Pub: Rockstar Games
www: Official Site
Max Payne 3 Reviewed
Max Payne, both the man and the franchise is one of a tortured existence. Nine years since the last game, Max is still hurting from the deaths of his wife and child. A new look, new location, new job and new developer; Rockstar brings the Payne to the current generation along with the booze, pills, bullets and melodrama you come to expect.
This isn’t a game where the new developers try to recreate a game to appease the fans. Rockstar has taken the established elements of the series and forged its own path with a different but similar take on Max’s life. Gone is the miserable city of “Noir” York, replaced with the sunny yet seedy city of São Paulo, with Max now a bodyguard rather than a cop. Working for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco, everything soon goes wrong, leaving Max with the burden of rescuing Fabiana, Rodrigo's trophy wife, and the rest of the Branco family.
The change in location will come as a culture shock initially, but Rockstar’s excellent script, voice talent and sense of place leaves a lasting impression. This is a Max Payne game, something many people didn’t quite expect. James McCaffrey’s outstanding performance as the protagonist helps sell this dirty but authentic noir tale. The sense of cynicism and self-loathing soaked up in an endless bender of booze, metaphors and blood exemplifies Max’s agony, yet never blatantly gives away his true intent. Thanks to the game's narrow scope, the engine is capable of rendering highly detailed graphics that accurately illustrate the dank cesspits in an otherwise beautiful city. Use of cinematic effects such as scan-lines and chromatic filters at first seem too much, but it soon calms down and helps establish Max Payne’s distinctive feel.
Max Payne 3 is a cover-based shooter made defiant against today’s traditions. The choice of aim assistance is appreciated but you’re quickly forced to learn that without regenerating health, Max is as vulnerable as the thugs he’s gunning down. Weapons are varied and balanced, yet Max is restricted to either two side-arms or a two-handed weapon. Dual-wielding allows for more firepower at the trade off of a longer reload and dropping your two-handed rifle. Killing enemies helps charge your Bullet Time, which allows Max to slow down time and get the drop on his foes. Accompanied by the signature Shoot Dodge move, the game can become a bullet ballet in the hands of a skilled player. There’s nothing original with the game design, but what’s on offer is polished.
Controls are responsive while ammo and painkillers are common enough to keep you in the fight. It’s essential to think ahead, as enemy AI is both intelligent and aggressive. Gang members flank Max or flush him out of cover with grenades, demanding that you master your weapons or die trying. The sense of weight in Max’s movements are a testament to the animation system and control scheme coming together in a realistic yet non-frustrating marriage. Rarely does Max become bogged down in his surroundings due to the physics at work, though holding bigger weapons leaves a noticeable impression in your movement.
Despite the refined gameplay, it is merely a compliment to the narrative. Too frequently, control is taken away to show cutscenes of varied length. In reality they’re designed to hide all loading screens, allowing the game to flow from one level to the next without interruption. It’s an intrusive exchange that not all players will like, but those invested in the plot should remain absorbed. An inability to skip cinematics during loading can result in frustrating repetition for those that keep dying.
Max Payne 3 is uncompromisingly violent. Killing the final enemy in a fight initiates the “bullet cam”, allowing you to watch the final bullet connect with its intended target. Allowing the player to both slow it down and pump more rounds gives Rockstar’s engine the chance to demonstrate their bullet wound and blood effects in gory detail. The gore isn’t for crude intentions but rather highlights the bleak nature of Max’s existence and the real life gang conflicts that take place in Brazil today. The Euphoria system returns giving each bullet weight on impact. Bodies crumple in disturbing realism, feeling the blow of the barrage coming from Max’s guns. It’s cinematic intent is exemplified with fully destructible environments. High-caliber rounds shatter your surroundings and remind you to keep moving, yet the war you participate in is as destructive as Max is to himself.
When the story is complete, there are score challenges that allow leaderboard competition with your friends. New York Minute mode gives you sixty-seconds and demands you keep killing for additional time, but death has a hefty price as it forces a restart of the entire mission. The inclusion of arcade modes provides much extra value to a linear experience. They’re fun in their own respect, but only the hardcore will venture for the glory.
Multiplayer is where the real added value lies, much to the surprise of everybody. Customisation and depth of the XP grind brings a much more focused shooter than Rockstar has released in the past, while the action is chaotic fun. Gang Wars is the staple of the game. Four rounds of objective gameplay, ranging from attack & defend to planting bombs. Winning or losing rounds alters the condition of the map for the final round (Team Deathmatch), where your previous victories give your team a score advantage. The multiplayer is fun though it won’t stay in your console for years to come. The gunplay isn’t as refined as Gears of War, but what’s on offer is worth playing.
Max Payne 3 is a mature game for a mature audience. Solid gameplay with a hard-boiled script shows that video games can be taken seriously as works of fiction without compromising the actual game aspect of them. The high difficulty and over abundance of cutscenes may put off people hoping for a mindless shooter. It’s a different experience to the typical Rockstar games, but the conviction in the final product stands out as a Payne worth enduring.