Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Critical Eye: Max Payne 3

I've never tried one of these, but this is the year where I'm going to attempt to do a design analysis for every game I finish.  I want to tackle these to better understand game design, mechanics, and what makes the games I play fun. I've always looked at games with a critical eye and have discussed them with friends and coworkers, but  I have never attempted to write down my thoughts.

Hopefully my grammar and writing isn't too bad and these exercises come out as decent papers that I can reflect upon and learn something from.  I couldn't find a good template online so I'll be winging it a bit. If someone finds something better please send it my way, I'd love to have good template to use or some articles to reference.

Max Payne 3

The first game I finished in 2013 was Max Payne 3, Now I've been a fan of Max Payne since it's initial release in 2001 and the sequel The Fall of Max Payne that was released in 2003.  I thought the noir comic book presentation was fantastic, the bullet time was great mechanic, and the over all gritty cop drama was executed awesomely.

Now with the third iteration of the franchise Max Payne makes a leap into the current generation of games.  Overall I enjoyed the game and I didn’t think it was as bad as a lot of the reviewers made it out to be.  I played the single player campaign on normal to conclusion and didn’t touch multiplayer at all, so that is all I will be writing about.  So  here are some of my thoughts on things that I enjoyed and things I thought could use some work.

Things and Mechanics I enjoyed

Last Man Standing

Last Shot, or last man standing was an interesting mechanic.  It essentially means if the player has some pain killers left (Max Payne health refill item) and was hit that last time that would essentially kill them.  They'd have an opportunity to attempt to kill 1 person and get some life back and be back into the game.  I don't recall this working if you didn't have pain killers and I'm pretty sure you died if you didn't kill anyone.

At first it took me a bit to understand what was going on with this feature but once I did it changed the way I played the game.  I wound up not using painkillers right away and would play a bit more aggressively.  Painkillers were the only way to get health back and on average I’d only have 1 to 2 inventoried.  They’d also never fully refill your health if you were extremely low, so saving them was essential.  With the difficulty of the game and the lack of recharging health I could see the game being really frustrating with out this feature.

A feature like Last Man Standing really promoted a more aggressive form of gameplay from me.  I wouldn’t go into cover as much and try to do more bullet dodge maneuvers.  It never fully got me away from the cover, the game does a pretty good job of forcing you to use cover with it’s difficulty.  It did however bring back some of those great Max Payne moments by reinforcing aggressive moves, like bullet dodging down a set of stairs.

Bullet Time Events

I didn’t use as much bullet time in Max Payne 3 as I remembered using in the past games.  I wonder if the difficulty or the cover system pushed me away from it or was the button placement on the controller in a weird location that I didn’t agree with.  I’m not totally sure.  

Every once in awhile though, I would be reminded of how much fun bullet time is. The game would put you into these great bullet time events. They’d start off like a cutscene then give you control of the gunfire in some crazy elaborate event.  The two that stuck out the most for me are the falling off of the water tower and jumping to a ledge while gunning down enemies and sliding down a zipline using a soldier for cover as Max hung on to him while clearing out the other side.  

These controlled experiences were great for narrative effect, they didn’t completely take you out of the gameplay but put you in a situation that just couldn’t be accomplished with raw gameplay.  Events like these if used correctly are very effective, just like Solid Snake crawling down a tunnel while being microwaved.

Motion Comics

I’ve always liked the presentation of the narrative in Max Payne, the comics and voiceovers worked great together.  The developers really took this to the next level with the “Man on Fire Movie Comic” effect.  It still feels like a comic but uses well animated cinematics. I thought the technique used was great, it just was used a bit too much.

Rag Doll On Enemies

I know this isn’t anything new, but it really showed off how dynamic a fire fight can be when enemies have ragdoll hit reactions.  Shooting an enemy in the foot causing him to stumble and giving you time to get to another enemy really adds to the strategy in a firefight.

I really enjoyed coming up to a firefight and figuring out how I would tackle the problem and try to use the ragdoll hit effects to my benefit.

Things and Mechanics I thought could use work

Physics and Bullet time on Max

I'm usually all for physics in games, they add a bit of realism and some hilarity to games.  For example, quarterbacks falling over linemen during a celebration in Madden 2013 is pretty funny and Warthogs in Halo flying across the map are great.

In Max Payne 3 there are not only physics on the enemies, but a set of ragdoll like physics on the player.  This usually isn't a problem but there are instances where you've entered bullet time and your jumping across a room and Max Payne collides with a wall and because of his reaction your gun is pointed into the sky and you’re being riddled with bullets.

When the crosshair is in the sky, Max Payne is in a weird position and now you've wasted your bullet time and have taken  a ton of damage seems like the games way of punishing you for using bullet time.  This doesn't happen often, but when it does it really takes all of the steam out of the bullet time and makes the element that should be the coolest feature of the game frustrating and lackluster.

Cover Based Shooting

Cover based shooting is in every 3rd person shooter these days, you could say it's the norm now.  A game like Space Marine, which has no CBS, feels like a breath of fresh air.  For Max Payne CBS makes sense, the game is trying to portray a stylized but realistic world and CBS is what you'd expect in that setting.  In Max Payne 3 however I feel they only implemented a partial CBS system and missed some opportunities.
CBS in Max Payne is boiled down to the ability to take cover, and move along that cover.  There isn’t any sort of cover to cover transitions like you’d find in a Gears of War.  Those transitions is where I feel Max Payne missed something, and they might be there, but I didn’t know how to do them if they were.  If Max could make a cover to cover transition similar Sam Fisher in conviction, but all the while using bullet time to pick off enemies.  I feel something like this would be a great use of bullet time but also fill out the CBS tool chest.

Cutscene Syndrome
One trend that I'm not a huge fan of in video games lately is the over use of cutscenes.  I enjoy the occasional set up and explantation but I don't view cutscenes as a reward but more of a "we couldn't do this in game play so lets make the player watch this."  Now with Max Payne 3 the abundance of cutscenes for narrative was extremely noticeable to me, it felt like there were moments where I would walk 3 feet, cutscene, walk 3 feet, cutscene, rinse and repeat.  
I feel this was a missed opportunity since Max Payne's self narration already works as a fantastic narrative device.  Look at how bastion handle it's narrative with narrator.  They rarely took you out of gameplay, but had a great story delivered.  Now Max does this throughout the game, but sometimes it felt like I just watched a full episode of a television show.

Overall, like I said above, I really enjoyed the game.  I had fun playing it, these are just some notes I took on the game.  I hope to do more of these in the future!

Post a Comment