Games

'Max Payne 3' Isn't The Max Payne You Remember

Max Payne 3 strikes a perfect balance between the gritty and the gamey.


Max Payne 3

Publisher: Take Two
Rated: Mature
Players: 1
Price: $59.00
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: Rockstar
Release date: 2012-05-15
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Max Payne 3 is not the Max Payne you remember. This is a distinctly different game both in style and tone, the noirish sensibilities of previous games having been replaced with a gritty and deadly serious crime drama. Whether that’s good or bad depends entirely on personal preference, but it’s worth knowing before diving in.

It makes sense then that the old noir visual style would be replaced with something else, and in its place, is a flashy style that seeks to assault you with various visual tics: color separation, writing text on the screen, double vision, cutting up the screen 24-style, and a couple of others. Rockstar has cited Tony Scott’s Man on Fire as a direct inspiration, and it shows.

Unfortunately, Rockstar also shares Mr. Scott’s habit of over-stylization. It seems like not five seconds can pass without some visual trick, regardless of what’s going on. It’s most jarring in the beginning when things are fairly calm yet the screen still flashes and flickers as if Max is having a seizure. It gets better as the game goes on though, much, much better. Not because the style becomes less obvious, but because once Max begins his downward spiral, the visuals perfectly encapsulate the feeling of coming unhinged. What once took you out of the game now sucks you in to an uncomfortable degree. You can really feel the alcohol, pills, adrenaline, and stress wearing on Max. It doesn’t feel good, but this is what makes Max Payne 3 so special; it’s mechanics embrace modern shooter conventions, like cover and checkpoints, but the overall tone established by those mechanics is anything but the conventional empowering hero worship that most shooters cling to.

Max Payne 3 is not an empowering game. Sure, there are plenty of exciting cinematic moments, and Max is certainly capable with a gun, but the story is a downer that stacks failure after failure on your back and escalates from there. This weighs on Max, and it will weigh on you. The tone is so bleak and brutal it makes GTA look like a kid’s game. It might be hard to take at times, but the writing and acting are so uniformly excellent that it is also hard to look away.

The brutality and disempowerment are reflected in the combat. Max can take cover now, but he’s also weaker than ever. Bullets do a lot of damage, so cover is necessary during the bigger firefights later in the game, but unlike most cover-based shooters, there’s no regenerating health. This is partly what makes Max feel so vulnerable. Damage actually matters, and you can’t come back from the verge of death without using up an important resource: pain killers. The game rations these out at a good pace, always giving you just enough to feel uncomfortably exposed but never too little that you get stuck in a loop fighting a fight that you can’t win.

The best new combat mechanic is called Last Man Standing: As long as you’re carrying some pain killers, you won’t die if an enemy gets a kill shot on you. Instead the game goes into bullet time, and if you can shoot your would-be killer before times runs out, you’ll survive -- though you will still use up a pain killer. It’s a great system that keeps the game's pace moving forward. There’s no waiting behind cover for health to refill, and you don’t have to stop fighting to look for health packs when hurt. It keeps combat center stage while also highlighting Max’s vulnerability. The Last Man Standing moments are exciting to watch and play, but they also remind you that you almost died. Combat as a whole is thrilling, not because Max is powerful, but because he barely scrapes by.

All this creates a game that just flows. Max Payne 3 could be used to teach proper pacing in game design. Cut scenes are long, but they’re well acted and written and push the plot forwards. And they always lead directly into some cinematic gun battle, which then leads back into a cut scene. No matter how dark or graphic things get, the game is so well paced that you won’t want to stop.

Sadly, for all the praise that I’m lavishing on the single player elements, the same can’t be said of the multiplayer. Which is not to say that the multiplayer is bad, but it never rises above competent. You kill, rank up, earn new stuff, choose loadouts, kill again, rank up again, etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. Having bullet time affect everyone is an interesting concept that adds nothing in execution. Your opponent still shoots you while you shoot him; bullet time is only relevant if you get the drop on someone, but at that point, it’s so easy to kill people -- why waste your bullet time?

Without going off on too much of a tangent, this is the most frustrating kind of multiplayer any developer can make since no one will be playing it in six months. However, it still stole development time and money from the single player game. This raises the question, could the single player be better if no time and money was wasted on the multiplayer? Thankfully, the single player in Max Payne 3 is so good that it assuages these fears, but the fact that there’s a multiplayer mode at all is a sad sign of the times -- at least there’s no online pass.

Max Payne 3 strikes a perfect balance between the gritty and the gamey: the way Max slows to a walk when you’re about to trigger a cut scene, so that you’re never surprised by the switch; the way the reticule turns into a cross when you kill a guy so you know exactly when to stop shooting at him; the way Max is slow to stand, as if exhausted and old; how the inventory limits you to only what Max can realistically carry. All of these tricks and more create an immersive experience that washes over you. This is definitely one of the best shooters of the year, and easily the best shooter that Rockstar has ever made.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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