Sunday, August 24

Rose Coloured Glasses: Max Payne 3

Note: This post contains major spoilers for Max Payne 3.

When I first played through Max Payne 3's brutal single player campaign, the shocking depictions of violence are what stuck with me in the aftermath. Sometimes I'd be playing some relatively light-hearted fare like Rayman Origins, only to think back to Marcelo's immolation at the hands of the Cracha Preto, or the holes I'd pushed through some poor schmuck's face with my automatic pistol.

It was powerful. It was shocking. It hung around like trauma.

I loved the game because, and in spite of, these displays of gratuity. I can remember looking away from the TV when I thought someone's death was imminent, even Max's. Sure this meant I failed the odd quick time event, but it also meant I could sleep at night. It meant that I could stomach the tension of shootouts and close encounters with militiamen. It meant eventually seeing the impossible tidiness of Max's redemption.

Recently I've felt the urge to return to glitzy (and grimy) Sao Paolo, but that was effectively tempered by my unwillingness to pull the Xbox 360 out of storage and hook it up to an entertainment system which is at capacity (in terms of HDMI ports and shelf space). Thankfully, Steam came to the rescue with an unbelievable bargain: the game plus all downloadable content for a measly 8 US dollars.

It may have taken 3 days to download, but it was well worth the wait.

Despite my laptop struggling with the neon noir presentation (especially scene transitions) and the pin stripe of Max's suit, it's been a relatively smooth ride. Shootdodging against hordes of gang bangers occurred at a reasonable clip (just shy of what I assume to be 30 frames per second), my "rig" just can't handle the raw emotional power of Rockstar's scripted sequences. Voicework usually played out of sync with the rendered actors and my hardware approached alarming temperatures, but we got through in the end.

What was most surprising was just how well the action held up. I can remember complaining that I found the damage model (read: how you accrue damage) to be inconsistent, but this time around it felt just fine. I mean, you should go from dandy to deathbed after being hit with a sniper rifle or up close with a shotgun, shouldn't you. Also, since when have video games been known for realistic portrayals of pain thresholds in the human body? With a bit of patience, any combat situation is easily cleared - the only exceptions being 2 not-quite-boss fights in the penultimate chapter. If you take the time to search your surrounds and find a few bottles of painkillers, it's even more likely that you'll live to shoot your way through another day.

Back to the action, leaping through a dangerous battlefield in slow motion and peppering anything in your sight with precisely placed projectiles is still super cool. Pulling away from cover could be less awkward, but I'd be unreasonable for labelling that as anything other than a slight annoyance. It is bloody and gross fun perforating heads and body parts with a wide arsenal that covers everything from several variations of the modest pistol to the rocket launcher.

What really sets this slightly aged masterpiece apart from 2 years’ worth of blockbusters is Health's original soundtrack that even makes a title screen sad enough to force your head between hands. The stirring string arrangements that punctuate the bullets and blood (and usually accompany the titular character drinking and drugging himself into a stupor) are, with hindsight, more haunting than any instance of gun violence. It lingers, playing through my head whenever anything fails to go to plan. The grimy, foreboding tracks that are played throughout the bullet ballet are just as -- for lack of a better word -- catchy, and I've had the album on regular rotation since I started downloading the game last week.

One interesting observation, particularly after having just started playing the Tomb Raider reboot, is that the game tends to fetishise death. I was almost glad to see the camera focus on Max's death mask and various angles of blood spatter after having been subjected to arguably erotic angles on Lara Croft's multiple and gruesome demises. Granted, Tomb Raider seems that little bit more uncomfortably preoccupied with the protagonist's agony in the throes of death, but at least now I can find an example of this treatment on a man.

While we're on the topic of problematic treatment of women in games, they exist only to be saved in Max Payne 3. I realise this ties in heavily with both the noir theme and the premise of the original, but even the strongest (and, if memory serves, only surviving) woman character is shown to have some serious flaws and has to be saved by the lead male. It could also be argued that Giovanna is the only woman to survive because she exhibits some positive behaviours and is thus worthy of saving.

