It's been nine long years since we last saw Max Payne in the gaming world. A lot of things have changed in shooters since his last appearace including cover mechanics, aiming down sights, roadie runs, and multiplayer perks. Some games in this generation of consoles have embraced the slow motion effect that was first seen in the original Max Payne, but the originator of bullet time finally returns in Max Payne 3. Rockstar themselves are at the helm making this game instead of Remedy, who moved on to make the Alan Wake series on the Xbox 360. Their approach to Max Payne as a game and a character is a little different than what Remedy did with the first two games, but the foundations are still there such as the iconic shooting gameplay and Max himself being a total wreck at times. Rockstar Games has been amazing at making dark, and mature gaming experiences this generation... Max Payne 3 is no exception. It is arguably their darkest and most gritty game yet and that is what makes it one experience you should not miss this year.
Max Payne 3’s story does not continue the events of Max Payne 2 directly, but Max himself is now at San Paulo, Brazil being a bodyguard for the Blanco family, who are obviously rich and powerful. He is pretty much there for the sake of doing it, but as you progress through the game, you will find out why he left Jersey for Brazil in the many flashback levels and sequences. The wife of Max’s boss, Fabiana, gets captured by one of the many gangs in San Paulo and it is up to Max to rescue her. While the beginning of the game has a general goal of rescuing Fabiana, the storyline becomes more than that, especially with the numerous plot twists and turns. Max himself is once again a total wreck drinking and taking painkillers to get his mind off things as the deaths of his wife and daughter, which still affects him in a big way. It is interesting how much of a character study this game can be just for Max himself in the style Rockstar presents it, which is why the experience is so dark, gritty, and violent to play through.
I mentioned at the start of the review how the shooter genre has changed since the last Max Payne game, as Max Payne 3 implements what made the franchise famous with some of these modern shooter concepts. Today’s shooters have rechargeable health when it comes to their characters and the default normal difficulty is usually a breeze to play through in a few hours. Max Payne 3 does not resort to those philosophies as it feels like an old school shooter with health packs, well painkillers in this game, and a challenging campaign even on normal that will take players about ten to twelve hours to beat the first time through. What I mean by a challenging game is that you will die numerous times, especially if you’re just willing to go nuts and not have a gameplan in mind with the game’s shootouts. The same goes for the checkpointing as there are some stretched too far between, meaning you have to play multiple sections the whole way through again if you keep dying. However, this is a challenge that I respect and appreciate especially in today’s world of games where most modern players are spoiled these days with the Halo/Call of Duty-like formula. Sure, this type of challenge will be not for everyone, but that makes Max Payne such a refreshing shooter experience as it reminds me of what games used to be before this console generation began.
While Max Payne 3 has somewhat of an old-school mentality in terms of challenge, it does include a lot of modern shooter concepts from cover and aiming with sights. The cover system is not as elaborate as other shooters, but it is there whenever you’re in a tough situation. However, I feel like I’m playing just another cover-based shooter in the later parts of the game where the enemies will waste you if you’re not careful, but playing with urgency does not make Max Payne the franchise it is. What Max Payne is about to most people is the bullet time and the epic shootouts as this third game is filled with those. Using bullet time and shootdodging to take out rooms of enemies in the right times makes it one of the most satisfying shooting I played ever. Max can stay prone after a shootdodge and still kill the opposition as well for example. Usually there is a bullet cam whenever Max kills the last enemy as it shows the last bullet into an enemy and you can continue to overkill the guy at the cost of your ammo for a cool effect. The same is said whenever Max is killed as the game will show where he get shot. There is also a last chance mechanic where at a cost of a painkiller, Max can kill the guy who tried to kill him in one shot if you miss and run out of ammo, you will die and go back to your last checkpoint. If you don’t mind the clashing of old school and modern concepts in terms of what the playstyle you go with, Max Payne 3 is one of the most satisfying shooters I have played in a while.
Along with some old school gameplay elements that will question certain players, the controls and the pacing will not be for everyone as well. PS3 players that have been used to the standard shooter controls will have to get used to Max Payne 3’s control placements such as the aiming and firing being on the L2 and R2 triggers respectively. The pacing is more of a question mark as you’ll be watching lots of cutscenes in between enemy encounters. Max narrates himself through the situations throughout the game in numerous cutscenes that sometimes can disrupt the flow and momentum for some. Usually things will go as a kill room, cutscene, another kill room, another cutscene, and so on. Personally, I didn’t have that much of an issue with the game’s controls and the pacing during the campaign, but I can see how they can not be for everyone too.
