Max Payne 3 is out of the gate after 9 years since the last game in the series, and though it is an incredible experience with fantastic gunplay, it's not a perfect title with minor flaws that could easily be fixed for the sequel. I've been playing it a lot recently, so I thought I'd write about it. Its certainly my favorite game thus far this year, but I wanted to see how I could improve on a sequel or fix its issues, so here's what I would do, personally:
- Less cutscenes, more control: In Max Payne 3, the game cleverly used cutscenes to mask load times and often switched so quickly and seamlessly that it had you scrambling to fire some shots or take cover. Unfortunately, they had a tendency to appear much too often. Though not as long as the cutscenes in the Metal Gear Solid series, the game missed an opportunity to have certain moments be playable and had a few go on for a few minutes too long, some even happening mid game or one shootout immediately after the last one.
How to improve: Try to space out the time between cutscenes, with some moments being presented within gameplay instead of cutting away for a better shot (like when listening in on some baddies or taking a walk through a police station). Some of the mid-level cutscenes could be more optional so players could skip them or not have to watch them on a second or third playthrough unless they wanted to. For example, when performing certain side actions like finding an Easter egg or talking to an NPC, which the game did on occasion and which the earlier titles did to trigger a hidden comic panel.
- Improved check point system/return quick saving: In Max Payne 3, the old manual save system was replaced by a new checkpoint system that let you focus on the game while it saved your progress automatically. The problem is that in older titles it was a bit more necessary due to the risk of running low on health or ammo in a bad area, and while this game does a better job of that (and still allows you to revert to a previous checkpoint if you spent too many painkillers in one battle), the checkpoints had a tendency to be spread too far apart and sometimes force you to rewatch a cutscene. Several levels in particular would send you back 10 or 15 minutes if you died before reaching the next checkpoint.
How to improve: While a return to a manual save is a good thing, it would mean the player having to remember when to save, and could cheapen the difficulty curve if a player often reverts to save when losing even a tiny bit of health. The pacing is done well enough with ammo and health that an improved checkpoint system would be all I ask for, or perhaps a dual system (like in Mass Effect 3) which has checkpoints in combat, but allows you to manually save in between combat segments if you don't trust the checkpoint they give you, which I think would be the best solution.
- Overly linear progression through levels: In the original Max Payne titles, you weren't exactly given a sandbox to roam around and it was still very scripted in some areas, but it offered a lot of exploration. While Max Payne 3 has some exploration to offer (with golden guns, pain killers, hidden weapons and clues strewn throughout a level and its side paths), more often than not I feel like I'm being led in one direction and punished for going in another. The game has Max monologue about the direction you should be going, and some levels even fail you if you take too long to get somewhere (which would be fine for one level, but several is a bit much).
How to improve: Lower the urgency in some levels to allow room for more stress free exploration, offer more hidden areas and places with hidden clues and weaponry, as well as side paths or rooms that can still lead to the same area. Maybe offer branching segments like in Gears of War. They could also offer an improved difficulty curving like the first two games offered, subtly changing things and taking a cue from Left 4 Dead's The Director to change scenarios while also keeping the difficulty curve from ramping up too much or getting too easy. Opening up combat options is also a fantastic way to do improve on the linearity, by offering certain actions (like dangling off a chain or using a human hostage) as actions you can do more periodically on your own, instead of them happening only when the game makes you.
- Story has some filler levels, some characters and twists aren't that compelling: The story in Max Payne 3 is amazing, don't get me wrong, and I think it's an improvement on the hammy overdone noir styling of the previous two games, but it's not a perfect story. The overlong and frequent cutscenes exist because the story is a bit too ambitious, but too many levels feel like uneventful filler just to add to the length that could be cut out and still not affect the tale. Some of the characters (like Marcelo and Passos) reveal a hidden complexity to them, but too many of the other characters like Fabiana or Da Silva not getting enough time to reveal more interesting qualities to themselves that are only hinted at. Max himself is a great character, but he comes off as too depressing, both in his internal monologue and dialogue, which makes him come off as more one note then his great backstory and character should allow.
How to improve: Though cutting down on cutscenes might seem counter to attempting to make this work, by simply streamlining the story and making each level matter I think we'd be able to reveal more on the tale and characters without having an uneventful level that doesn't feel like a necessary part of the tale. The length wouldn?t have to be reduced, but the characters could shine more and the tale would make more sense and be easier to follow while still being as impressive. Max should also show some more traits or more focus on the future, since his character deserves more layers and more in common with the less depressing Max Payne from the first game, to show some hope in the midst of all the hopelessness, especially given the adversity he overcomes that should make him come off feeling a little less sorry for himself. I'm not asking that he turn into a cocky and happy action hero, but his constant moaning could be a little more varied in tone with more emphatic reactions to certain events, even if it's just more small hints that he is a better person then he comes off as (such as when he contemplated executing a man in the intro, or shows care for the people he is trying to protect).
