Max Payne is a relic of the past, and he knows it. In the opening moments of Max Payne 3 players see a washed up, burned out shell of a man whose sole purpose in life is to drink and pop pills in an attempt to numb the pain of a life not so well lived. No one expected this joke of a man to ever be brought back from the metaphorical dead, least of all Max himself. While it seemed a bit unusual for Rockstar to resurrect a character who hasn’t been seen for merely a decade save for an awful movie that didn’t exactly help the franchise, I’m glad they did, as the end result is a well-crafted game that deftly mixes the old Max Payne storytelling and mechanics with modern sensibilities.

The clear standout of Max Payne 3 is the script, with some of the sharpest, most darkly humorous writing found in a game. Max narrates the adventure in his traditional noir style, providing a very clear picture of the mental state of a man who’s seen everything in life break the wrong way and who has lived most of his adult life at the end of his rope. The bulk of the story is set in Sao Paolo, a city where Max never thought to find himself, doing a job that he’d never expect. Throughout the course of the plot’s many twists and turns Max provides insightful monologues not only about how things to be going to shit around him, but also the continuous devolution of his own sanity. At several points the game flashes back to Max’s time in New Jersey and his desperate struggle to stay one step ahead of a mob boss who’s out for the former cop’s blood. Throughout it all Rockstar paints a portrait of Max as a fatalistic, cornered man, and someone who is infinitely more dangerous because he’s trapped. Max Payne may be self-sabotaging, but if he goes down you may not want to be in the area, as he’ll be taking a lot of people with him.

Complimenting the emotionally complex script are some humorous lines that are expertly placed to break up tense moments. When Max said that a local special forces unit in Brazil “made the NYPD look like the fucking Hari Krishna” I couldn’t help but grin. There are numerous occasions where otherwise bleak and helpless moments are lightened through a sarcastic quip or darkly funny aside, and all of them further establish Payne as a character who realizes the absurdity of his continued survival against perpetually impossible odds. Max Payne should have died hundreds of times, and no one is more aware of that than the title character himself.

When the talking stops and the bullets start flying Max Payne 3 falters a bit, though it remains impressive overall. Since the franchise basically invented bullet time in video games it’s only reasonable to expect it to come back once again, but at this point it’s more out of nostalgia than as a useful gameplay mechanic. The same goes for finding painkillers as health packs, it’s basically just a throwback to the old days before regenerating health became commonplace. Gunplay feels tight for the most part, and the variety of lock-on features Rockstar provides should make shooting comfortable for nearly all sill levels and player types. There are a few questions about weapon balancing and the amount of punishment enemies can absorb in relation to Max, but I almost never ended up feeling cheated in a shootout.

One aspect I could have done without entirely is the kill cam, which slows down the action whenever Max fells his final enemy in a room and showcases the baddie’s grisly end. Rockstar relishes showing players how impressively they can render entrance and exit wounds while also drawing attention to the spray of blood and bone. Thankfully it’s a feature that can be turned off, because there’s really no reason for it. It’s excessive gore for excessive gore’s sake and honestly nothing more.

I could continue to prattle on about how nice the game looks (which you’d expect from Rockstar) or how immersive the multiplayer is (it’s great, but if you’re not an online shooter type of person you don’t care), but I won’t. Instead I’ll just applaud Max Payne 3 for being a mature, well-crafted game that manages to successfully revive what we all thought to be a franchise that had pretty much run its course. I don’t know where Max goes from here, but if Rockstar is up for making yet another trip into this universe then I’ll definitely be along for the ride.

Broke Gamer Score: 92

On March 7th GameFly shipped me a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In the nearly two months the game has been at my house I’ve played for a grand total of four hours. Every weekend I promise myself I’m going to make some headway, and every weekend I find other ways to distract my attention in ways that don’t involve a boy in a green tunic with a Messianic complex. It’s not that Skyward Sword is a bad game; it isn’t. In fact, it’s one of the most impressive examples of translating the Wii’s technology into an experience core gamers can enjoy. No, it all comes down to the fact that I have an irrational hatred of The Legend of Zelda.

No, wait, I had forgotten about this. All my hatred is totally justified.

I hadn’t really been able to understand my misplaced anger toward Link, Zelda and all of Hyrule until a recent episode of the Power Button podcast. Joey Davidson and I were chastising fellow co-host Matt Green about the fact that he didn’t enjoy Journey, the most recent downloadable title from acclaimed developer That Game Company. Joey and I both raved about how much we loved the game, talking in-depth about the story, its meaning and the emotional resonance we felt during the title’s final segments. Matt was having none of it though, claiming the story was convoluted and the whole experience was boring and non-impactful.

