Max Payne 3: The View From Brazil - Destructoid

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I am a Brazilian student in Norway. I also happen to really, really like games! I'm a huge RPG fan, especially JRPGs and party-based WRPGs, but I also enjoy nearly every genre, from Mario Kart to Limbo to Bulletstorm.


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Max Payne 3, as some of you may know, is set in São Paulo, Brazil's richest and biggest city. As a Brazilian myself, it was interesting to finally get to play a game set in my country. The target audience for western AAA games are largely North America and Europe, so there there is very little mention of Brazil in the game world. In fact, the only Brazilian character I can recall off the top of my head is Blanka, who of course is a green mutant.

So it was with great anticipation that I took Max through another slow-motion murderous romp. For the most part, I loved every minute of it. Max's monologues are as entertaining as ever, the game is gorgeous and the story and gun fights are (mostly) very good.

The Portuguese dialog, though, is ludicrously bad. As in, written in English, run through Google translate and voiced by foreigners bad, complete with gender mistakes. Still, there is a lot of background dialogue, which was fun to hear, and some of it was even entertaining in the right way.

Sadly, Rockstar's megalomania could mean this is the last we'll see of Payne.

Welcome to the slums.

Anyways, I'd like to share my impressions of Rockstar's São Paulo, and maybe let you guys know a little more about what Brazil is really like. I'm curious to hear what impressions, if any, did you folks get from the city or the country from the game. Even though it's a game and obviously no one expects a realistic representation of anything in a Max Payne game, pop media still influences us to some degree, especially when we are not familiar with the subject matter.

Max Payne's Brazil is marked by 3 main themes: giant social inequality, violence and corruption. The bad news is that this is, unfortunately, grounded in reality. The good news is that it is not nearly that bad, and there have been significant improvements in the past decade.

Ironically, the city Rockstar chose to depict as a lawless warzone has, in fact, one of the lowest murder rates in the country: around 10 per 100.000 inhabitants, which compares favorably to many U.S cities. It is also down a whopping 75% from its 1999 peak. Even Rio de Janeiro, probably the Brazilian city most infamous abroad for its drug violence, has managed to decrease the killings by 45%.

That's not to say the city isn't dangerous: it is. Other types of violent crime, like armed robberies and "express kidnappings", remain common, but it's far from a hellhole where the only people left are those too poor to flee or rich enough to buy armored cars and hire private security. In fact, in recent years there has been a considerable increase in immigration to Brazil, as well as in the number of Brazilians returning home.

A nation of extremes

Where Max Payne hits closest to home is regarding social inequality. The opening scene, a party for the city's elite at a fancy high-rise overlooking the slums, remains a shameful staple of our country, even though things have improved a lot in the past decade. Poverty has halved, and the number of people belonging to the upper income brackets increased nearly fivefold. Despite this impressive progress, we remain one of the most unequal countries in the world, which just goes to show how desperate our starting point was.

First-world Brazil

This contrast goes beyond individual income levels, and permeates several aspects of Brazilian society. We have one of the world's best AIDS programs, widely praised by international health organizations, while basic public health care is in shambles. The living standards in some places are not far behind Europe's, while others are closer to Somalia's. We are capable of producing airplanes, while some kids are virtually illiterate when they graduate from high school, to give just a few examples.

Fifth-world Brazil

Lastly, corruption. The game touches on political corruption, but largely showcases police corruption. Fortunately, while police corruption is pretty bad, it's nothing like Max Payne's version.

For one thing, we're not lawless. Police simply cannot go around executing people by the dozen in front of everyone with impunity. When they execute criminals (and they do), they have to do what police all over the world do: stage the scene to make it look like self defense, and if they get caught, they are prosecuted, though rarely convicted.

Which brings us to, perhaps, one of the biggest problems in our struggle against crime and corruption: the justice system is an utter, complete and total mess. It's so screwed up that, even without foul play involved, it is not difficult for a wealthy criminal to beat most charges short of murder. It is commonly said that "the police arrests, the judges set free".

Interestingly, when we start killing police in the last third of the game, for the first time ever I felt slightly uncomfortable shooting someone in a videogame. Most officers are just regular people trying to survive very difficult circumstances and doing their job the best they can, they are not sadistic psychopaths in uniform. If there was a way to advance the game without killing them, I would have.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, the "good cops" are not helpless like mr. Da Silva, nor would they need to rely on a foreign bodyguard to take on the bad guys for them!

All in all, playing Max Payne in São Paulo was a blast, and I hope I don't have to wait twenty years to do it again. What did you guys think? Was it just like playing in New Jersey, or did the change in setting change your game experience?

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