PC

November 13, 2013

The Stanley Parable: A Game About Games

stanley parable

It is nearly impossible to explain what The Stanley Parable is about. It is a game about the nature of games, how a player interacts with the world, and what happens if the antagonist is the game itself.

At it’s core, The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. All of the interaction comes through choice. Choosing a door to walk through, choosing which button to press, or even choosing to do nothing at all. You play as Stanley, an office worker who may be asleep, crazy, bored, and everything in between.

To reveal anything about the gameplay experience is to ruin that experience for you. It is very much a narrative driven game, with the majority of the entertainment value coming from the narrator, given life by the incomparable Kevan Brighting, and his interactions with the player. If you are sensitive and can’t take constructive and not as constructive criticism, you may want to stay away. The narrator will hurt your feelings and make you feel worthless but, to be fair, you do the same to him multiple times.

In technical terms the game is fine, with serviceable graphics that never get in the way of the experience. The game is still based in Source, so the physics that come along with that engine work well (even with a dearth of interactive objects). The music is fantastic and hugely varied. It only shows up every so often but when it does the score will command your attention. The controls will be familiar to anyone who has played a first person game, save for the lack of one usual input variation that leads to a hilarious achievement.

I had issues starting up the game upon first install, but upon reinstallation the issues ceased. Besides that there were no bugs that I personally have noticed in my ten hours or so with the game.

Mind Control

What really stuck out to me was how The Stanley Parable reflects on the absurdity of game mechanics and storytelling. We do it all for a weird sense of self gratification, the accomplishment of the objective. Be it an actual scripted objective like every mission based game, or the “I’m going to steal a helicopter and try to jump out onto a bus” self generating objectives in an open world game, it’s all there to give the player a sense of accomplishment. The Stanley Parable deconstructs this to the point where one second the objective could be to press a button so that some booming voice will say “Eight!” over and over and the next the objective is to figure out what the game wants you to do. In the end, the game doesn’t want you to do anything. It’s a game. And The Stanley Parable knows that.

You can complete The Stanley Parable in about 15 minutes. Your first play through will probably take about half an hour. But there is so much to explore within the crazy world that Galactic Cafe thrusts you into that it could easily eat up much more. Not for twitch gamers or people who want to get to the top of the leaderboards, but if you value narrative then I implore you to check this one out. At least get the demo off of Steam. If anything, you’ll get a chuckle out of just how ridiculous it all is.

In its purest essence, The Stanley Parable is a commentary on routine, achievement, the government, video games, and life itself. I love getting lost in it’s world and losing myself within it. Everyone needs to play this.

September 7, 2013

Virtually Unstoppable – Saints Row IV Review


Yep, it's Saints Row all right.

 

Saints Row has a long reputation of being one of the finest, if buggiest, GTA imitators. Beating Rockstar’s titan to the previous next-gen platforms with its 360 debut, Saints Row was a bit of a buggy mess that still had great amounts of fun to be had. Its sequel, Saints Row 2, was shipped just months after GTA IV, bringing the same flawed but fun gameplay to the table, rivaling its chief competition. Finally, in 2011, Volition found they had nailed it with their next at-bat, Saints Row: The Third. After crushing most bugs, game-breaking and minor, they had produced and insanely high-polish title that was  a clear champion of the open world genre, providing non-stop laughs and incredibly fun gameplay the entire ride. Now Volition’s back with a full game extended out of planned SR3 DLC featuring an alien invasion and a Matrix knockoff, and they’ve pulled out what few stops were left.

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July 17, 2013

Miami hotline review

I’ve been around the gaming industry for a long time and one of the pre-conceived notions I’ve had as it’s grown and changed over the years is that new games should have amazing graphics and they should get better with each installment. With that said when I first saw Hotline Miami on Steam I simply ignored it.  I didn’t even consider it until CABXYZ told me that I should give the game a shot.  At his suggestion and my insatiable need to get my Summer Getaway 2013 badge on steam I decided to pick it up.

Firstly I want to say that at $2.99 it felt like highway robbery… of the developers.   Even at the $9.99 price tag I feel the developers are under charging for this title.  I would of gladly paid $20, $25 maybe even $30 dollars  for it and that’s saying a lot consider that it’s an 8bit over the top shooter.

