Max Payne 3 Review
Game: Max Payne 3
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
It seems almost implausible that it has been 8 years since we last saw Max Payne leap around dilapidated environments executing his foes in super slow-motion, or downing painkillers to numb the metaphorical and literal pain he was feeling, but here we are, once again stepping into the shoes of one of the most down and out, depressed characters to ever front a video game. Technology has moved on, but has Max Payne?
STORY: For the uninitiated, Max Payne is a retired ex-cop who has become an alcoholic due to the loss of his wife and child. However, Max Payne 3 sees him trying to start life again out in São Paulo as a bodyguard to a rich family. One of the most bleak introductions to a game you’ll ever see quickly re-establishes Max’s character, before throwing you directly into a plot involving kidnap, blackmail and plenty of shooting.
Along the way, the player gets to find out more about why Max is where he is, but the narrative is always driven forward with excellent dialogue and a clever take on cut-scenes; so well executed at times that you’ll think you still have control of Max, even when you don’t. Whenever frustration is felt, the story pulls the player through, it’s that good.
GRAPHICS: There’s no doubt about it, Max Payne 3 looks absolutely gorgeous. From rooftops to dingy bars, from football stadiums to favellas and everywhere in-between, the manner in which the art design has been executed is genuinely masterful. If there’s to be a slight negative it’s that there are so many flashes of light and flickers on-screen that people who find that kind of thing difficult to watch are going to suffer to begin with.
Max himself looks superb too, as do all of the surrounding characters. It seems great attention to detail has been given, even to the things you won’t see that often, which is typical of the care and love poured into almost every Rockstar game, meaning that Max Payne 3 is one of the most well directed games of the year.
SOUND: As you’d expect, Max is constantly dropping one-liners throughout the game. Clear a room and Max will make note of things in and around him, even picking up painkillers will cause him to remark upon them being there. Restarting checkpoints through dying has even had extra lines of dialogue recorded so the player doesn’t get frustrated hearing the same lines over and over. The best part though, is that all of the characters are believable, the performances are out of this world, so well delivered that you’ll think you hear things and aren’t sure, the tone of conversation feels so natural.
GAMEPLAY: If you’ve ever played a Max Payne title before then you are going to feel right at home with the third instalment; very little has actually changed. Max still downs painkillers found in the environments to recover his health – shown by a human figure filling with blood – and he still dives around in bullet-time taking down foes with expert precision.
Rockstar Vancouver has stuck rigorously to the blueprint laid out ten years ago by Remedy, but at times it is to Max Payne 3’s detriment. The repetitive nature of certain games is often a cause of contention, but Max Payne 3 takes things to new levels with its rinse and repeat mechanics. Occasionally things are broken up, but most of the time you’ll be repeating a combination of shooting and taking cover.
Once you’ve used the bullet-time in early levels, it quickly becomes tricky to use as a get-out clause, because of the volume of enemies thrown at you at any one time. Executing all of them with shootdodge is tricky and, more often than not, you’ll end up as a sitting duck to the two enemies you couldn’t finish off in the time you had. As silly as it sounds, the shootdodge mechanic is more realistic this time around, if you hit a wall you’ll instantly come out of the mechanic and back into real time.
To confound things, if you die enough times – and even on normal difficulty, you’ll die plenty of times, and get frustrated whilst doing it – you’ll be given additional painkillers, which suggests the game itself can feel slightly unbalanced at times; that’s before you factor in that some enemies feel as though they take far too many bullets to put down. Further frustration comes from the fact that after you see one of the (many) cut-scenes, more often than not Max automatically switches back to a standard handgun.
That isn’t to say that there’s no fun to be had in Max Payne 3, quite the opposite. When you’re flying through the moment-to-moment combat, and it’s clicking perfectly, it really does exhilarate the player like no other game can. The environments are so varied and interesting to look at, that you’ll never get bored of what you’re doing. Some of the best moments in the game involve pre-designated cinematic events, which are simply incredible; nobody directs a video game like Rockstar, and Max Payne affirms this once more.
Despite being uncharacteristically linear for a Rockstar title, the pre-defined paths mean that some of the most stunning visuals can be taken in throughout, the art direction and execution really do steal the show. Once you accept the fact the game is linear and repetitive in its nature, you’ll appreciate everything else about it; and boy is there a lot to appreciate.
MULTIPLAYER: When it comes to games like Max Payne, the assumption is always that the multiplayer addition is a tacked on experience. This couldn’t be further from the truth here though and Max Payne 3 is an exciting romp through the online airwaves, with a full ranking up and XP system; with perks too. There’s plenty of depth as well as multiple modes to play through, from standard deathmatch (team or solo) through to the more adventurous modes like Payne Killer (the closest comparison would be King of the Hill) which sees a team take on two randomly selected opponents who play as Max and his partner Passos, along with all the special abilities they would be expected to have.
There are also more standard modes, like Assasination (kill a designated target), Take and Hold the Turfs (hold the zones) and Grab the Bags (objective based), but with the option to play games against people with no aim assistance, or with the auto-lock features you can select in the single player campaign, there’s something for everyone. Taking into account the season pass and future DLC for Max Payne 3, rather than becoming something just put there to stop you trading in the game, the multiplayer is actually a lot of fun, with variance and something a bit different.
LONGEVITY: There are parts of golden guns hidden throughout the game, which are a nice way to get the player exploring more of the environments on show, and don’t feel too out of place, but there are also clues that you can search out during each chapter too. The single player includes what it calls “grinds”, which are basically stats and unlocks you get through progression. Ultimately, Rockstar are doing everything they can to keep you from letting Max Payne 3 out of your sights for too long. By adding the single player campaign, at 10 to 12 hours (and much, much longer on harder difficulties), and the multiplayer, along with all the grinds and collectibles, you’ve got a lot of value for money here.
VERDICT: If you can accept that – for the most part – the gameplay is in service of the narrative, then you’ll have a superb time in Max Payne 3. Sure, it may feel a little gratuitous that you can fire bullets into an already dead corpse during the kill-cam, but the writing makes up for those moments by being as excellent as the numerous visual flourishes that litter every moment spent engrossed in the beautiful, destructive environments. Max is back, so is the film noire feeling, and it’s as gritty and brutal as ever.