We argued in circles until it came out that Matt simply doesn’t like anything That Game Company makes. It’s not that the genres aren’t to his liking or the games are broken or unfinished, he just finds the whole company to be a bit pretentious and that has colored his experience going into every game they make. He wanted to hate Journey on a subconscious level  before he even started it, so as he played his mind found ways to denigrate the entire experience.

This led to a eureka moment for me, as I finally understood why I haven’t been able to finish a Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. Every time I boot up one of these titles my mind starts screaming “YOU DON’T LIKE THIS GAME AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO HAVE ANY FUN PLAYING IT!” Without fail the experience starts to feel like a chore within an hour or so, and I invariably put the game down at some point and never get around to finishing. I got really close to the end of Spirit Tracks, but even with the end in sight I simply decided that the experience had gone on long enough and I didn’t want to play anymore. This coming from someone who almost always finishes a game, even if I hate it, simply because I’m the type of person who needs to see things through to the absolute end.

Unfortunately, no sooner did I make this Zelda revelation than I discovered it applied to pretty much any game made by Nintendo. While I loved Super Mario Galaxy and it’s sequel, I can’t abide any of the plumber’s other recent games that don’t involve a golf club. I haven’t powered through a Metroid title since the days of the SNES, and even though I loved playing Donkey Kong Country when it got its Wii reboot it sits on a shelf collecting dust with roughly 3 worlds left to go. As it turns out I don’t just hate Zelda, I’m done with Nintendo.

Yep, you too buddy, hate to break it to you.

It’s strange to admit that, seeing as the Nintendo 64 was one of my favorite consoles of all time and how I spent hours upon hours playing Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 and numerous other first-party games. But for some reason things changed with the Gamecube, as I never bought the system and only found myself sparingly playing my friends’ consoles. Then along came the Wii, and early on I was among the frothing masses shouting “sellout!” and accusing Nintendo of forgetting who had brought them here. Even after I came to see the value of what Nintendo was doing by broadening the audience my love for the company never returned, and now I’m left with a strange disdain for the games made by a company I’ve always quite admired.

It’s a strange thing, to not be able to enjoy a developer or publisher’s games for no good reason, but I believe it’s a lot more common than we let on. I think that if we each take a hard look at ourselves then most, if not all, of us will admit that there’s a whole suite of games out there we’re missing out on for reasons we’ve never fully understood. For my part, I’ll say that I have an irrational hatred of Nintendo, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Sadly I haven’t had a lot of time to do a proper Broke Gamer review this month, but fear not as Mass Effect 3 and Final Fantasy XIII-2 will get their treatment in the near future. In the meantime, how about a review excerpt for SSX?

“There are some gimmicks, like the wing suit, which do add a bit of extra excitement to the game. Other levels, such as those which require you to stay in the sun to avoid freezing to death or using a headlamp to see the path ahead, are irritating and not the least bit enjoyable. The very mountains that are meant to be the culmination of all your hard work are almost universal letdowns, and what should be the game’s crowning achievement is instead its weakest feature.

“The real meat of SSX can be found in Explore mode, which lets players pick a rider and some gear and drop into any of the game’s 150 events. This is the area where you’ll likely while away the hours, rerunning tracks and coming up with new lines in the hopes of grabbing the shiniest medal and posting the absolute best time or score. Also hidden along the mountains are Geotags placed by other riders, and each one snagged provides a nice chunk of bonus points for your characters. Even more fun, you can hide your own tags, which will continue to rack up points until someone else finds and claims them.”

Be a buddy and head over to WorthPlaying to check out the rest of the review. It’s easier than falling down a mountain.

It’s only Wednesday, but there has been enough big news in the past three days to fill a year’s worth of offseason headlines. Let’s quickly run through everything that’s happened and get up to speed.