Graphics – this doesn’t really apply here but that doesn’t mean the presentation can’t be cool and entertaining.  If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s not to judge a book by its cover and that’s what I did sadly with Miami hotline.  Half the battle is making a solid presentation with everything from the smooth menu, solid gameplay, and interesting animations.  Everything from the blood spatters to the interesting cut-scenes make the whole presentation complete

Sound – This is one of the top highlights of the game.  We at TGB absolutely loved the sound track.  I loved it so much I actually went and purchased the soundtrack.  It was that good and it’s one of my favorite in a game in recent history.  Obviously this isn’t a 5.1 surround game but the soundtrack is definitely the winner.

Gameplay – since this isn’t a high-powered game it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be… ultra smooth.  The game plays smoothly and it has a vast array of weapons to use ranging from your fists to guns and throwing knives.  I played the game with Mouse and Keyboard but you can also play it with a controller on the PC version or you can get it on the PS3, Vita and Xbox360.

Story – if there was a weak spot there it’s probably the story.  It’s not bad by any means but it was slightly confusing and mildly absurd but then how many games aren’t.

Value – I played through the game in about 8.5 hours.  So for the measly $2.99 I paid for it I got a hell of a deal.  This game has a ton of replay value as well as some of the achievements will require you to play several missions over and over again and to boot they are a blast to play.

Challenge – This is something I generally don’t cover because I feel that most games are designed to appeal to the masses and not to the ‘hardcore elite’ of games and thus they are designed to be simple, easy and sometimes mindless.   I’m thankful to say that Miami Hotline does not fall into this trap and it’s very refreshing.  There were more than a few times that I actually wanted to throw the keyboard out the window.  Miami Hotline saves are really what drive the challenge.  They aren’t annoying but they are similar to older games.  If you die at ANY point during one of the stages you start all over again.  Most of the missions have 2 – 4 stages to further that everything is one hit kill so if you get hit or shot even once… you start over.  You will die and die often… there is even an achievement for it.

In short Miami Hotline is a must buy and is one of my favorite indie games to come out since Mount & Blade.  If you are a fan of the Super Nintendo or consider yourself a gamer period this is a MUST have game for your library.

Rating: 9/10

 

April 14, 2013

Penguin United Xbox 360 Keyboard Mouse Converter

Old habits die hard and one hardest ones for me to attempt to ditch in an attempt to play with some of my XBL brethren was the Keyboard and Mouse setup that I’ve become accustomed to on the PC over the past 17 years.

Some of you may be asking “Why would you lower yourself to playing games like Battlefield 3 on a console when you can play it on a PC at five times the visuals and speed?” the answer to that question is… I have friends who refuse to convert.  So in attempt to keep those friendships intact I’ve purchased games that I normally wouldn’t purchase on systems I normally wouldn’t play.  Primarily Battlefield 3(which I love) and Call of Duty: Black Ops II (which I can’t stand).

Obviously my biggest complaint with consoles is the lack of KB/M support and forcing me to play with, what I consider to be, an inferior control interface.  I gave it a good attempt on Battlefield 3 and the best scores, on rush, that I could come up with where 5/18 or around that on a fairly consistent basis and I would place last if not close to last every other game.  I gave this a go for about a month before I finally got fed up and started to look for a solution that would allow my old school gaming habits to function on ‘modern’ gaming consoles.

The solution came in the form of Penguin United’s Eagle-Eye Keyboard and Mouse Converter.  I decided to pick this up after I looked around the net for a solution and honestly when one of my friends *Xbox fantatic* told me to buy it.

So is it any good?  In short… yes but it does have some drawbacks.  Let’s start with the negatives:

The Bad:

This was confusing to configure even for an experienced System Architect like myself.  I eventually figured it out but it did take me about 6 hours from the moment I bought it to the point where I was playing.  There were several things about it that were hard to figure out but once I got it was smooth sailing from then one.  The biggest complaints I had were this:

You have to have a wired Xbox *official* controller otherwise you won’t be able to get the EagleEye to sync with your Xbox.  Yes you have to plug in the wired controller into your converter every time you start your xbox and connect it.  Connecting it, from what I can deduce, allows it to steal the licensing from the controller and emulate it on the controller.  Once it’s connected you’ll be fine until the next time you turn off your Xbox 360.

