further thoughts on Max and Diablo

Gotta say – it’s really nice to be playing real games again.

I ended up finishing Max Payne 3 in one 12-hour sitting on Thursday, and then dabbled in enough of the multiplayer to unlock a few new modes, although I haven’t messed with those yet.

Patrick Klepek, on the most recent Giant Bombcast, said something that’s stuck with me for the last few days, the general idea of which is that he liked the game a lot but wasn’t sure if it was special, the way that GTA or Red Dead was.  I’ve been wondering the same thing myself.  I kinda wish I hadn’t finished it in only one sitting, that instead of powering through it in one day that I finished the campaign over the course of a dew days or a week.  The thing is, the game is exquisitely paced and it’s very hard to put down, and when you’re stuck at home feeling shitty, and there’s nothing else you’d rather do (especially since the Diablo 3 servers are still crap), why wouldn’t you keep playing?

You know what it reminded me of, even though the two franchises couldn’t have less in common?  Uncharted 2/3.  Bear with me here.   The thing that struck me the most in those two Uncharted games was the art direction’s astonishing attention to detail – every single nook and cranny of every single area looked different and unique and lived in, with very few obvious shortcuts.  Lots of games repeat themselves – walls will have repeating textures, buildings on opposite ends of the city/country/galaxy will have similar floorplans, and every enemy you kill might as well be a clone of the one before.   Not so in Uncharted, and not so in Max Payne 3.  Every chapter had its own unique look and feel and rhythm, and while Max might not look as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Uncharted, it’s still pretty damned close.*

Another thing that Max and Uncharted have in common is that there are thousands of enemies, and a lot of those enemies require a LOT of bullets in order to die.  At least in Max’s case, though, having him kill that many people doesn’t cause as much of a weird disconnect, the way it does with Nathan Drake.  Nathan is a charming, adventurous, personable guy who happens to kill hundreds of people during the course of his journey.  Max, on the other hand, is a man who has been through more terrible shit than pretty much any man alive, a man who can only function in this fucked-up world though the total and constant obliteration of his senses through whisky and pills.   According to my Social Club stats, I’ve killed over 1600 enemies during my campaign (and a few runs through one level of Arcade Mode), and Max is a character who feels the weight of every single kill, even if they all deserved what they got.

I only finished the game on Easy Mode.  Which is kind of bullshit – I still died a lot.  As far as I could tell, the only real difference between Easy and Normal is the aiming (i.e., Hard Lock or Soft Lock) – and there wasn’t much of a difference there.  I may end up playing through the campaign at least one more time, all the way on Normal, just to find all the hidden secrets and collectibles (of which there are many, and which scratches a favorite itch).  And I do plan on playing the multiplayer a bit more, too – it’s a lot of fun.  I’d really like to see some co-op modes eventually – if there are any announced, that might just be enough for me to buy the Season Pass.  (If I remember correctly, Red Dead got some co-op modes a few months into its DLC schedule; maybe there’ll be something similar here.)

*        *        *

I’ve continued to plow ahead in Diablo 3 – my lady monk is now level 15, I think – and the game is enjoyable when the lag isn’t killing the experience.  I’ve only been booted off the server once, but I’d say 80% of my playtime has been under some sort of lag duress, and it’s annoying as hell.  (I did end up installing it on my MacBook Pro, and the experience is roughly the same – my MacBook isn’t quite as powerful as my PC, so it runs a little bit slower anyway, but the lag was still an issue.)

It’s weird; I never played the original games, but I played a bunch of their descendants – Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance, Titan Quest, and Torchlight, to name a few.  I’m a fan of the genre, if not of the genuine article.  There’s something weirdly intimidating about Diablo 3 for me; maybe it’s just that the dungeons have long paths and I never know if I’m going in the right direction.  (Which is sort of the point, right?)

I guess I’m still mostly annoyed at the lag.  As much as I suppose I understand Blizzard’s reasoning behind having an always-online structure, I still find it baffling that I’m experiencing so much lag in a single-player-only experience.  It’s ridiculous.  And while it does seem to be improving with each passing day, it’s still not as good as it should be.

I seem to be running out of steam; that’s it for today, then.

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* When I think about Rockstar games – which I do, quite a lot – I don’t necessarily think of them as a graphics powerhouse, the way I do with a studio like Naughty Dog or Epic, but I must admit that both Red Dead and Max Payne 3 are near the top of my list of this generation’s best-looking games.

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