- Set pieces could take more advantage of bullet time, use more variety: Max Payne 3 has a lot of well-done set pieces, but none of them seem to reach the vast "wow" moments of the Uncharted series or Call of Duty 4. Often they recycle certain set pieces, like having Max falling off something while shooting people in bullet time, or having him dangle off a chain while in bullet time, as well as several turret segments (which to the game's credit, do change things up and feel different from each other). The game just seems to lack any singular moments that stand apart from the others, and some of the cool things tend to happen in cutscenes.
How to improve: Simply make an effort to make the set pieces work better and feel bigger or more unique. To the game's credit there are some moments that are unique from the others, but they are few and far between and tend to be less wowing then the offerings of other games in this department. If they crafted levels around bigger set pieces, while throwing in minor moments that utilize bullet time effectively while not over using ones that are too similar, that would be great. Dangling on a chain while shooting dudes once is great, several times is a bit overdone, while unique moments like the zip line fire fight were too quick and uneventful. Just throw in one or two good moments per level and a few really well thought out, well-crafted and unique moments in the game and it will really set itself apart from other shooters and host memorable water cooler discussions.
- Some lacking finesse: Max Payne takes its influence from Hong Kong action films, and while the action is stylish is feels a bit like its lacking in some style. It's fantastic to dual wield a couple of guns and mow down baddies in the air, but the lack of control over both weapons and the unsatisfying belly flopping of Max as he lands isn't too graceful. Another less annoying issue is the lack of control over dual weapons, Max must fire them at the same time and reload them at the same time, which takes away some of the tactical element of other titles that allow you to dual wield (such as The Darkness and Modern Warfare), while somehow allowing Max to aim down both sights (with his magic eyeballs I guess).
How to improve: I?m not saying to turn Max into a superhuman, the difficulty and ease with which Max can be killed adds a human element, but it would be nice if he could use the environment to his advantage a bit more. The technology is there, going down a slope or stairs can often result in Max sliding when he falls or dives, so it's a matter of letting certain flat surfaces (like tables) allow you to slide gracefully. Allowing control of both guns is easier, simply don't allow shoulder aim and let both triggers or mouse buttons fire each weapon individually, this would allow more control when using a weapon like a sawn off with a desert eagle, and not letting the game autopilot fire when you have a semi auto in one hand and an automatic in another. It does make sense since Max himself shouldn't be able to accurately aim down two weapons anyways.
- Certain polish issues, like connection problems and collision detection issues: Sometimes in Max Payne 3 you'll dive flawlessly over a table one time, then a similar dive will get you caught up, the last man standing will fail due to the enemy being behind a wall when he hit you, the weapons will occasionally aim at the ceiling when in cover instead of the enemy, and connection issues in multiplayer are much too present.
How to improve: Simply fix these I suppose I could say, but to go into detail I'd tweak the engine a bit to account for aiming too close to walls, and I'd have the matchmaking improved or simply use dedicated servers (especially on the PC version where matchmaking isn?t that great). With last man standing it would also be good to have Max fall more in the direction of the shooter or allow simple penetration so an enemy can't hide behind a thin wall simply because it's an indestructible in game object, just minor additions to fix up the small issues it has on occasion.
- Miscellaneous additions (co-op, grenades): Max Payne 3 has a fantastic co-op mode and great gameplay, but it does feel like its missing a couple of things from other shooters. Mainly I would point out to the lack of co-op (which is only available in a DLC pack) and grenades (which oddly can be used online and by enemies, but never by Max, even though Max does have access to other explosive weaponry and could use them in previous titles).
How to improve: Simply add co-op, story focused mission packs as your online character would be a good addition, as would a standoff mode allowing you to play as Max and his ally or allies in a Payne Killer type mode, minus the human enemies and with a few more extra features to differentiate it from Payne Killer and similar horde type modes on the shooter market. As for grenades it would be easy to map them to a button for switching and another for throwing, since the game doesn't use too many buttons or keys it could be a simple addition that adds more options to the combat.
Overall, I think Max Payne 3 is an incredible game with a well written tale of betrayal and sorrow that uses the fantastic setting to great effect in gameplay, with some of the best combat and addictive shooting mechanics I can think of. There are just things I?d like to see them improve on for the next outing (if a sequel ever happens) and are really just my personal thoughts on what I'd like.
Also, go buy this game if you haven't, its great.