Sensitivity can be annoying.  I’m used to high sensitivity on the PC and on the console I was forced to pump the sensitivity all the way up to get it to the point where I could be competitive in games.  It’s still not what I would like but it’s far better than the alternative.

This complaint is specific to Battlefield 3 so I cannot speak to other games as the only two games I’ve played with this are Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Battlefield 3.  It’s hard to use any vehicles outside of the tank and even then it can be a challenge as it is VERY slow to turn turrets.  It’s hard to explain until you’ve used it but once you have you’ll understand.  Don’t even try flying a jet or a helicopter.

Finally the last complaint I had is having the right hardware.  This device only functions with specific hardware.  Do yourself a favor and do your research before you purchase this and purchase it with the proper Keyboard and Mouse combo.  I’ll do an article later on showing what I did to make it work.

The Good:

While there are… what some would consider a lot of negatives, there are a good number of positives as well, especially once you get everything configured the way you like it.

The biggest question is will this making playing an FPS on a console better?  Yes it will and by a good margin.  Yes graphics will still suck like they always do on consoles but at least from a controls perspective things will be much better.  I went from being 5/18 and near last on the team playing rush to going 35/5 on a fairly consistent basis and getting MVP 1 -3.  You can tell right off the bat that you have a pretty big advantage from other players by just the nature of controls.  Having said all that BF3 and COD: BO II don’t play the same on Xbox as they do on PC, they are much slower.

EagleEye comes with some pretty slick controller software.  It allows you to fully customize your keys on your controller to their keyboard and mouse equivalents.  Yes there are some that can’t translate over quite the way I’d like but it’s still much better than using a controller.  The biggest part is just memorizing what those are as you’ll still have to memorize what keys you’ve mapped to what controller buttons.  You’ll need to know these for navigating menus and such.  Once you’ve memorized those it’s smooth as butter.

Conclusion:

Would I recommend this?  Yes… once you get past some of the quirks with go along with this product it’s a pretty slick product.  When you finally get it functioning it works really well aside from having to initialize it every time I start my Xbox.  Having said that it’s a price I’ll gladly pay to not have to deal with clumsy controls.  While this product does need some improvements in the form of ease of use it still gets TGB’s stamp of approval.  Anyone else had experience with this product?  What did you think?

You can check out Penguin Uniteds site here.  If you’d like to purchase it you can buy it at Amazon.com here. You can also purchase a PS3 version.

 

March 14, 2013

Brütal Legend PC Review!


 

Back in 2009, Tim Schafer gave us a time capsule to the heyday of 70’s and 80’s metal with Brütal Legend. Now, over three years later, he gives us a time capsule to 2009 with the PC release of Brütal Legend.

 

Schafer’s initial vision is roadie Eddie Riggs, dissatisfied with modern metal, being sent to a magical world of a 70’s heavy metal album cover come to life. Eddie’s guitar now summons lightning bolts and can do incredible things through wicked solos. The landscape is littered with giant heavy metal icons, devil horns, hot rod engines, giant stone guitars. Everything old school heavy metal is found in this land, and the inhabitants haven’t the slightest idea about metal. This is where Eddie steps in.

Read more…

November 30, 2012

Hitman: Absolution – Missing the Mark

IO Interactive’s Hitman series has had its shares of ups and downs over its four title lifetime, having both innovated and frustrated the stealth genre. Now it brings its newest title, Absolution, to the table, and while the game itself is undeniably a Hitman product, the parts it chose to borrow from its older brothers are highly questionable, embodying the “one step forward, two steps back” motto.

 

Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun

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November 19, 2012

Dishonored Review

Way back in 1998, when shooters were trying to expand themselves beyond “shoot what isn’t you,” gameplay, Looking Glass Studios released a game with the idea of “shoot nothing.” Thief instead encouraged and rewarded avoidance of confrontation, especially by casting a player character who had difficulty in a one-on-one fight, let alone superior numbers. The higher difficulties in the game stacked the odds increasingly against the player, even including mission fail conditions if the player killed anyone. The game and its sequel are often credited for popularizing the stealth genre, heavily influencing games to follow. Stealth games since have been a lot less about avoiding confrontation and more about doing it in a quiet and efficient manner while not getting caught. Now, Arkane Studios (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Arx Fatalis) are tossing their hat into the ring with Dishonored, and it lands pleasantly close to the totem planted by Thief all those years ago.

