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Max Payne, Now With Gritty Detail
on 17 September 2014
I'm a bit late to this game, and I think like a number of others I was put off by the weird advertising decision to show Max Payne as a bald guy in a Hawaiian shirt, which led many to fear that Max Payne wouldn't be the same gritty action-fest they knew and loved…
…but man was I wrong to have my doubts! This sequel is expertly crafted with fantastic visuals, a dark and blood-soaked storyline, and fantastic gameplay that preserves many of the best bits from the previous games, while adding a solid cover shooting mechanic, and "last man standing" slow motion to kill an enemy before they deal the fatal blow to you. It feels refined and smooth, while keeping the gun-play very, very deadly.
Regarding difficulty, I've only played through on medium so far, and I found that pretty tough in places, particularly when there are frequent enemies ambushing you down seemingly deserted corridors, requiring fast reflexes to shoot dodge or find yourself gunned down with no cover to hide behind. It all serves to make the game very tense, requiring careful use of your slow motion bullet-time to leap to fresh cover and get those precious killing head-shots. There are also numerous set-pieces to keep things fresh, alongside "free aim" segments of slow motion challenging you to kill as many enemies as possible or else be stuck with hard odds after returning to normal. If I were to have any complaints about the game-play, its that the enemy seem to find it too easy to know where you are (so ducking around to another piece of cover doesn't take the heat off you for even a moment), and it can be difficult to know when you've killed an enemy, but otherwise the game-play is faultless, if very challenging at points.
In terms of replay value there are various "grinds" such as number of head shots, kills with particular weapons etc., plus a number of achievements (many in the free aim segments, which I seem to have failed to get any of!). There is also a series of "New York Minute" arcade challenges, pushing you to complete them as fast as possible, so there's some good content even outside of the main game. There are also two additional difficulty levels beyond Hard, though I'm not sure if I'd even want to attempt those without first grabbing more of the golden gun weapon upgrades scattered throughout the campaign. There's also multiplay, though I've yet to try this.
The campaign's story is as action-packed as you'd expect, though not quite as gripping a conspiracy as the first two (I had the villain clocked from the first level's cutscene). Not that that slows anything down as excellent, if a little cutscene heavy, direction, superb character graphics and animation and a few scattered extras to find in the levels tell the story well, and keep our favourite tortured cop as dark and disturbed as ever as he fights substance abuse as much as he fights waves of enemies. While I was initially disappointed by the change of scenery from the grim, snow-covered New York I loved, Sao Paulo manages to be every bit as dark in spite of its sunshine, as Max rampages through some of the worst areas in the city, but for good measure we do get a couple of flash-backs set in white-washed city fans are familiar with.
All in all this is a great game, and a very worthy addition to the series. I might even argue that it's better than the second game, and I very much want to see a fourth title in this great series.