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New ‘Max Payne’ is anything but, say critics

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Max Payne 3 (Rockstar Games)

Still can't get Diablo III working? Sadly, you're not the only one, as the eagerly-awaited action/role-playing game's debut has been a mess of technical problems.

Good thing, then, that Diablo III isn't the only anticipated new game releasing this week. Eight years since his last game appearance, grumpy detective Max Payne is back at it in Max Payne 3. But isn't he getting a bit old for all this?

You could certainly be forgiven for making that assumption. The formula of the original Max Payne -- a bloody, gritty, noir-inspired shooter that saw the titular protagonist taking on room after room of baddies in glorious, slow motion "bullet time" -- isn't as fresh now as it was back then. But now the series is in the hands of a new team, and a new writer: none other than Dan Houser, fresh from penning award-winning Rockstar hits like Red Dead Redemption and a number of the Grand Theft Auto games.

That's not all that's changed. Out goes the original rain-soaked, garbage-strewn New York setting, and in comes the sun-bleached tropics of Sao Paulo. And out goes the original game's PC focus, replaced by a debut release on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

But though the setting and the team might have changed, the game's essential formula hasn't. Take it from Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann, who sums up the game almost glibly.

"You enter one side of the room and the henchmen, who rarely differentiate in their plan of attack, dutifully show up to be blown away," he says. "As a grizzled grump who reeks of alcohol and sweat, your movements are rugged but reliable...Max is an expert at falling down with style."

That's a good thing, in case you were wondering. Calling the presentation "peerless," the pace "relentless," and the gunplay "so good it evokes a worrisome existential crisis," Kietzmann lavishes praise on the game's action, formulaic though it may be. He hands down a very creditable 4.5/5, with the "rambling" and "muddled" plot the only real sticking point..

Games Radar's Sterling McGarvey is, if anything, even more impressed.

"At its most distilled essence," he says, "Rockstar's fabled series is a giant shooting gallery. You move from spot to spot in a rather confined experience, all while largely doing the same activity. But once you pile on the layers of depth -- its hallucinatory visuals, exciting locales, gruesome executions, and the ugly consequences of addiction -- you've got the makings of a phenomenal action title."

How phenomenal? Perfect score phenomenal, as he gives it a 10/10. "Max Payne has raised the bar for other action games to follow," McGarvey raves.

Not everybody is quite that impressed. Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis is a little more measured in his critique, sounding caution for old-school Payne fans amid what's still a very positive review.

"Rockstar has taken a lot of risks in the ways it has reshaped the series with Max Payne 3," he writes. "The aesthetic overhaul is certainly the most noticeable, though there's no understating the impact that certain gameplay modernizations have had on the might have a hard time processing the dramatic change in tone."

"To trot out a hoary old line that Max Payne himself would probably mutter to himself and then sneer at, this ain't your grandaddy's Max Payne. And in a way, that's kind of a shame," he concludes, "since there hasn't really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. " Four stars is the verdict.

And it's a verdict that's typical of the overall mood of the critics. Currently running an 87% average at review aggregation site Metacritic, it's amply clear that the new Max is worthy of its storied name. And Diablo III? Eh, it'll still be there next week. By the time you're done with Max Payne 3, you might even be able to play it.

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