 

The game looks pretty, thanks to a good use of UE3

 

Read more…

September 1, 2012

Darksiders 2 Review

 

In 2010 an unknown developer, Vigil Games, released a game that a jack of all trades and master of none. The original Darksiders was a mix mash of popular game mechanics inside a Zelda like shell, with an awesome take on the apocalypse. The mechanics it did use fit well together, even if it was a bit obvious where they came from, and was met with positive reviews. In Darksiders, you took on the roll of War, one of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse. As War, you were trying to clear your name for starting the war between Heaven and Hell before the 7th seal was broken. Now in Darksiders 2, you control Death, War’s fellow brethren of the apocalypse, on a quest to help clear his brother’s name and restore humanity. Darksiders 2 feels familiar but is a beast of its own; bigger, deeper mechanics and a vast improvement over its predecessor.

*WARNING MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

*YOUHAVE BEEN WARNED*

This has been the journey so far

 

Death’s journey starts right after the opening tutorial in the first Darksiders. War has been imprisoned for 100 by the Charred Counsel for starting the apocalypse a bit prematurely and so Death takes it upon himself to help his brother and restore humanity. Death’s journey is great if not a little convoluted. Death starts by seeking out the keep of secrets also known as the Crowfather. During the first encounter with Crowfather we learn of the Horsemen’s past and that they are of a special race known as the Nephilim, a cross between angels and demons. The Four Horsemen slaughtered the rest of their kind in exchanged for powers, imbued by the Charred Counsel to keep the balance in the Universe. Death’s amulet holds the souls of his fellow kinsmen and in the battle with Crowfather it is broken and embedded into Death’s chest as a mark of shame, a reminder if you will. After the thrilling start, Death learns he must find the tree of life and on this journey he visits the Forge Lands. The Forge Lands are where the Makers call home. The Makers are responsible for creation and have a wee bit of a Scottish accent. The Forge Lands serve as one of the hub maps with dungeons strewed through it. The Forge Lands alone are about the size of the entire map from the first game. During the time in Forge Lands you learn that this realm has been over taken by corruption. Corruption takes the form as the main protagonist in Deaths story. The corruption takes the form of Absalom, a Nephilim that was betrayed and slaughtered by Death. At this point the story takes a turn for the personal and has Death not only trying to save humanity but him as well. The story and progression does a get a little repetitive with the dreaded 3 point quest throughout the game. You later visit the Land of the Dead, which is just as large as the Forge Lands, but in order to progress you must fight their champion which requires 3 larges stones to collect. Then you must face and collected the 3 hands of the Lord of Bones and you can kind of see where this is going. The fetch quest normally run in threes, while it elongates the game it can see tedious as well; though it must be noted that each dungeon of the three are all unique in their own right. There are two more maps that are not nearly as large as the others but serve their purpose well. There is one particular dungeon or quest I had a problem with that felt out of place and broke the flow of the game. After the Land of the Dead you will travel to Lostlight in search of a key, while you are there you will be transported to Earth for one of the fetch quest. This mission and dungeon just felt like they didn’t belong and really did nothing for the story and hampered the gameplay department as well. I will elaborate on the gameplay problem later in the review. I did enjoy the story however, there were points that really didn’t fit or felt like they could have been skipped. The corruption, as different as a villain it was, it stemmed from nowhere. There were characters that just seemed like filler. I must note that Death is a fantastic anti-hero, voiced wonderfully by Michael Wincott. He borders the line between compassionate and crass, while he has no patients for anyone on his quest, he does feel for the salvation of his brother and is tormented by his past sins. The Makers are other lot that I cared for and wanted to see a good outcome for them. Elder Eideard is voiced by James Cosmo (Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in the superb Game of Thrones) and Pup, a young maker with faults was the most memorable. The story does wrap up nicely but ends up right were the first one ended which has me intrigued to how they are going to play off the inventible third installment (you know there will be third as long as THQ survives).

