The iconic innovator of slow-motion bullets and dramatic leaps returns, drunker than ever, and with an entire nation out to kill him. But can Max regain his glory, or was he better off staring into the bottom of a bottle?
The day was colder than my previous marriage when I sat down to play Max Payne 3. Popping the disc into the all too eager gaming console, it greedily ate up the digital content that was surrendered to it, spinning hard and fast, much like a freshly released round from a familiar 9mm pistol.
My hands gripped the controller, sweaty with anticipation and high hopes, as a familiar melody of melancholy started slowly emanating from my LCD TV, a slave to the now high definition action and intensity that was about to unfold.
As I gulped down a quick slip of whiskey from my favourite My Little Pony highball glass, I knew that at long last, it was time to feel some Payne.
Max Payne is a cursed man. Broken, despondent and potentially suicidal, the events of the previous two games, in addition to the death of his family, have turned him into a pill-popping alcoholic wreck.
Only a cynical shell of the once great cop exists now, one that constantly monologues to himself, while killing anyone that gets in his way. He’s a haunted, depressing figure longing for a life that can never be, making for one of the saddest, and most depressing protagonists to ever grace a TV screen.
It’s a trademark indicator of one of the strengths of Rockstar games, as no matter how much players may want to shoot everything in sight, they have to do it through the eyes of a man who just does not want to be in that situation, in the first place.
After a series of events in his hometown of New York leads to Max accepting an offer to do some bodyguard work in Brazil, things quickly turn sour. The Sao Paulo based family that Max has been hired to protect, the Brancos, are at the top of the food chain, flaunting their wealth with high rise parties and escapades, above the impoverished favelas below, a situation that warrants unneeded attention, leaving Max no option but to do what he does best.
And this is where the hard boiled lawman shines, as when it comes to gunplay, the game is simply sublime. Bullets tear apart anything of a lesser resistance before them, objects go flying into the air with unbelievable realism and Max acts like a cynical trouble-shooter, putting new cavities in new organs with precision and regret.
At it’s core, Max Payne 3 is ten hour ride of shooting everything in sight, but it’s done so beautifully, and with such technical mastery, that it never fails to impress. All the old trademarks from the Remedy developed games are here.
Slow motion dodges and dual-wielding action, dozens of enemies closing in, painkiller tablets, 3 dimensional pause screens and signature internal dialogue. But it’s all been tempered by the work done by Rockstar in recent years.
There’s a feeling of familiarity, for anyone who has experienced a Rockstar game in recent years, especially when it’s obvious that the DNA of their previous hit, Red Dead Redemption, has snuck in. Movement, gestures and facial expressions, it’s all part of a visual engine that we’ve seen before, but polished and heightened into something beautiful.
That realism really forms a key mechanic in Max Payne 3. Max is older, dishevelled and way past his prime, yet no one knows how to aim a bullet into a organ, better than him. Bullet dodges, reinforced with slow motion action, can be a thing of beauty, but it can also leave players exposed, as Max has to pick himself up from his John Woo sequence, leaving him an easy target.
Max now also has access to cover, a useful feature that takes advantage of the new physics engine in play. After all, that pillar that you’re behind may protect your from regular 9mm slugs, but grenade shockwaves and missile launchers will tear you a new hole should they impact with your hiding spot.
Likewise with ammo and, players can’t go in guns blazing, without some form of plan, as Max Payne 3 can be brutally unforgiving at times. It’s at moments like this, when your health is in the red, you’re down to your last painkiller, a mob closing in on you and only one clip of ammo left in your handgun, that you really do realise how spoiled modern games have left us. A new melee option also comes in handy, helping players rob an enemy of his sidearm, and then slow down the action for them to open up some air-conditioning space in his head.
Guns feel real, heavy and meaty, as they rip through foes, while parts for golden variants litter stages, providing a somewhat gimmicky incentive to go back and replay the game. There’s a massive arsenal available here, but they’re all basically variants of several simple classes of firearms.
While painkiller tablets help preserve some health, Max can also take a second chance at life, getting in some retribution in the process, when the game slows down and reminds you to make your shots count.
Hit that feature right, and you’ll stage a comeback, carrying on to fight the good fight.
Reloading checkpoints can be a pain however, as the automatic save points are rather rare in a level, leaving players to constantly struggle against almost insurmountable odds, far longer than they should, once that reload is activated.
There’s only so much spin that you can layer on a game, when presenting a reason as to why Max is committing what can only be classified as mercenary genocide, but even though the plot gets paper-thin and predictable at times, it’s still a rather solid storyline from the scribes at Rockstar, as Max and his habit for ultra-violence come to the fore.
