When Remedy’s third-person shooter Max Payne first came out for the PC, PS2 and the original Xbox back in 2001, I experienced what I then considered to be one of the finest action games ever made. With a cold, hard-boiled storyline that was peppered with twists and insane amounts of introspection, and action-packed gun-play that came with the killer slow motion bullet dodge, I pretty much found myself in gamer heaven. I must have played the game a million times, creating the perfect action scenes for friends and family as I showed off how cool the game was. I was hooked on Max Payne: the story, the character, the grittiness, everything. I became a fan for life.
Fast forward to now. After two successful games, original developers Remedy Games have handed the franchise to publisher Rockstar Games, who have developed the third entry in the series in-house. Caught in a new tropical setting, and featuring an older, weary Max, does Max Payne 3 retain the brilliance of the original?
Max Payne 3 takes place a couple of years after the events of the second game. Tired of all the drama and violence that has surrounded him, including the death of sweetheart Mona Sax, Max Payne has retired from the police force and moved to New Jersey. After getting into a small problem with the local mob at Jersey (and I say that lightly), Max is forced to flee from the country with Raul Passos, a fellow academy trainee, to Brazil, where he takes a bodyguard job. Trouble follows Max everywhere though, so it doesn’t take much time before all hell breaks loose with Max stuck in the middle.
The storyline, written by Dan Houser of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto fame, is one heck of an awesome thrill ride. From start to finish, the story is worthy enough to stand amongst it’s predecessors. The downward spiral of Max’s life and how everything crumbles around him, and then his eventual redemption, if you can call it that, is a series of intriguing events that keep players at the edge of the seats. There is always a moment where you think things can’t get any worse for poor Max, and then they do. Max is a angry tragic hero, and his flawed actions and plans are what make the game so fun.
The graphics featured in the game are also quite amazing. Character models are beautifully animated and designed, making most of the main cast unique and varied, and capable of expressing pretty believable emotions, adding to the cinematic quality of the game. Environments in Max Payne 3 are also very lush and full of impressive detailing, and have many times caused me to take a look around and appreciate the beautiful scenery.
While the storyline is strong, the gameplay is even better. Taking what made the first two entries of the series popular, Rockstar Games has refined and improved the signature gunplay, and it shows.
A third person shooter, players guide Max Payne through a series of exotic and gritty locations in order to get to the bottom of things. Hundreds of thugs and baddies stand in his way, so Max Payne will have to shoot his way through if he wants to get to the end.
For starters, the selection of guns in the game is larger this time around. The game features dozens of weapons for Max to play with, ranging from small pistols to assault rifles like the AK-47, to larger weapons like an RPG and grenade launcher, meaning Max will always be able to defend himself. He can also carry three weapons at one time, and if the player chooses to, Max can dual-wield small firearms for more firepower. Unfortunately, the ability for Max to wield explosives like grenades and Molotovs seen in Max Payne 2 doesn’t make the cut here. It’s kind of weird that enemies can use them, but Max cannot.
Both Bullet Time and Shoot Dodge return for Max Payne 3, and it’s still pretty epic. With Bullet Time, players can slow time down with adrenaline that is acquired by defeating enemies, and engage their foes with greater accuracy. It’s an awesome mechanic that helps slow down the frantic action Max Payne games are known for, and it’s still a pretty sight, as one can see the bullets fly by Max, matrix-style. With Shoot-Dodge, Max can leap in any direction with an artful dodge and activate Bullet Time automatically while in the air. If used properly, it could save Max from hairy situations in addition to looking pretty cool. Realistic physics are now added to the shoot-dodge, so if Max accidentally bumps into a surface, for example a pillar, the ability is instantly canceled, leaving Max sprawling on the floor. It’s a nice touch that makes the dodge mechanic more realistic and less spammable. And just like Max Payne 2, Max can shoot from a downed position, only this time he can stay prone and shoot in 360 degrees.
Max’s trusty painkillers also make a return in this new entry, supplying health when he needs it with the touch of a button. New to Max Payne 3 is a mechanic called ‘Last Stand,’ in which if Max is near-death, shot, and has a painkiller, the player has a chance to kill the offending enemy in bullet time before it’s game over. Should a player succeed in downing the target, a painkiller is automatically utilized and Max is sent sprawling to his feet. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, as it keeps players alive if they forget to use the painkillers and saves them from some frustrating deaths.
Also new to the series is the ability to utilize cover. A staple of modern shooters, Max can now hide behind a variety of surfaces to protect himself from gunfire, explosions, etc. It’s quite an effective ability to use in the game, as enemies can swarm in on an exposed player in a matter of moments. In many occasions throughout the game it’s even more useful than shootdodging, which can leave you exposed and get you killed quickly if you land amongst a group of enemies.
Max Payne 3 also has a cinematic cue that plays out when an encounter is over. When the last enemy in a area is killed, a stylish kill-cam plays out, following the trajectory of the bullet as it hits the foe. Players can keep riddling the enemy with bullets if they like, but it isn’t really necessary. It’s more of a “the fight is over” kind of thing.
Max Payne 3′s lengthy campaign is pretty fun, full of amazing and thrilling action, a large variety of impressive setpieces, and smooth gameplay. The campaign also features a number of collectables that players can search for to spice things up. First off are golden guns pieces, which are hidden across every level in the game. Once all pieces are found for a gun, players can use a golden version of the same gun. Each weapon in the game can have a golden counterpart if its pieces are acquired. Then there are story collectables, such as pictures, magazines, etc, that flesh out the story by having Max recall a certain event, memory or even have him comment on things. It’s pretty awesome.
When the campaign’s over, players can also try out the arcadey ‘New York Minute,’ where killing enemies adds time to the ticking clock, and ‘Score Attack,’ where players aim for a high score. Both modes offer online leaderboards to see how well people rank against others.
Also new to the series is a robust multiplayer mode. In this mode, players can join crews of players, and take on others in massive shootouts in a variety of modes, such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, to more unique ones like Payne Killer, where two players play as Max and Raul and work together to survive, and Gang Wars, a sotry-oriented mode where two crews duke it out across five matches that change as teams win or lose.
While the shooting mechanics are very similar to the single player campaign, there are some differences. Adrenaline is used in multiplayer to activate bursts, which are unique abilities that can turn a battle in the player’s favor, such as Bullet Time, increased health, the ability to see through walls, or the ability to affect the rival team’s weapons. These can be selected prior to the battle, and increase in strength with a greater amount of adrenaline.
Player’s can also level up in battle, which allows them to equip better equipment, gather better bursts, and more. By leveling up, players can make unique builds that cater to their strengths and strategies.
Multiplayer suits the series well. It’s fast and fun, and it’s a mode that extends the life of the title quite substantially. I enjoyed my time blasting away at other players online, and I did make some friends in the process.
While Max Payne 3 is pretty much perfect in my book, it unfortunately does suffer from a few problems.
On occasion, the game froze on me while reloading checkpoints. I was forced to restart my console twice, and while my progress was saved, it was still a bummer.
Another problem I had with the title is that the game contains random spikes of difficulty. While most sections of the game are manageable with skill and strategy, some sections of the game are just too difficult. Thankfully, the game does an excellent job of balancing things out, offering extra painkillers and health when the player dies frequently in an area.
Max Payne 3 is a true return to form for everybody’s favorite hotheaded cop. With a epic storyline, beautiful visuals and solid, responsive gameplay, Max Payne 3 is an amazing action game. Although marred by some slight problems, like occasional freezing and spikes in the difficulty, Max Payne 3 is certainly one of the best games of this year. You owe it to yourself to try it out.
Thanks to Rockstar Games for providing a copy for review.