Besides the lengthy campaign, especially in-comparison with today’s shooters, Max Payne 3 is filled with enough replay value for players to keep going especially during these summer months. As with most shooters today along with past Rockstar games, there are collectables to be found, this time with clues that uncover more of what is going on in the events of the story and golden gun parts hidden throughout the game. Once you complete a golden gun set, they have special features unlike their normal versions. Grinds are this game’s version of in-game achievements such as getting the golden guns, reaching a certain number of kills with certain guns, etc. Campaign levels can be replayed over again on harder difficulties (old school difficulty disables cover) and on arcade mode, which is basically a score attack run through these levels. New York Minute is unlocked after beating the game as you’re speedrunning through the levels in a limited time, but more time will increase as you kill enemies.
Then there’s the online multiplayer that will keep players busy for awhile. If you played any recent big first or third-person shooter, you know what to expect when it comes to Max Payne’s multiplayer. Besides your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, Max Payne 3 handles modes and playlists a bit different. When you first start out, there are rookie playlists to get players started before diving into the normal and hardcore playlists. The other modes such as Payne Killer and Gang Wars are not unlocked until you reach a certain number of kills online. This mode progression system is not as bad as it is in some other games. It is the Max Payne-like twists though that make the multiplayer fun to play. Payne Killer is basically Max Payne and his friend Passos against everyone as they have bullet time and a specific set of weapons against normal players. You have to get kills as Max or Passos after killing them to win the game. Gang Wars is the main objective-based mode as there are five rounds that consist of various objectives from dropping bags to a certain location, killing a certain player of a team, capturing territories, and so on. These matches culminate in a team deathmatch in the fifth round, but winning previous rounds matter in the score during this round to decide the whole match.
The level progression system is your typical modern shooter fare as you level up killing online players and winning games along with unlocking more guns, items, and bursts to use. Bursts are basically Max Payne 3’s version of perks as they range from getting powerful guns for a limited time, a health boost, bullet time, etc. Since bullet time is an integral part of the series, you wonder how it is handled in multiplayer? If you’re within the vicinity of the player who activated the slowdown, you’ll be caught in it for a limited time, so it does not affect everyone in the whole match. There are a decent amount of maps out now to be played in small and big games even though more are coming via downloadable content along with more modes. The multiplayer also has a set of grinds for players to earn when playing as well.
The graphics in Max Payne 3 are simply amazing especially during the single player campaign. This is arguably Rockstar’s best looking game with their RAGE engine especially with the various locales Max is in. Each level is at a diverse setting as it never feels like a corridor shooter for a long period of time. The bigger environments do allow certain shootouts to shine and let Max go nuts with bullet time and shootdodging. The Euphoria physics are also a great addition as that with the RAGE engine can be a thing of beauty during specific moments. Another noteworthy feature that the game abuses is the crazy amount of filtering during the cutscenes. The filtering definitely plays into Max’s alcoholic ways, which is pretty smart. In addition, the game does not present cutscenes normally as you will see lots of splitscreen stuff happening at the same time along with keywords popping out that characters say throughout the campaign. The game’s framerate rarely hitches down even during its most frantic moments. However, there are some technical issues and bugs such as the game crashing on me during the campaign and multiplayer. In addition, load times can be sometimes long for multiplayer matches. As for the sound, Max Payne 3 has one of the best soundtracks I heard in a game in a long time as certain moody tunes come in at perfect times. The voice acting of all the characters are also great especially Max Payne’s voice actor, but his one-liners during the numerous cutscenes don’t work all the time. Rockstar really played into the whole American not in his own element well when Max is in San Paulo.
Is Max Payne 3 worth the long wait? The answer to that is yes as the single-player campaign is one of the most gritty, dark, and violent experiences I ever played through. The story is filled with twists and turns along Max’s downward spiral attempting to make things right in certain situations. The third person shooting is also top notch as bullet time and shootdodging are back in a major way. It is very satisfying to pull off a perfect bullet time moment against the opposition. I also respect and appreciate how challenging this shooter is from beginning to end as it is not a cakewalk for players who might be used to only recent shooters. Rockstar knows what’s up with putting out games for the summer months as Max Payne 3 is filled with enough replay value for players to keep playing after beating the lengthy campaign especially with the multiplayer. The game is not for everyone though, but if you can deal with its style of pacing, different control placements, old school shooter mechanics, and the slight technical issues, then Max Payne 3 is one great shooter that is worth your time and money.