Peyton Manning Signs with the NFL’s Other Horse-Themed Team

The free agent frenzy for Peyton Manning was suitably intense, but thankfully it was also brief. Even though it was reported that the Dolphins, Titans, 49ers and Cardinals were all interested in him, the future Hall of Famer ultimately chose to sign on the dotted line with the Denver Broncos. It was a shrewd move by Peyton, eschewing the idea of a warm homecoming in Tennessee to join a team that has a real chance to contend for a title right away. Last year Denver had the league’s most effective rushing attack, which will be worth its weight in gold when Manning runs his famed play action plays. Also, the Broncos’ defense kept them in a lot of games last year, and now that the team has a QB who can put points on the board in a hurry they should be feasting on opposing teams in a fairly weak AFC West. And hey, the air is thin in Denver, so maybe it doesn’t matter if Peyton has lost some arm strength. Obviously, now the question becomes what happens to Tim Tebow? Well it seems we know the answer to that as well…

The Tim Tebow Circus Sets Up Shop in the Media Capital of the World

News just broke this afternoon that the Broncos have traded Tebow to the NY Jets in exchange for a 4th round draft pick. From a football standpoint Tebow doesn’t offer a lot; aside from coming in for the occasional Wildcat play (remember when that was a thing?), he’s likely going to serve as a backup for made of glass Mark Sanchez. Of all the teams considering Tebow the Jets are the best fit, not because he can add to the team but because they’re about the only franchise that can deal with the ensuing media maelstrom and not really bat an eye. The Jets wanted the Tim Tebow brand, not necessarily the player, and now they can milk his Madison Avenue looks and intensely devoted fanbase for every penny they can.

Sean Payton Gets a Year to Work on His Golf Game 

The last bit of NFL craziness regards the “Bountygate” incident (god I hate it that we add “gate” to everything remotely scandalous), and the penalties are incredibly harsh. In addition to a loss of draft picks and fines Commissioner Roger Goodell has decreed that New Orleans head coach Sean Payton will be suspended for the entire 2012 season. Defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who served as the head of the bounty program, is out indefinitely and should probably start looking for another line of work. Payton previously admitted to knowing about the Williams-led bounty program and openly stated he didn’t do enough to stop it. His decision to take “full responsibility” for what happened meant Goodell had a pretty simple task in front of him, but banning Payton from the league for a full year is still a bit shocking. We’ll see what happens to the Saints when they lose their head coach and offensive play caller for a season.

Whew, crazy week. Isn’t there some sort of draft coming up soon too?

Grrrarrr! Roar!!!!! Eyyyaaaaaaahhhh!!!!

(The translation of the preceding paragraph, as spoken in the native language of Asura, is as follows)

It’s time for another Review Excerpt! This time the game in question is Asura’s Wrath, which as you can guess is about having tea and discussing world issues in a calm and rational manner. No, that’s not true, it’s about smashing things and yelling at people. Still, it’s actually quite fun! If you want to check out the full review then head on over to WorthPlaying for all the rage-filled text and fury-driven score.

“Dismissing the game because of its abundance of QTEs would be a tragic mistake, though, as Asura’s Wrath introduces a great cast of very colorful characters and delightfully ludicrous moments. One boss fight culminates with your foe growing to a size greater than that of the Earth itself and attempting to crush you with a finger. Another showcases a sword so long and sharp that it can literally bisect the entire planet. Even the game’s few quiet moments are expertly milked for maximum effect, creating a perfectly paced experience that can easily sweep you up. The only real misstep is that Asura is incredibly unlikable, speaking almost exclusively in grunts and yells and refusing to dial it down for a moment. Yes, I know the name of the game isn’t Asura’s Diplomatic Resolution to Complex Issues, but it could still do with giving him a volume other than yelling at full blast.”

"I'm here to kill your studio and eat your money."

This morning contained some heartbreaking news, as we found out that Obsidian, the studio behind Fallout: New Vegas and numerous other titles is on the brink of ruin. The company had to lay off several employees yesterday, and also saw their next-gen game projects canned. Today we got a peek behind the curtain, as we learned that a big reason for the sudden issues was that Obsidian missed an important benchmark to receive royalties and bonuses for sales of New Vegas. That benchmark, a Metacritic score of 85. What did they get? An 84.

I’ve railed against the very concept of Metacritic in the past, and virtually everyone I talk to in the industry agrees it’s a terrible metric. Media hates it because it takes complex, suggestive concepts and attempts to aggregate them in an objective manner. Developers hate it because many times their contracts are written in such a way that they only get real money for the work they put in if their game scores exceptionally high, and PR people despise the pressure it puts on them to get scores up so everyone makes their benchmark. The only people who like Metacritic are the super-high-ups who use it as an analytic and see the world in numbers and spreadsheets. But this isn’t an article about why Metacritic goes away (because it never will), but rather a piece about who’s to blame for this situation. And I’m sorry to say fellow media types, but it’s us.

