Genre: Third-person shooter
Year: 2012
Developed by: Rockstar Studios
Published by: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS3, XBOX360, PC, OS
Feeling Like: The heat is on

Despite playing Max Payne 3 in October of 2012, I couldn’t help but sweat.

Either I was getting slower with age, or the difficulty was ramped up heavily because there was no way I perished with this much frequency either of the predecessors. Every encounter in the second half of Max Payne 3 had my hands clenched, eyes unblinking and expletives flowing. Maybe it was the wild switch from a dark, snowy neo-noir setting in New York to a drug cartel ruled heat dome in Brazil, but I couldn’t help but feel the temperature and the commotion with every step.

It’s my least favorite of the trilogy, but I still can’t help but admire how Rockstar tried to go in a completely different direction and mostly succeeded.

I remember loving all the cut scenes and narration. Max still has his trademark cheesy/wonderful lines and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story. Max is more desperate here, but the visual contrast was so jarring that it took me a while to get used to it all. I wonder why they even made this a Max Payne game, this is the type of project I’d love to read more about the behind the scenes. Did they already have this game made as part of another property and made the switch halfway through?

I recently finished Lights, Camera, Game Over! How Video Game Movies Get Made and the Max Payne movie was featured. It was fascinating to read about how, despite everybody’s best efforts, a putrid product was released. Movies require so much work, from the pre-planning to the filming to post production that it almost seems like a cruel joke for it not to succeed.

Video games doubly so. Max Payne 3 was released four years after the movie and I’m starting to wonder if that had any influence on why they wanted to go in a different direction.

Well, ok, not a totally different direction; the violence is non-stop, the bullet time dramatic diving is still there and you feel like you’re right at the epicenter of a hard-boiled conflict with limited ammunition and unlimited bodies to shoot at.

I was interested to learn that the game was delayed multiple times. Something I remember from the aforementioned book was how often other movies, or rather their successes and failures, would influence upcoming movies. Even if the genre was totally different, or the circumstances, or the people involved; if Film A did really well and it featured a scene with a train, or a woman eating ice cream, or a guy in a red jacket, then you’d hear about producers on Film B insisting that a scene featuring an ice-cream eating woman in a red jacket on a train be included, regardless if it fit the tone or the original script.

I can’t help but wonder if something like that happened with Max Payne 3. It’s such a curious departure from tradition, and a lengthy gap between the 2nd and 3rd iteration (nine years) adds to the mystery.

Either way, I really enjoyed how much attention the developers paid to the city of São Paulo. It felt both wide open and oppressively claustrophobic at the same time. Turning around a corner in a slum was a harrowing experience; I never knew what was around the corner, but I was always curious to find out. Garbage was everywhere, windows were broken, I could feel the heat coming through the screen. I never saw Max apply sunscreen, or wear a hat. Fish out of water, indeed.

The final level set in an airport found me bent, but not broken. I wanted to see the end of Max’s journey, to see if he could finally gain some measure of peace in a franchise that is determined to torture him, both physically and emotionally. Every luggage carousel, every pillar or wall was a necessary barricade and I had to focus all my attention to make it through. By the end, I felt as weary as Max looked.

It’s not the kind of game I’d want to play with any kind of regularity, but with a Rockstar game comes a certain level of polish and detail that you won’t find from many others. I still preferred the settings in Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (a flashback level set in New York is present and was my favorite), but I loved how far Max Payne 3 leaned into something different. We may never see a Max Payne 4 but if that’s the case, this is more than a worthy swan song.

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