Do heroes age well?
If comic books featuring non-canonical story arcs are to be believed, they do not. There are too many ghosts from the past, and they often find themselves in a future that is beyond their control or understanding. But as these stories progress, the aged hero often realises that while the world may have passed them by, its ways do not change that much.
In Max Payne 3, when I saw three members of a street gang known as Comando Sombra, I did the exact same thing I did ten years ago. I dived headlong in their direction, spraying bullets. As Max rightly says at one point during the game, “Time moves forward. Nothing changes.”
But Time never has been too kind to Max Payne, taking away everything from him but the cynicism and world-weariness that oozes out of the pores of almost every sentence he utters. Ten years after the events of Max Payne 2, an older Max Payne with an unhealthy affinity for alcohol and painkillers moves to Sao Paulo, Brazil to work with the security detail of the wealthy Branco family. Trouble hits Max and his partner, Passos, with the kidnapping of the trophy wife of the eldest Branco and then quickly spirals out of control amidst shady politics and fierce gang wars.
The story, penned by Dan Houser of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto fame, is engaging and mostly straightforward, with a few twists and turns along the way. In his signature style, Houser keeps the plot simple, but makes it compelling with interesting characters. Joining the ever-brooding Max, voiced expertly by James McCaffery, are characters such as the disillusioned and jaded Rodrigo Branco, and detective Wilson Da Silva, who is always tied down by the rampant corruption around him but nurtures the desire to do the right thing. They elevate the story above what you see in most video games.
But what really elevates this game head and shoulders above most shooters is the presentation. Stylised cut-scenes, gritty locales such as the meandering streets within the sprawling and congested favelas, foreboding high-rise towers, abandoned buildings and swamps move in and move out quickly to keep up with the pace of the brilliant gun-battles you engage in through the game.
And the brilliance of these gun-battles comes from an incredible balancing of the old and new. While many may have questioned whether Bullet-time, a defining mechanic ten years ago, is still pertinent enough to be employed in the times of cover-based shooting, Rockstar chose to retain it, but did not ignore the modern elements that go into making shooters. Cover-based shooting is always an option, but you cannot rely on it. Enemies are tougher and employ better strategies. Your health does not automatically regenerate and painkillers are not exactly abundant. And Max is frail and clumsy. When I mentioned earlier about diving headlong towards three gang members, gun blazing, I left out the part where I was praying that I get all three before Max lands. The time taken by Max to get up after falling is painful perceivable, and to compensate, Rockstar added the ability to shoot 360 degrees while Max is prone.
What this does is create a range of options to tackle any situation. What it also does is takes away the reliance on scripted sequences to create memorable moments. You are bound to find yourself in tight situations involving multiple henchmen, no painkillers and very little health to go on. And when you get everything right and survive such a situation, you get that rare feeling of accomplishment that is lacking in most modern shooters.
Features such as Last Stand and Kill Cam add to the cinematic flair of the game. Provided the player has at least one painkiller, if Max is downed, the game automatically gives you a small window in Bullet-time to kill the enemy that gunned you down. Successfully doing so allows the player to recover at the cost of one painkiller. Kill Cam is a highly satisfying feature that allows you to pump as many bullets as you like in the last enemy you shoot down in any encounter in slow motion.
The game has a wide array of weapons to play with, though you cannot carry as many guns you want. But this is hardly a problem, as there are plenty of toys to pick up from dead enemies, and all the guns handle well, thanks to the near-perfect aiming and controls. Packaged in with a fantastic soundtrack, the 10-12 hour single player will definitely entice you for an encore, especially with bonus modes such as Arcade and New York Minute, as well as golden guns and other collectibles scattered across the game.
Max Payne is another in the long line of single player games that have jumped onto the multiplayer bandwagon. To be honest, I have not seen these games, with the exception of Assassin’s Creed, bring anything that is wholly innovative to the table. The multiplayer portion of Max Payne 3 functions mostly like the multiplayer modes in other third-person shooters, but with a few of its own tricks and turns.
The core multiplayer mode is Gang Wars, which aims to bring a certain degree of narrative coherence to the proceedings by dynamically chaining objectives depending on how and in whose favour the game is progressing. Apart from the usual elements, the multiplayer also features Bullet-time to a limited extent and social integration by the way of the ability to form crews that will carry over to Grand Theft Auto V.
Heroes may not age well, but if handled well, they do find their touch. When that happens, it is often an unforgettable and thrilling ride, where those who are unfamiliar can discover what made them legends, and those who are familiar can relive their greatness and get swept over by nostalgia.
Time moves forward. Nothing changes.