Max Payne 3 – Steam Backlog Bonanza [Blaugust 23]

1,250 words.

It was a dark and stormy night, and noir was in the air when I played Max Payne 3 for the 26th day of the Steam Backlog Bonanza. I got it in 2013, just a year after it’s release, for $4. In those days, the sales were sales. Now you’re lucky to get $4 off in a sale.

Anyway, I was looking forward to playing this particular game. I don’t precisely remember why I bought it-probably because it was a AAA title for $4, which was reason enough in 2013. I may have heard good things about Max Payne 3 at some point in my life. I don’t know. I just know I expected good things from this game.

I didn’t realize it was a Rockstar game until I ran it. My expectations went up.

Then the game told me I had to log into the Rockstar “Social Club” to play. It’s possible I already had an account, but if I did, I’ve long since lost the login credentials, so I had to make a new account, and thus did my terrible first impression of this game begin. It was a huge hassle.

I finally got my account and made it into the game. The game launches directly into a cut scene. Let me just state here for the record that I detest when PC games start immediately with a cut scene right after you double-click the desktop icon. You know why? Because PC games never, ever guess the right resolution and graphics settings to start in. So there’s usually something about that initial cut scene that’s bothering me. (My dislike has only gone up since I started recording games, and it’s peaked during this month when live-streaming them.)

I’ll skip all the gory details. The point is, I spent a lot of time at the beginning of this game being annoyed at how much work I had to do to shape the game into the way I wanted to play it for my purposes.

There are odd but memorable moments in the game. If you interact with this piano before chasing the bad guys, you'll get an amusing cut scene.

Then, the game started throwing a lot of crazy button controls at me in the first 30 seconds of gameplay. I groaned. It’s annoying when a game starts throwing “press X to lean sideways and jump followed by a rapid slide” and “press Y to duck and hold Z to dodge while shaking the controller to drop a grenade behind you while flying forwards and reloading with ice-tipped bullets.” Games are never fun until the controls are completely transparent and you don’t have to think about them.

If I hadn’t been recording a stream, I absolutely would have rage quit in those first 10 minutes and never looked back. But since I was ostensibly “putting on a live show,” I kept reigning myself back in and trying to keep pushing forward through all the headaches. I kept telling myself, “It’s just the Rockstar way. All of their games are annoying in the beginning. They have this weird idea that they’re better than everyone else and have something to prove. Just give it a little time.”

And sure enough, by the end of the hour, I actually did grow more comfortable with the game. I played on a controller, which is always an adventure with a shooter. Even with the aiming help I couldn’t hit a thing. It would have been better with mouse and keyboard, but I just didn’t feel like remapping the keys to ESDF. I had already wasted a lot of time in the beginning on settings.

Now I have to talk about the story of this game. I don’t know the history of this franchise at all. I thought I had played a few hours of Max Payne 1 (also purchased in a Steam sale), which I thought was a game from the 90s. Max Payne 3 did not even remotely resemble the game I thought I remembered. I don’t think I’ve played Max Payne 2, in fact I don’t think I even own it, otherwise it might have shown up on this Steam Bonanza list somewhere.

Max Payne 3 has a “hard-boiled detective film noir private eye gumshoe and every other cliche in the book” narrator voice that just cracked me up. It’s an aesthetic choice and intentional, but it felt so out of place in a video game. It’s way over-the-top. And the narrator voice talks all the time. Sometimes he talks to remind you what to do. “I knew I had to hurry, I knew my quarry was just through the door,” etc. etc.

This is a frame from a cut scene, believe it or not.

One other thing I have to mention: The editing on the cut scenes. They should have issued an epileptic warning for them. They used this frenetic style that reminded me of 24 on crack, with freeze frames and sliding boxes all over the place. Stylized text overlays highlight certain words in the dialog. There are crazy color shifts and blurs all over the place, presumably representing how drunk and/or stoned Max Payne is all the time.

It’s … well, it’s something. I don’t quite know whether it’s brilliant or irritating, but it’s certainly noteworthy. There are a lot of them, too. It made me wonder if the cut scenes were rendered with all those editing tricks in them, or did they actually have a film-type editor take the rendered scenes and cut them together in post.

Another cut scene. Frozen still image on the right, moving video on the left.

In the end it was exactly the big summer blockbuster spectacle game that I expected it to be. It had a gimmicky “bullet time” effect that I didn’t quite understand how to use, but sometimes ended up looking cool. It reminded me a little of the Fallout 4 VATS slow-motion critical hits.

Amazingly enough, the game actually started to feel intuitive and fun by the end of the first hour. Unfortunately that’s when the difficulty began to ramp up. I stopped because I reached a point where I kept dying, and it kept reseting me back to a checkpoint that felt a million miles away. You know it’s time to stop playing a game when your response to dying is an eyeroll and a massive heavy sigh.

Will I play more? Maybe. It had an odd appeal. I started to zone out and just “go with the flow” after a certain amount of time. It’s one of those games where the character on the screen does a lot more cool moves and animations than what you’re actually telling him to do with your controller. So even though you’re telling your guy what to do, there’s still a little bit of surprise in seeing how he does it.

Live Stream - Max Payne 3

Stream Production Notes: I started ten minutes late thanks to setting up the Social Club login and resolution at the beginning. That’s always fun. I spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about that before getting into the game and getting settled down. Otherwise not much to report.

These 4 pm streams now feel like an average part of my day. I almost don’t remember what it was like not playing a new game from my Steam backlog every day from 4 to 5.

Previously on the Steam Backlog Bonanza: Crysis 2 Maximum Edition.

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