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‘Max Payne 3’ a dud of a sequel

"Max Payne 3" came out weeks ago, but I’m writing about it late, because it took me time to process my revulsion for most of it.

Every time I played it, I thought, "A game this big can’t be this unfun." So I would put it away for a few days and then come back to it with fresh eyes and thumbs.

I should have believed my first, second and third instincts: This is the least fun I’ve had with a game since last June’s "Duke Nukem Forever."

I portray Max Payne, fallen cop from New York who first appeared a decade ago in the then-masterpiece "Max Payne."

That initial "Max Payne" was a victory of noir storytelling. Its voice-over narration was very Raymond Chandler – droll, dry, snarky and nihilistic. The second "Max Payne" was similar.

But then Rockstar (creators of the "Grand Theft Auto" series) secured the rights to create "Max Payne 3," and they have created this, this, this (I’m holding my tongue) disappointment.

It’s a third-person shooter, flip-flopping between New York and Sao Paulo, Brazil, for reasons of mobsters and who-cares.

Here are the big yucks.

1. The visual style annoys me. The screen flickers in broken frames. This imagery effect is, I guess, a reflection of Max’s addiction to painkillers, twisting his story into a fractured fairy tale. But all it does is remind me of the 1979 sequel "More American Graffiti," which was awful.

2. The noir writer of the first two "Max Paynes," Sam Lake, did not write this. Instead, it was penned by Rockstar writers credited with "GTA" games and the dreadful "Red Dead Redemption" (which I refer to as "Grand Theft Horse").

So the writing doesn’t soar with Lake’s grasp of Chandler’s tongue. Also, Max is given cohorts, even though noir heroes are typically depicted as loners to magnify their nihilism.

3. Here’s my deal killer. The game play:

Enter a new room. A bunch of idiot henchmen who have no value for their own safety rush toward me. I shoot as many as I can with my weak guns, limited bullets and daft reticule.

I shoot guys four times with shotgun blasts, but they continue to live and shoot me. I shoot guys point blank with 10 automatic rifle bullets, but they keep living to shoot me. Is this game out of its mind?

The only reason I’m giving the game one star, and not zero stars, is because the second half has a cooler design of battle maps.

What’s up with Rockstar? Two years ago, Rockstar’s "Red Dead Redemption" was a dull sequel to the great "Red Read Revolver." Now "Max Payne 3" gives me a case of the sads for a once-fascinating detective series.

At least, last year’s Rockstar game "L.A. Noire" was excellent.

Rockstar workers should respond, "Hey Elfman, these games you hate are acclaimed best-sellers."

True. But Creed and Milli Vanilli were top sellers who won Grammys. Hopefully, they didn’t delude themselves into believing their own hype, either.

Dear Rockstar: Please listen to the haters.

("Max Payne 3" by Rockstar retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 – Plays mostly unfun. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol. One out of four stars.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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