The fundamental flaw of “game journalism” (or game writing, or reporting, or whatever you want to call it), is that there is no required level of standards for entry. All you need is an Internet connection and an opinion to be a part of the “games media,” and as well all know it tends to be the folks with the most negative things to say who get the most attention. Because of the mass influx of writers the media landscape is a savage one, with websites constantly battling for eyeballs. Oftentimes, the best way to do this is to be as outrageous or combative as possible. I love the Destructoid crew and think they do great work, but would that site be even remotely as popular as it is without human rage ball Jim Sterling? Would anyone ever talk about Edge Magazine if it weren’t for the fact that they often score triple-A, mainstream games well below their contemporaries?

The games media, rolling the dice with developers' futures since 2005.

When it comes to reviewing games there’s a very clear dividing line amongst publications. Those outlets which secure exclusive coverage rights, be it the first announcement of a game, a cover story, an exclusive interview or something else, are often more generous in their reviews. I won’t name names about what outlets promise scores in exchange for coverage, but it happens, and it’s shameful. On the other side of the fence are the smaller sites trying to make a name for themselves, and for that group it’s often a race to the bottom. You don’t stand out on Metacritic by being one of the outlets that gave a game a 7 or 8 out of 10, you get attention when you’re either at the top or the bottom of the scale. Since ours is an inherently snarky profession, a lot of perfectly decent games get torpedoed by websites trying to draw eyeballs because they gave the season’s big release a 5 out of 10.

That of course raises another issue; the fact that, say it with me now, REVIEW SCORES ARE MEANINGLESS. the number, which carries oh so much weight, is the least thought about factor in any review. It’s another aspect of the industry that faces universal hatred, and yet nothing can be done about it because it’s too ingrained in the culture. We’re never going to banish review scores, but we damn sure better unify them before we wreck more lives. Right now some outlets treat a 5 out of 10 as average, while others look at it as barely playable. Metacritic doesn’t adjust scores, so if your site’s 5 is another site’s 7 then guess what? You just inadvertently screwed over someone who put years of their life into making the game you took a week or less to review.

And therein lies the thesis to this diatribe. If we’re going to continue to score reviews and to let Metacritic be the standard for such judgements then it’s time to set some ground rules. Outlets of repute need to come together and create some sort of unified scale, and strike a deal that only those magazines and websites which follow the guidelines set forth can be used as measures for Metacritic and thus influence developer contracts. There would need to be policing and compliance set up so that outlets couldn’t just swear fealty to the system and then continue to undermine the industry, but without order we submit to chaos, and perfectly good developers like Obsidian pay the price for our lack of consistency and professionalism.

In the midst of finding a new job, preparing to move and dealing with the ins and outs of everyday life I haven’t had a ton of time for gaming lately. That’s sad because Mass Effect 3 is out and I’ve been dying to play it for a while. Actually, my wife has been wanting it worse than I have, and has subsequently declared the Xbox as her own. As a result, I’ve only put in about seven hours on the game, but I’ve been hearing grumblings all over the Internet about the ending. So here’s my two cents on the matter as someone who has loved this series for years but is nowhere near the end.

First off, understand that I DO NOT know how the game ends nor do I want to. Given the general outrage I can piece together what I expect is going to happen, but I’m not aware of specifics. Still, I assume it’s pretty bleak.

My thought on the matter is simply this; have you enjoyed the Mass Effect experience up until now? If so then shut up and enjoy the ride. This is one of the deepest, most nuanced and complex trilogies in modern gaming, with such rich lore and characters that I’m already planning to rerun the entire series at least one more time when I’m done to see some of the different ways things can work out. I’ve become invested in the game’s cast, even feeling bad when I had to break the heart of one former romantic interest in order to repair my relationship with another. I’ve spent countless hours talking to crew members and learning their histories, their hopes and their fears; I’ve struggled over choices in missions where neither outcome was particularly welcome but I was forced to make a tough call anyway. I’ve sent friends off to die and wondered down the line if I made the right call. In short, this is the first franchise that I’ve ever invested so heavily in and felt true ownership of MY story.

With all that in mind, I don’t believe my love for the franchise can be undone with an ending, regardless of what it may be. Yes, I want to stop the Reapers and see the Normandy and her crew land safely back on Earth to a heroes’ welcome. But I don’t expect that to happen, because it wouldn’t fit with the franchise. Mass Effect has always been about the struggle to survive against impossible odds. There have been sacrifices along the way, and I expect there will be more. The “happy ending” doesn’t fit here, it just can’t be that simple. As long as the races of the galaxy somehow hold on, I’m going to be okay, and that’s why I don’t care how Mass Effect ends.

Of course, if the Reapers win and everyone dies I’m going to be pissed, and will be right there railing against it all and demanding the ending be changed.