So, two years on, Max Payne 3 is still very much worthy of your time. If 10 hours of bloody, bullet-riddled mayhem didn’t sound appealing upon its release, it’s not going to be any more attractive to you now. That being said, I again found myself falling for and with Max from failure to stomach-turningly grisly failure. If you’re looking for a third person shooter with a compelling story and solid, cover-based shooting action, I can recommend this (again) without hesitation. 

Friday, August 22


Hurt her and I'll kill you
I know people
I'm sure you're a nice guy
But I'm watching you

An idol threat aptly made
It showed that you care
That you're all scared and crazy
In hindsight, I mean

At the time it felt excessive
Now I feel like it could've served others
Too late now
Now we feel its absence

Sunday, August 17


Dad used to play games before children arrived
Dad beat the high score on Frogger
Dad had his score wiped by the first, crawling
Dad drank a carton to quell his frustration
Dad doesn't game anymore

Dad raised three boys
Dad was asked by the eldest to stop smoking
Dad didn't think to ween himself off nicotine
Dad was all willpower
Dad quit cold turkey

Dad wanted a staircase
Dad asked his boys for help
Dad offered nothing more in return
Dad would wait years to reach the bottom floor
Dad was patient

Dad worked from dawn
Dad did not observe public holidays
Dad had trouble sleeping
Dad always answered his phone
Dad provided for all but himself

Dad drove his sons to work
Dad asked for nothing in return
Dad advised his sons to "Get a license."
Dad ran a taxi service
Dad never got paid his due

Dad received his diagnosis
Dad kept working
Dad fought with his hands
Dad could no longer trust his body
Dad started slipping away

Dad missed his boys
Dad waited for them to return
Dad would remember loose dates as promises
Dad wants nothing more
Dad is still waiting

Dad left the country
Dad forgot his friends and family
Dad forgot who he was
Dad pissed his pants
Dad was so ashamed

Dad fought for his life
Dad was never threatened
Dad tried to make his escape
Dad was surrounded
Dad is alone

Tuesday, August 12

To end

I've never felt the urge to end
I never hope to
I feel for those that do

To have death as an option
As an alternative
Sometimes you just need to rest

To know you'll never wake again
Never feel that tightness
No more anxiety, no more emptiness

A charming prospect, I'm sure
But please, don't leave
We need you

I need you
I'll miss you
I love you

Monday, August 11

Friendly Fire: A Hearthstone Adventure

We ate lunch with my folks
We drank beer
I don't drink beer

Ideology, faith and family
Never a good mix
Pick one, discard the rest

We could've sat in silence
Instead we engaged
Battled hate speech with humanity

You sometimes fight
Even though you might not believe, at least not as strongly
Fascinating, if not admirable

You can't play a card you've not been dealt
Yet somehow, you did. You always do
Rebel Nerd

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut (Wii U) Review Notes

I reviewed Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011. A lot of my observations still hold true, but I thought I'd summarize what the Wii U version of the Director's Cut brings to the table:
  • The Missing Link DLC is entirely disposable from both plot and play perspectives. I understand why the developers chose to limit the use of augmentations, because as an additional opportunity to earn experience, the odds would be stacked squarely in the player's favour. Still, it feels somewhat cheap to be limited in what are relatively difficult combat scenarios. There's a lot more trial and error at play in this new segment, but in the end it still contains the same elements that made the core game so special. 
  • I found side missions and areas that I failed to notice in 1.5 subsequent playthroughs of the core game. 
  • Thanks to the experience I earned playing through the Missing Link and through finding additional missions and interactions, I unlocked every augmentation that I wanted to use... and started unlocking upgrades that I wouldn't even think to use. 
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution is looking more and more awkward and robotic as time progresses. 
  • Off TV support is fantastic: touch controls for menus, keypads, screens and keyboards are super responsive. The only complaint I have is that everything looks a little washed out.  
  • The Wii U Gamepad is a perfect, awkward match for Human Revolution. 
I picked up Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut for just under 20 bucks at EBGames. Well worth the cost of admission in my eyes. Even with the damage done by Father Time, this is still a compelling story that feels better with a Gamepad in your hands.