connected to in game footage, making playing the game really feel like your watching a movie unfold.


One other fun thing to showcase during the story mode is the bit of treasure hunting involved. As you run through the game you mostly shoot up bad guys and examine evidence, but you can also find pieces of golden guns strewn throughout. Find the 3 pieces of each gun, and from then on every time you pick up that gun in the game, it's golden. There's nothing special about the way the gun functions, but I often found myself using the guns that we're golden even if there was a gun I liked better available (I guess I just like pretty things). Also unlocking the golden guns in story mode can help unlock the golden tint attachment in Multiplayer.

Before we get to Multiplayer, one other added functions of Max Payne 3 is Arcade Mode. This feature has 2 different modes that allow you to replay the levels from story mode, but this time it's to rack up points to earn medals and land on the leader boards of Rockstars Social Club integration. One of the modes is called Score Attack, where you play any of the levels you already beat in the game, and get points for where and how your bullets hit the bad guys (head shots are worth more). Getting consecutive hits and using Bullet Time and bullet dodge allow you to score multipliers, but beware, if you get shot or use painkillers in the mission, you will lose points.

The other mode in Arcade mode is called New York Minute. You start off the level with a 1 minute clock ticking down to zero. Each time you kill a bad guy you get time added, kills are worth 3 seconds, head shots worth 5 seconds. Both Score Attack and New York Minute are fun features that let you replay the story mode of the game with a new sense of strategy and urgency rather than just playing though the story mode again.


One thing I should note before continuing on, this game is VERY MATURE. There's certain scenes in this game that are not acceptable for kids to see, so unless you want your 12 year old to be familiar with the inner workings of Brazil's sex trade, you might not want them to play this game (boy I'm glad I'm not 12!).

Multiplayer

It's been 9 years since Max Payne 2, and as we all know console gaming has jumped leaps and bounds since 2003 (unless you're a kid and didn't know that, well... It has). With that, Max Payne 3 is the first of the franchise to have multiplayer, and Rockstar decided to challenge themselves by adding in all the functionality of Max from the story mode into the multiplayer. Therefore all the shoot dodging, rolling, and of course Bullet Time are included in multiplayer. This concerned me when I initially read about it, how could Bullet Time be used logically in an arena of 16 online players? The way they dealt with this was via Bursts. Their sort of like Perks in COD, but theres a large variety of them, and they all have 3 levels of power based on your adrenaline gauge.

Along with Bullet Time (which you can unlock pretty quickly), some Bursts allow you to get armor piercing rounds with one adrenaline gauge, that leads to a grenade launcher with a full gauge. Some deal with health that can be used on you and your whole team, others even go so far as tricking the other team into visualizing their own teammates as enemies (if this were Naruto I would swear this was Genjutsu!)

As for Bullet Time itself, it works on line of sight, if your adrenaline gauge is high enough you activate it and everyone in your line of sight is stuck in your Bullet Time. If someone has you in their sights while in Bullet Time everything slows down, and it's in your best interest to find cover fast to break it. I found Bullet Time most useful when you're caught off guard during a match, you hit a shoot dodge and the tables can turn quickly from you getting shot in the back to pwning your enemy.


Another neat aspect in multiplayer is Vendettas. If someone's killed you more than once you can call for a Vendetta, and if you in turn kill them you'll get more XP than a normal kill. You earn XP from kills and assists that help you rank up and earn cash to buy Bursts, weapons and weapon upgrades. You can also buy items to customize your avatar with flak jackets, helmets, and other helpful items (like a gorilla mask!).

There's a lot of different game mode options in Multiplayer. You have standard Death Match and Team Death Match, along with "Large" versions of each. There's also a function called Payne Killer, which is a king of the hill style game, where whoever gets the first kill becomes Max Payne, and whoever the first victim is becomes his partner Passos. From then on, everyone else in the game goes after the 2 players to kill them and usurp their identities. Max and Passos get special weapons and abilities to help protect themselves against the onslaught.

There's also a mode called Gang Wars, which uses characters and environments from the single player campaign to pit 2 teams against one another in a variety of missions. There's a bunch of different objectives, some are as familiar as capture the base and team death match, while others are stranger like "Passages" where one team flees for their life as the other team hunts them down.


Rockstar also wants you to build up your own crews via their social club to battle it out with rivals and earn extra XP by avenging fallen comrades and building feuds. Crews earn extra XP for battling with the crews they've already been feuding with (like digital Hatfields and McCoys!), and best of all, if you build a crew in Max Payne 3 it can persists across future Rockstar Games, including Grand Theft Auto V! Also, I should mention this is one of my favorite multiplayer games since the last COD, especially compared to other 3rd person shooters like Uncharted 3. I love the variety of creative bursts and load out items, as well as a really great mix of big and small maps (the office stage is a blast).

Overall I really loved Max Payne 3. Nine years was well worth the wait, Max feels real and totally badass, the graphics are great, and the cover shooting mixed with Bullet time make for some really intense and fun gameplay. All this with a solid story mode of about 12 hours, an Arcade mode, and a very impressive and robust multiplayer environment, Max Payne 3 continues the tradition of Rockstars dominance in making compelling, story driven, kick ass games. Honestly, it's been really hard to write this review, because I can't wait to get back to playing it.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This Week's Show!



On this week's show we're digging up a psycho-delic review for Tim Burton's sorta adaptation of the 60's cult TV show Dark Shadows. We'll review the DVDs for the Giant-Wolves-Cower-at-the-Awesomeness-of-Liam-Neeson movie The Grey, and the bizarre romantic-comedy-action laboratory mistake known as This Means War (May 22).

We'll travel to Brazil via bullet time to review Rockstar Games new badass shooter Max Payne 3 and also take a look at all of the TV shows cancelled and renewed this year. Also we'll do a preview of all the upcoming new TV shows the will premiere this fall, and discuss the season finale of The Vampire Diaries and the latest episode of Sherlock.

All this and much more on this week's episode of Geek World, this Thursday and Friday at Noon (PST) on Indie 100, with replays throughout the week on The Point.