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Critical Hit: Payne Killers

Critical Hit: Payne Killers

I don’t care if Max Payne 3 features a time-jumping narrative where fans get to play (for some of the time at least) a more familiar looking character – Max Payne 3 will still not be a Max Payne game to me. It doesn’t even matter how brooding Max is this time, or if I spend the entire game flipping between listening to inner monologues and jumping around in slow-motion – it will still not be a Max Payne game.

Now, I can be accused of being a tad stubborn, and you might rightly point out that it’s a little silly to voice such an opinion before playing the final version of the game, but stay with me.

Forget that this so-called third instalment in the comic book noir-styled franchise isn’t being produced by the original studio, Remedy Entertainment. The Call of Duty series is still every bit Call of Duty regardless of whether it’s Infinity Ward or Treyarch behind the wheel, and Tomb Raider even managed to improve when it was pried from Core Design’s cold, dead hands. No, it’s not the change of developer that’s the problem, nor even the fact that Max Payne 3 is being developed by four – four! – Rockstar studios in conjunction. These are just worrisome footnotes to my concern.

Critical Hit: Payne Killers
Max? Is that you?

What really bothers me are the changes these studios seem to be wreaking. Max Payne is all about the character; the tormented man living in a dark, gritty and forlorn city; a pre-Giuliani-era NYC wrought with drug addicts, low-lives and scum. It’s about taking part in a living, breathing graphic novel, hearing the inner thoughts of a protagonist wracked with guilt for not saving his family, and trying to come to terms with his grief through bloodshed.

The third, however, dramatically relocates the story from the monochromatically mean streets of the Big Apple to the sunnier, over-saturated climes of Sao Paulo. Where’s the noir? Where’s the guilt? Where’s his damn hair? Why has the grizzled city cop in a leather jacket suddenly become a bald, beer-bellied mercenary in a Hawaiian shirt? Maybe this question is what will drive Max Payne 3’s story, but I doubt I’ll be able to enjoy the journey through that given how much I loathe the destination.

Critical Hit: Payne Killers
Excuse me Kane or Lynch, I'm looking for Max Payne...

Max Payne is what makes a Max Payne game. You can take the character away from his native New York (though why would you want to?), but to change what makes the character Max is to take the soul out of the franchise and turn it into something else. That’s why this isn’t a Max Payne game to me; merely Grumpy Old Man Shooter.

Rockstar can call it Max Payne 3 if it wants to, but for me it will be nothing more than a Super Mario Bros 2 instalment in the franchise. Yes, it will include the characters (in name at least) and some of the core gameplay mechanics, but it won’t have the soul of what’s gone before. It simply won't be Max Payne. You may as well include an ability for Max to harvest turnips too.

Critical Hit is a twice-monthly column exploring the state of the games industry.

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