 

Loot, Loot, Glorious Loot

 

One of my biggest complaints with the first title was the combat got repetitive, you had one sword and a few different sub-weapons at your disposal but it never really got off the ground. This time around the game plays more like Diablo or Baulders Gate, damage numbers pop out of enemies and there are loot drops, wonderful loot drops. Death wields his signature scythes but has a variety of sub-weapons and armors that can be found or purchased at vendors. There are new scythes to be had each one with its own stats and esthetics and the sub-weapons range from gauntlets and claws to hammers and swords again with individual stats and appearances. Death’s armor is interchangeable with gauntlets, boots, armor, cowls, and shoulder pieces that make him look less like a walking trashcan ala War. There are two different types of armor as well, ones that will boost defense and strength and ones that will boost wrath and affect the things you cast. This leads to the new leveling system. For every baddie you kill you are awarded experience and wrath, wrath held over from the last game used to cast, and you will level gaining skill points as you go. The stat trees are broken into two groups one that build toward melee and one that builds towards casting. You have the option to head down either path or cross trees and do a little of both.  The armor you choose will effect what tree you go down, but only to a varying degree. I went down the casting path and used the heavier armor that boosted my health and strength. I was raising explosives pawns that drew enemies away while using larger sub-weapons while tanking in the middle of the chaos. Death has a chaos form as well; War had one in the first. The meter fills with every successful hit and when activated last for a limited time. This form can be leveled as well though there are no choices along with this form. Once you hit the max level an energy blast follows its deactivation. The combat never tired as I was always trying out new powers and weapons and trying to find the right balance of armor to compensate my attack tactics. Death is faster and less bulky than War and it shows in his movement and platforming. The platforming feels right out of the Prince of Persia Remake of 2008. Death can run on walls, run up walls, grapple on the ledges, and vault over small stubs that continue his climb. As with the first game using many popular game mechanics with varying results, the platforming is fantastic. The only complaint I have with it is using the left trigger to leap backwards; I wish it would have faster respond time as with some of the platforming has time restraints in some areas i.e. get to a door before it closes. Death does not go alone on his quest. This time around Despair, Death’s horse, is available from the get go. This change is a much needed welcome, the first game had a lot of back tracking and the horse was available a little over halfway through the game which made trekking a chore. Dust, Death’s raven is there as well glowing green and showing the way to objectives. Fast traveling has also been greatly improved. You can now fast travel from waypoint to waypoint on the world map without talking to Vulgrim. It becomes increasingly useful during dungeons when you’re loaded up with loot or need other health potion before you face a boss. The grapple hook makes a return in a new form as well as the Voidwalker (the portal gun from Portal) though it no longer shoots blue and orange portals, they are just blue now. There is one mechanic that I thought was a really great touch, the Voidwalker gets an upgrade that creates a portal through time. It only works in one dungeon but the dungeon is very well designed as are the puzzles wrapped around this mechanic.

 

Death is never the end

 

With all this great stuff going for it Darksiders 2 does has its faults. The engine is beginning to show its age, some of the textures are downright ugly while some look fantastic despite the amazing art style. There are sprawling area’s and the set pieces and bosses can be huge and it all runs well with no frame rate issues that I encountered though there was one time the game crashed on me and I had to reboot my console and start from my last autosave. The third chapter is a little lacking compared to the first two, despite it being two maps there isn’t anything to explore other than the dungeons and as before the one dungeon felt out of place and gameplay breaking. When you hit that dungeon you will know what I am talking about. While the ending is satisfying there is no indication that you have reached the final boss and he is a little underwhelming. Once I got to where the final boss was going to take place I thought the game was going to continue the credits were a real surprise. Though despite these little gripes the game is fantastic, they fixed a lot that was wrong with the first and despite still using popular game mechanics from other games; this one feels more of its own. The maps are worth exploring and the Land of the Dead is a visual splendor. Voice acting for the most part is top notch and would welcome Michael Wincott back as Death in a sequel. Now the question is who we will see in the sequel, we have been War and we have been Death, will Strife or Fury take center stage? We will have to wait but on a closing note I would like to see a sequel with the same art style on more powerful next gen hardware.

 

+ The game is HUGE, plenty of side quest to keep you busy.

+More RPG elements introduced and work well

+Combat has more variety and does not tire

+Loot, Loot, and more Loot!

+Fantastic soundtrack and voice acting (most of the time)

+Great platforming!

+/- Good Story even if some of it doesn’t make sense.

+/- Most of the game is gorgeous there are some muddy textures here and there.

-The game feels like there is still more build up to come and just ends

-One dungeon in the third act felt out of place and unnerved me

– Game crashed and locked up console

Final Score 9/10

 

Darksiders 2

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June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

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