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Games: Max Payne 3

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They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Max Payne 3 proves that may well be the case, but the old mutt is still worth your attention.

Innovation is put on the backburner in favour of an old school run and gun game, made prettier with new school technology.

Now based in Brazil, an aging Max Payne is tasked with rescuing the kidnapped wife of a wealthy businessman for whom he works as private security. Years of trying to deal with the grief of losing his own family, Max is now grey, wrinkled and addicted to alcohol and pain medication. In between Die Hard-like shoot outs are quiet moments of contemplation for the flawed hero. Slumped in a drunken stooper, pondering what has become of his life, Max’s inner conflict presents one of the most intriguing and engaging characters in a video game for many years.

While the game’s narrative is first class, it can at times be a little self-indulgent while trying to tell its story. Cutscenes are frequent and lengthy, and can’t be skipped, which may frustrate gamers anxious to get back to the gunplay. The cinematics in question are wonderfully written, with an excellent cast of voice actors bringing the characters to life. Rounding off the A+ presentation is one of the finest soundtracks you’ll find in either games or film.

With only a few very brief exceptions, MP3 follows a simple level structure: go from point A to point B, and shoot everything along the way. While that might sound numbing for a 10-12 hour experience, the expertly designed levels, and razor sharp enemy AI means the game rarely feels samey. The frantic gun fights are ridiculously entertaining, with the game’s state-of-the-art physics engine rewarding every successful shot with an absurdly satisfying animation, as enemies curse your name and clutch their wound before flopping to the floor. The game’s trademark slow motion is back in force, and you’ll spend much of the single player campaign watching bullets whizz past your head at half-speed while you pick off your foes. Complimenting the single player game is an excellent suite of online multiplayer modes which will keep players hooked for months to come. Modes are varied and unique, and the servers are currently packed with players so waiting times before games are minimal.

Frustrations with the gameplay come in the form of clumsy controls and awkward animations for the protagonist. Max’s slow-motion dive through the air, one of the series’ hallmarks, now results in a slow, plodding animation where he must drag his aging body back to its feet, often while completely exposed to gunfire and enemy threats. Perhaps it was a misguided attempt at realism, but the result is a significant number of extremely frustrating deaths and the feeling that the trademark dive isn’t worth the gamble – which is a major issue when it’s one of the games unique selling points. Adding to the rage inducing issues is the game’s aiming system, which has a few different options. The computer aided “soft aim” feature which helps you pick off enemies can often feel like you are being lead by the hand through the game, and offers no real challange. Whereas the “free aim” option makes the game infinitely harder and at times overwhelming. Such balancing issues are a significant drawback, and surprising in a game in which the developers have clearly taken such pride in perfecting their product in a number of ways. The game certainly isn’t broken, or even bad, but it’s far from perfect.

Gripes aside, Max Payne 3 is an involving experience. The plot and soundtrack alone almost warrant the asking price, and the gameplay is certainly a blast despite frustrations. Do yourself a favour and induldge in one of entertainment’s most exciting comebacks in recent memory.

Barry Murphy

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