Back in the heyday of cassette-based computers, such as the Commodore 64, some games had a feature called (as far as I can tell) Load-n-Play. This let you play a mini-game whilst the entirety of the actual game streamed from the tape, and in some cases said mini-game was pretty good.
Max Payne 3 is a bit like that. You play fragments of a game whilst watching a very long movie. Oh god, the cutscenes. Shoot a couple of people, watch a 5-minute cut-scene. Some of the cut-scenes show our hero shooting people, making me think, why didn’t they just let me do that? That isn’t to say that the cutscenes are in any way poorly made (far from it in fact, so long as you don’t mind the overuse of Tony Scott copycat direction), as the writing and “acting” throughout are all top-notch. It’s just that they completely, repeatedly break the pacing of the gameplay. If it weren’t for the inclusion of an “arcade” mode that eschews all of the fluff, I would probably be recommending you to just go rent a big budget movie at this point (and I think I’m probably more receptive of being told stories in games than most people are). But thankfully the cutscenes aren’t the be-all and end-all of the game, and the actual gameplay bits are rather good.
But let’s rewind a bit. Who is Max Payne, and what does he do?
The third game in a series running back to 2001, Max is a former cop who goes on the rampage after his wife and child are murdered. By the time we catch up to him in this episode, he’s a drunk bodyguard, full of self-loathing and lacking any sort of purpose. Things start to go wrong fairly rapidly, and although it’s a story we’ve been told before (and being that the aforementioned Tony Scott directed that film, it’s hard to shake the idea that Rockstar used it as a template), it’s well told all the same, assuming of course that it doesn’t just make you itch to skip through to the gameplay. I should point out that you can skip the majority of cutscenes (except the first one, which you’re forced to sit through when all you want to do is go to the options menu and correct the default screen resolution), but they are used to mask the extremely frequent loads, so there’s always some degree of waiting involved. The biggest problem with the story that’s told (other than the fact that Rockstar insist on telling it to you), is that it makes Max seem like an interchangeable action hero inserted into an incidental plot, rather than the star of a “Max Payne story”.
The game is a third-person shooter (which we Mac gamers are generally starved of) with a couple of twists. First of all, Max is proficient with using two weapons at the same time. He can carry a pistol and an SMG, use one or the other, or both. It’s very satisfying. He can also use heavier weapons now and then, but will drop them automatically if you go “akimbo”. More importantly is the use of bullet time. In a manner not unlike that we’ve seen in countless games in the past decade, Max can expend a limited resource to accelerate his perception causing the world to slow down for a brief period. This makes for the perfect opportunity to shoot up everyone in sight, and indeed part of the enjoyment of the game seems to come from seeing just how many foes you can take out before normal speed resumes.
But better than all of that is Max’s trademark (literally) “ShootDodge”. Tap space whilst moving and he’ll launch himself into the air in slow-motion. In the instances where you don’t (or frequently do, in my case) just launch him straight into a wall or other obstacle, the mid-air slow-motion gunplay becomes a thing of beauty, and you’ll probably fail to notice Max himself twisting gracefully through the air, orienting himself towards whatever you’re shooting, as you’ll be too busy finding targets and hoping the bullets don’t run out.
The playground for all of this is remarkable. Lots of nice big spaces (as well as corridors) in a variety of different locations. There are a lot of big action set-pieces, and though in other games sniper or turret segments are enough to elicit groans of despair, the majority of Max Payne 3’s dramatic shoot-outs are utterly enjoyable, in spite of the complete linearity of it all (the main game can be beaten in a day, if you’re dedicated enough). The setting is seeped in seediness and grimness, which probably makes the brutality of the game’s violence a little easier to stomach, and the inevitable collectible trinkets (“clues” and gun parts) scattered around are at least not shoved in your face at every turn.
If it weren’t for the significant issues I encountered with the Mac version of the game (detailed below), I’d be leaning out of the window shouting for people to play it, and heralding it as yet another triumph for Mac gaming. Sadly, it seems to be a poorly executed port, presumably with as little care and attention as the entirety of the marketing for the Mac release. In the event that Rockstar take another look and address these issues, I’ll be sure to amend this review, but for now this is a game to steer clear of, unless you’re certain it’ll run well on your Mac.
Performance & Quality
For a game that’s taken a year to get a Mac version, it’s in a inexcusably bad state. With the Windows version running on the same hardware, I had no problem running the game with the settings maxed out in 3D. No such luck with the Mac version, where setting everything to normal made for a just-about-playable experience. Interestingly, there’s a system in the graphics options that prompts you to lower your settings if it detects they are too high, and with that in mind the Mac Pro I ran it on should have been ok with everything set to “high”. It wasn’t.
But then there’s dealing with the poorly implemented mouse controls, which I actually gave up on after an hour of failing to be able to aim correctly, and switched to a controller. And promptly switched back once I discovered the buttons weren’t mapped correctly, with the “A” button refusing to do anything but make Max run in a circle. Having previously completed the game on “normal” in Windows, I forced to dial the difficulty down to “easy” here just to slog my way through it.
Whereas my previous Windows playthrough was mild boredom punctuated by moments of joyous slow-motion gunplay, my Mac playthrough was mild boredom punctuated by moments of frustration. This is a year-old game, with the highest price tag of any Mac game you can buy at the Mac App Store, and it runs extremely poorly*.
If you really want to play Max Payne 3, do yourself a favour and get the console or Windows version. If Rockstar can address the performance issues and patch the game to a playable state in line with other AAA titles available for the Mac, then I’ll reconsider my stance. But in the current state the Mac version is in, I can’t in good faith recommend anyone buy a game that appears little more than a cynical cash-grab.
As noted above, the 30 GB (!) game looks and sounds great, but is utterly let down by a poor translation (via Cider) to Mac OS X. In addition to the extremely poor graphics performance, the game also has the tendency to hang the entire OS if left running in the background, and would occasionally get stuck on the “initializing” screen when starting the game.
*I’ve received reports from other people who have run the game without any technical problems, so your mileage may vary. There’s no demo, and the “recommended specifications” listed on the official website are vague at best.
Far from being just a quick addition to pad out the predominantly single-player game, Max Payne 3’s multiplayer is actually a well thought-out, robust part of the game. Incredibly, there’s the inclusion of bullet-time within multiplayer without actually breaking the action (which you can read Polygon’s excellent dissection of if you’d like to know exactly how it works).
A bunch of different DLC packs have been released (including a season pass), but all of these amounted to multiplayer map-packs and other multiplayer addons.