First off, apologies for getting this post up so late in the week. It’s been very busy lately, so I’ve been hard-pressed to get this post done. Rest assured though that I am still in the challenge and have no intentions of stopping now!

Courtesy of Fox

Week 3 Day 1: Run 1.5 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes; run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes x2

This week the program actually takes a bit of  a step back, as even though I’m running the same cumulative amount of time the workouts are actually a bit shorter due to the reduced reps. It’s too bad I didn’t realize this on the first run of the week, because I went back to the big lake and was done exercising after about 1.75 miles. That left me with another full mile to walk and then some, so I vastly overestimated the workout. Sadly the only other viable jogging option I have is running around my apartment complex, and that’s considerably less fun.

Week 3 Day 2: Same routine

Today was not going to be a fun day; Barbara had a sore knee and I slightly strained a hamstring so both of us are hurting. We opted to run around our apartment complex, and as I predicted it was not fun. Between the different route and the pain in my leg my mile splits were way off from the week before, and I’m not very happy with how the week is going so far. Barbara managed to complete the run but her knee wasn’t feeling great afterwards.

Week 3 Day 3: Same routine

It’s too bad we had such a bad jog around the apartment complex Thurs because we’re going to be forced to run it again today. The entire lake we’ve been running at was closed all weekend for a yachting regatta (the 1% ruin it for the rest of us yet again), so we were stuck. I had another slow day and even though Barbara’s knee is feeling a bit better it still wasn’t great. The important thing is we made it through the week, so that’s a win.

The takeaway here is I run like a girl.

Overall I have to admit that this was a rather disappointing week, but I suppose you’ll have that from time to time. The next batch of runs are a bit longer and feel more like actual distance training, so I’m looking forward to putting these short, slow runs behind me. Also, we can head back to the lake next week, which will help out quite a bit in terms of pacing and just generally keeping things interesting. If anyone else is out there participating in the program know that it’s ok to have a week where things feel a bit off, just keep after it and it’ll improve.

As you probably already know, I started up this site is a way of coping with finding myself unemployed. It was a pretty dark time, and my hope was that finally starting up my own blog would give me some hope and channel some of my energy in a positive way. The site’s done all that and more, and I’m having a great time providing my own personal, unfiltered view on pretty much whatever catches my fancy. Even though this site was birthed in darkness, a bright ray of light has burst forth, as I just learned yesterday that I’ll be starting a new job in April.

Starting next month, I work here.

If you happen to follow my Twitter feed then you already know that I’ve accepted a position as a Communications Specialist at EA Sports, working on the Madden and NCAA Football franchises. It’s really a dream come true, and I can’t wait to start representing a couple of the games that I play every single year. For those of you who know me personally you understand that my love of games is only rivaled by my love of football, so this really the best of both worlds.

The big question is, what happens to the site? I’m happy to say that I have no intentions of abandoning the blog, though there will be a few changes. First off, I won’t be reviewing any EA games, sports or otherwise, starting in April. It’s absolutely a conflict of interest for me to do so, and I want you to know that you can always trust what I’m writing on this site. These reviews are for you, funded by you, so I won’t write about the games made by my employer. Also, I won’t review games that are direct competitors, so when 2K launches their next NBA game then I won’t review it. I haven’t decided how to handle more disconnected relations like Call of Duty, but I’m willing to go with whatever the community consensus is on that matter.

Lastly, there will most likely be some EA Sports-related posts going up on the page from time to time, but I’m only going to be posting things which I believe the community will enjoy. This blog isn’t going to become a marketing channel, and if it does then I’ll simply shut it down.

I hope that you’ll see the site for what it is and what it will continue to be, my way of contributing in some small way to the community that’s provided so much. If you no longer trust my writing because you think I’ve been corrupted by “The Man” then that’s your prerogative. You’re wrong, but I’m not going to argue with you to try and make you change your mind. I’m so grateful for the opportunity EA has given me, and I’m grateful to all of you for sticking with me on this journey. In gaming parlance, the rest of this month is going to be like one long-ass loading screen, and then starting next month I’ll be tackling a brand new level.

A funny thing happened on the way to the latest Broke Gamer review, two of the three games on the list for voting were assigned to me for review by another website. With that in mind, I’m proud to present the next game up on the hit parade…

Congrats on the honor, oh character who barely appears in the game.

If you were hoping to see a review of Asura’s Wrath or SSX then don’t panic, they’re coming too! Although you’ll have to check out the full reviews on WorthPlaying, I’ll still provide excerpts over here.

 

Don't worry, we're getting reviewed too!