When Max Payne first came out, it was heavily praised for what it did. It wasn’t that it was a third person shooter with an anti hero at the helm – that had been done before; no, Max Payne brought some new mechanics into a genre that was desperately in need of something. The whole Bullet Time phenomenon in modern day games could be said to have begun with Max Payne (discounting the Matrix). Hell, they even had a name besides Bullet Time for what Max was able to do – the shootdodge. It was a silly made up union of two words, but that was exactly what it was – dodging while shooting (maybe more appropriately they should have called it slowmotionshootdodge), and it was beautiful. Now though, a long time has passed since that first game, and Rockstar who originally just published the games is now in the developers seat – so can Max Payne 3 hang with the third person shooters of today’s generation?
The first thing you will end up figuring out in Max Payne 3, is that there are absolutely no likeable characters in the game. In the first two games, Max wasn’t completely loveable, but you could feel for the guy – and Mona was at least partially decent. In the third game though, Max is literally a shell of his former self. Think Denzel Washington’s character from “Man on Fire” made into a video game, but without any redeeming qualities. Max is as low as a person can get – drinking so much every night that he vomits all over his room, taking more painkillers than should be humanly possible, and having nothing left to life for besides his job of being a bodyguard to some rich douche bags that redefine the term. Yep, Max isn’t very likeable – but he damn sure is pitiable.
Now, maybe you are like me and read the line about Rockstar developing this and gave a little shudder. I am pretty sure that everyone can agree that Rockstar creates some of the best stories in cinematic action games out there – that isn’t the issue; the problem that I was afraid of was the fact that Rockstar never seemed to fully grasp the shooting mechanics in shooting games, but that changes here. Even in Red Dead Redemption the aiming felt clunky at times, but here someone at Rockstar made everything finally click for them. In all honesty the combat in Max Payne 3 is by far the best in any Max Payne game, as well as the best in any Rockstar game. Now that isn’t to say there are some “quirks” you need to get used to. For one, when you kill the last enemy in an area you have the option to follow the kill bullet – only thing though is if you hold down the fire button, Max continues to unload on the person. Now this is amusing to see the first time, but it doesn’t really fit the theme of Max. He’s not a cold blooded killer – he just shoots people if the job depends on it. The resultant animation from holding down the trigger is something akin to the “Bloody Mess” perk from the Fallout games – eyeballs explode, grey matter goes everywhere; you get the idea.
I suppose that is just something to see how sadistic you are though as it serves no other gameplay purpose – you’re not making sure the bad guy is any more dead; this isn’t a game where people come back to life as zombies as the Max Payne games have always stayed at least mostly grounded in reality. A big departure for the series is where the game takes place, While you spend a small amount of time in New York, the majority of the game is in Brazil (there are story elements that explain why). Now don’t let the location fool you, there is actually more variety in backgrounds than there have in Max Payne games before, especially because so much of the game takes place in the day. Yes, Max isn’t running around much at night anymore, which just shows more how Rockstar wants to put their own spin on Max’s tale. Another big change comes that this iteration of Max Payne ditches the “comic noir” of the prior two games, and has adapted fully into “game noir” or even “film noir“. While it might not be that much of a distinction to some, it is easy to see if you look for it.
If you have not played the first two games, fear not – Max Payne 3 has flashbacks on top of flashbacks inside of other flashbacks to get you up to speed on things, which is good because if you are anything like me you played the original games, but have forgotten pretty much everything over the past nine years. Not that there are a ton of callbacks to those older games anyways; just enough to let you know why Max’s life is barely worth living. I know I haven’t delved much into gameplay yet, but the story is by far the star here, and I just don’t want to stop talking about it. Rockstar went above and beyond any other story they have crafted to date with Max Payne 3, and by the end of the ride you will have been bombarded with so many “wow” moments, that you’ll understand why I’m so all about it.
Everything about the gameplay in the prior Max Payne games has been taken, extracted, refined, and re-injected into Max Payne 3. The shootdodge and bullet time that gave the game its roots are so flawlessly incorporated in Max Payne 3, that even a novice can pull off magic with ease. The game also has destructible environments, ensuring that you have to learn how to use them if you want to survive. There were plenty of times that I barely lived through firefights because of things getting destroyed around me. That’s another thing about Max the third – the difficulty is definitely ramped up, but it never feels too difficult. You can get swamped by people, but with skillful execution of bullet time you can survive (even if only just).
The single player main campaign can be expected to last around 11 hours – not super long considering how many cut scenes are in the game (enough to warrant a two disk game on the 360 – only one Blu-Ray on the PS3 though). There are a number of other modes to entertain you though once you finish with that. My favorite is the “New York Minute” mode, which puts up a clock with five minutes on it and starts you on the campaign again. The clock counts down like a normal timer, except when you kill people which adds time. It is hectic, and finding people to kill can be a challenge at times when your time is almost up. There are also standard score challenge modes, but while they may be a distraction, they are nowhere near as fun. The biggest surprise in Max Payne 3 though isn’t how well Rockstar managed to do shooting – it’s how well they managed to do multiplayer.
Yes, I too was afraid that the multiplayer offering would just be a tacky tacked on bullet point on the back of the game case, but as luck would have it – that isn’t the case at all. It might not be as engrossing as some other multiplayer games out there, but it definitely is something different and special at the same time. The different modes that are offered are for the most part standard, but Gang Wars is a bit on the different side. There are four rounds that have fluid objectives (they change depending on other things that have happened. Objectives grant teams points, which in turn gives the team in the lead the advantage when the fifth and final round shows up which is always a team deathmatch. More than anything else Gang Wars shows what the multiplayer mode is capable of, and I can hope that future DLC down the line will continue to expand upon that.
The Bottom Line: Max Payne 3 is the best game of the series, and in my opinion it’s Rockstar’s best game yet; it has a few hiccups along the way, but even they can’t keep Max down for long.
- An amazing narrative that shows off both Rockstar’s storytelling abilities, and the actors’ voice talents
- Some of the best straight up shooting in any Rockstar game to date
- Lots of things to keep you occupied aftr the main story is finished
- The tremendous amount of cut scenes could get irritating to some
- Some of Max’s one-liners leave much to be desired
- Max knows he’s an alcoholic, but jokes about his inhuman addiction to swallowing enough pain killers to kill an elephant
You can pick up Max Payne 3 for the PS3 (reviewed), XBOX 360, and PC from places like Amazon for $59.96