I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine who has been without internet for about nine months now. Personally I would go insane, but now he's back online he is desperately trying to catch up on all the gaming he missed out on while he was out of action, which is hilarious when he asks me if I've heard of the new game from id Software which came out almost twelve months ago now.
We got onto the topic of Max Payne 3 and when he asked my opinion of the game, I noticed it had changed considerably from the 9/10 review I had written some five months ago.
We talked about our mutual love for the first game, the twisted story of a NYPD detective whose family was murdered at the hands of drug addicts. It's noir tone and pulp attitude when compared to other shooters at the time helped it stand out from the crowd, and having Bullet Time right around the time The Matrix had hit its peak certainly didn't hurt. However there was one thing that my friend and I could definitely agree on, killing hundreds of goons with some of the best shooting mechanics to ever grace games made us feel like unstoppable badasses, and that's where May Payne excelled.
When I think about Max Payne 3 nothing has really changed dramatically. Of course the graphical upgrade has been massive and the introduction of true physics thanks to the RAGE engine is remarkable, the core gameplay is still the same. Run into a room, shoot armed goons while in slow-mo, jumping, diving, sliding your way through massive gunfights like a John Woo movie on crack, it's all here. So why now, five months after release, do I not care about Max Payne 3 in the slightest?
On paper I should be screaming praise from the highest mountain after finishing what is easily one of Rockstar's finest achievements in story telling. When compared to the first two games, Max Payne 3's writing isn't even in the same league, it's an entirely new sport. The performances by the cast are head and shoulders above most AAA titles out there. There certainly wasn't anything wrong with the tale of Max and his struggle is South America.
Maybe gamers have just evolved. Games are getting shorter and shorter by the year, with many single-player experiences only taking 4-6 hours to complete. While high production costs certainly have a hand in this shift towards shorter experiences, perhaps running through environments shooting hundreds of people for 10 hours just isn't as compelling as it was five years ago.
Plenty of games get past this issue however; Call of Duty introduced us to a fancy XP and unlock system for online play which has millions of gamers still hooked today, causing the entire online industry to shift and implement something similar for their shooters. Now when a new gamer goes back to a title like Counter-Strike: Source or Day of Defeat it looks dated and feels empty.
Borderlands 2 combats this boredom by combining XP systems from RPGs and adding in loot and weapon discovery that made Diablo III famous, but at the end of the day it's all about shooting enemies in the face.
Max Payne 3 didn't have any of these bells and whistles to distract us from the fact that it is just another shooter, with another hundred guys to kill, albeit in a glorious and colourful setting with some of the best physics we have ever seen.
It may feature one of the better stories in gaming, it may stay true to the series, it may even feature some of the best set-pieces we've ever seen, but the truth of the matter is that Max Payne 3 and most action games are becoming forgettable experiences that don't rate very highly no matter which way you look at them.
Mashing genres, adding XP and unlocks are only quick-fix solutions, how long until these features become tired and dated?
That fact ladies and gentlemen, makes me a sad gamer indeed.
By Stephen Heller