Characters feel real, can be unlikeable at times and are voiced with an expert cast. James McCaffrey returns to his signature role once again, brilliantly voicing a broken character who happens to be living life one bad day at a time, wishing for some sort of relief.
Comic book style cinematics have been dropped for the third entry, with in-game CGI filling in the rest of the story in between the shootouts. It’s a sad departure though, as any fan will attest to, as the cinematics prefer to use clichéd shaky-cam Hollywood techniques, interspersed with flashy text and effects, an experience that can be visually nauseating at times.
It’s a at times complicated mess of broken continuity and storylines, reeking of hubris and several sometimes poor attempts at conveying complexity.
Multiplayer takes over once the game, and all its numerous, challenging modes are complete. There’s a greater emphasis on story this time around, with the Gang Wars mode pitting rival customisable crews of players against one another, in a series of random gameplay variants that can help or handicap the final showdown scenario.
And this is where the genius of Max Payne 3 and its multiplayer comes in, as Rockstar has obviously take time to put as much effort into it. Things have a way of becoming deeply personal online, a fact emphasised by the vendetta option, that can be applied once certain conditions are met.
Once you find yourself on the receiving end of one too many kills from a rival, you can place a vendetta on them, an option that will reward you for revenging your previous deaths, with extra XP and cash. Fail however, and your hated foe will receive the boosts instead.
And in an online world where a prepubescent with a lack of descended testes and a voice that can make your ears bleed, screaming blue bloody murder at you as you continue to dominate, it’s a magnificent idea, one that will surely be aped in years to come.
Players can customise their characters, with unlockable equipment and weapons, as they level up and accrue some cash, points and finance which is earned from in-game actions and grinds.
There’s a wide variety of these grinds available, from earning XP for achieving ten kills with an AK47, through to vast rewards for rolling around several hundred times. Various game modes are on offer as well, from the vanilla deathmatch and team version of that, through to Gang Wars and Payne Killer, which plays like a round of musical chairs, but with far more bullets than normal.
Players can also activate bursts, a level of three bonuses, derived from your adrenaline and bullet-time bar, which can give players one of several abilities pertaining to its class, such as armour-piercing bullets and grenade launchers for the “Trigger Happy” perk, through to cases of mistaken identity and subterfuge for the “Sneaky” perk.
And yes, you read that right, there is indeed bullet-time in this game. So how does a single-player experience manage to translate itself to a multiplayer extravaganza? Simple, by allowing everyone to take part in it.
Activating your bullet time may give you a slower sense of reality, but it does the same to your opponent and anyone within your field of vision, keeping the game balanced and fair. Multiplayer still has some kinks to work out however, small glitches that the current patches are ironing out, but chief amongst this is the fact that respawning in a match is usually done with your head gift wrapped, as it’s not uncommon for you to appear in front of several hair-trigger enemies.
Still, the multiplayer is massively fun, and it’s going to be dominating playlists for quite some time.
While Max Payne 3 doesn’t do much to innovate in the gameplay genre of high octane shootouts, it instead masters, and improves, presenting a beautiful, gritty experience that is more in tune with a Hong Kong symphony of bullets.
From the way that Max moves and acts, through to the final slow-motion leap that documents the gory path of the bullet going forward, it’s a masterpiece of fine-tuned action to take part in.
Design and Presentation: 9/10
Max Payne, with his unkempt appearance, stubble, weathered face and pot belly, is downright gorgeous. There’s an attention to detail here that sets a high bar, presenting a product that many a game could learn from, while the physics action helps deliver the realistic, if sometimes corny, story forward.
The action never stutters, the environments are playgrounds of carnage waiting to be exploited and the controls are responsive, well laid out and complement the authentic sounds perfectly.
Not everyone is a fan of linear gunplay and morose monologues, but that’s okay. They don’t know what they’re missing out on, but for those of you who want to once again slip on your leather jacket for a New York minute of intense action, you’ll feel right at home.
Story mode may only be a few hours long, peppered with a gimmicky collection angle, but Multiplayer is going to keep the action going, for many, many months still.
It’s hard to believe that 11 years ago, us gamers got to experience a revolution in gaming, with the original Max Payne game. The third entry in the title may have changed hands, but it’s the ultimate expression of that dynamic debut, resulting in a title, while not as revolutionary, is polished to perfection, setting a new benchmark for all future gunslingers.[Reviewed on X-Box 360, played on normal difficulty]
Last Updated: May 28, 2012