February 17, 2021

Lots of really mixed and complex feelings on this one, and my initial throughline that I approached
this replay and this review with kind of fell through in and of itself.

The overwhelming feeling I had towards this game for years was “it’s a good game, but it’s not a
good Max Payne game.” After revisiting it while supplanting said replay with a revisit of Max
Payne 1 (kung fu mod attached, as one does), I can’t even fully say that. The core of the series,
a self-destructing force forced into changing the world by killing until his pain stops one way or
another, is just as present - but this middle-aged failed-suicide-by-cop attempt’s been thrust into
a new world, and when he tries to change with it he embarrasses himself just as often as he has
some real panache.

The narrative toys with some interesting concepts - the entire premise feels like a metatextual
“did you really want him back,” tearing down his white savior tendencies could be interesting, and
his obsessive hunt for Fabiana in particular could parallel his desire to make things right to his
own family, but nothing is really dug into meaningfully. The metatext and character study is
ignored for an incredibly forgettable and cynical majority of the second and third act that then
awkwardly smashes into the climax, and the white savior critique has exactly as much bite as a
major product aimed at white men can be allowed to have. The majority of the cast that appear
for more than two scenes are either salt-of-the-earth Friends of Max whose flaws are forgiven by
him or vapid rich fucks who only survive long enough to belt out plot points before keeling over in
a spray of scanlines and dark red.

The original Max Payne games weren’t really trying to be character study either, but they also
didn’t waste nearly as goddamn much of your time. They were light and fast, comic-book
cutscenes able to be speed-read or outright skipped in moments - and in-engine cutscenes
were about fifteen seconds long at most. Max Payne 3’s cutscenes, by comparison, go on for
minutes at a time before they can be skipped, bloated further by interstitial cutscenes and
scripted slow walk sequences that serve no real purpose other than to bore the player inbetween
goons popping out of a broom closet.

It’s a damn shame there’s so much cruft, because on a gameplay level it’s not only Rockstar’s
best shooting, but also, like, actually good outside of that point of comparison. It’s a different kind
of feeling than the original games, but the physics and procedural animations force upon Max a
feeling of lumbering force, pushing himself around the battlefield and flopping behind cover only
long enough to get up and dodge somewhere else. Positioning yourself takes some genuine
thought and split-second decisionmaking, and flopping into a table and losing your i-frames gives
some actual consideration to your movement that feels incredibly satisfying to pull off.

Less smooth a transition is the damage model and weapon system. As most games post-2004
or so, the third game added in headshots and regional damage - not an inherently bad choice,
but in a game so predicated on slow motion, it makes a method of instant kill extremely powerful.
This serves to make the weapon variety pretty much worthless - if everything is pretty much
perfectly accurate effectively does the same amount of damage due to being able to instakill
everything except for enemies that appear maybe three times across the entire game, then the
only statistics that matter are magazine size and rate-of-fire. SMGs dominated my playthough,
followed closely by rifles and pistols - shotguns never feeling worth it, their drastically reduced
range and ammo count furthering their disuse. Dual-wielding is equally disincentivized, doubling
your ammo consumption for virtually no gain other than looking cool.

The game’s core loop, dodging and headshotting and getting up and dodging again, feels really
good to pull off. Encounters have interesting uses of cover and enemy placements and healing is
limited enough that I was regularly actually challenged, which is an odd feeling for a Rockstar
game. It’s also a weirdly gamey game - finding collectables, unlocking skins and difficulty modes,
there’s genuine thought put into playing and replaying and perfecting this game, which makes the
intrusive cutscenes baffle even more.

The game’s flashes of incredibly inspired visuals and character beats for Max render the rest of
the game all the more frustrating when it fails to gel. Rockstar’s writing methods don’t really work
for what they’re trying to do here and their linear levels still have some incredibly baffling lack of
polish and visual signposting. The shooting works on a core level but renders its weapon variety
and iconic dual-wielding worthless. The cutscene direction’s aesthetic of cheap digital cameras
on a low-end CRT are paired with annoying pulses of color and text that distract more than they

Max was taken from his home at Remedy, dragged into a corner of London he’d never known,
and as much as his old bones tried their best to change with the times, he himself knew he
shouldn’t have ever taken the offer.

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