There’s a lot of good writing in Max Payne 3, from its handling of character arcs to Max’s self deprecating narration. I love the moments when Max stops narrating with a noir flourish and just calls someone an asshole. It’s a way of representing his exhaustion though the narration: he’s too tired to think of a metaphor. But what really stands out to me are the seemingly throwaway lines from minor characters that give those characters depth despite their little screen time.
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This discussion contains spoilers for Max Payne 3.
Max Payne 3 is an exciting shooter. The controls allow for some impressive precision. The options of choosing how to target enemies in “hard lock,” “soft lock,” and “free aim” modes separate shooting difficulty from enemy difficulty (which is a great idea that deserves its own blog post). The combat scenarios are varied and interesting. On the whole, it does everything that a good shooter should do, but it takes a very different road to get there. Call of Duty, Gears of War, and the rest are also exciting shooters, but their excitement stems from their sense of empowerment. Playing them is fun because it makes us feel stronger than we really are, capable of going toe-to-toe with an entire army and winning. The same can’t be said about Max Payne 3. Sure, you still go toe-to-toe with armies and win, but just barely. Max Payne 3 is not about empowerment.
There’s a lot of bad exposition in games. Exposition itself isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it’s helpful and even necessary, but video games—with their need to create entire new worlds—constantly fall back on the bad habits of lazy execution: characters explaining things that they already understand or going off on a whole history lesson with the slightest provocation, purely for the sake of the player. It feels forced and leads to bad dialogue, since it’s hard to make an encyclopedia article sound like anything other than an encyclopedia article.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings ends with a massive exposition dump between the protagonist Geralt and his antagonist Letho. This political thriller fantasy game involves dozens of character, all with their own motivations and secret plots, interacting with each other, playing off each other, using each other, and betraying each other. One conspiracy mastermind might just be a pawn in someone else’s larger conspiracy. It’s an incredibly complex web of character relations, and it’s all laid bare in the final conversation of the game: a climactic Q&A session. Some of it is forced—and horribly so—but for the most part The Witcher 2 excels at doling out large doses of information in a very short time. It does the exposition dump right.
There have been three iterations of Alan Wake, even though there’s only been one canonical game. There’s the original Alan Wake, the downloadable content, and the downloadable Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (which is probably canonical, but we can’t be sure until a sequel comes out and confirms it since there’s a frame story that could render everything moot). Over these three games, Alan Wake has evolved in an appropriate way, acknowledging his faults and growing as a character, but what’s more interesting is how the mechanics have evolved with him.
Recently, a fan of the Uncharted games edited together cut scenes and bits of gameplay to create a feature length movie of each game. Personally, this is something that I’ve always wanted to see since just watching the cut scenes in order didn’t present a coherent story.
Watching the three movies, I was surprised by my reaction to the third one. I think that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the best game in the series with the best character arcs, the best writing, and the best plot. Yet, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was the most enjoyable movie of the three. Strangely, I found it more enjoyable for the one thing that’s always better in games than in movies: its combat.