Over a decade has passed since we first began our journey with Max Payne, and since then we’ve seen two games by Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment and even a forgettable full length feature film starring Mark Wahlberg. Now, with Max Payne 3, it marks the first time in the series that Rockstar Games would run the point from start to finish throughout the game’s development. With 9 years separating this title from the last entry and seeing tons of great shooters since then, is Max still among the best? Read on to find out.
Just from the game’s opening scene, we’re quickly reminded that even though Max has seen some dark times, he’s just now really hitting his lowest point. Reduced to boozing until unconscious and popping pills to ease the pain, Max is full of regret, guilt, and a want to end it all (or at least to have someone else do it for him). It’s this frame of thought and state of mind that helps to prepare us for the events that follow throughout the game’s campaign.
Using the back drop of São Paulo, Brazil, the writers at Rockstar carve out a narrative worthy of any action flick you’ll see in the theater. It’s full of the usual tropes one tends to see with this kind of high-octane story, but through its pacing and storytelling it certainly stands out from the rest of the gaming pack that tries to do the same. If corruption, kid napping and backstabbing are your thing, then Max Payne 3 should have you covered on all fronts.
Playing off the idea that there really isn’t anything left for Max in New York City, he is wooed by another former NYPD cop to work security detail for a well-off Brazilian family. The eldest of three brothers, Rodrigo Branco, is wealthy businessman whose well being is secured by Payne. However, being wealthy in a poor country has its shortcomings, the biggest being that you’re always a target. With that, it comes as no surprise that within moments of the game’s opening scene, Rodrigo’s trophy wife is kidnapped from a crowded party in broad day light and It’s the events that would follow that help to unravel the bigger picture in the game’s story.
Presentation in Max Payne 3 is what will keep you enthralled for the entire time that it lasts. Our main character is once again voiced by James McCaffrey, and, like Max, he, too, has aged a bit since the last time we’ve heard him, and that helps to add yet another layer to the character. The cutscenes scattered throughout smoothly transition back and forth between story and gameplay, and we’re treated to a noir style narration by McCaffrey as it all unfolds, further bringing us into the mind of Payne as he goes through all of the trials and tribulations thrown in his direction. Though the tone is a bit darker here, we still get plenty of Max Payne one-liners and sarcasm scattered throughout.
We can’t talk about a Max Payne title and not discuss the gunplay. Bullet time is back and it’s as good as ever. Not only does it act as a way to slow down the action in order to make sense of a situation, it’s also the way to make “cool shit happen”, which is how Rockstar reps so eloquently put it to us during our PAX East preview.
There’s something about that feeling you get when, in mid air, you’re emptying the clip of your assault rifle and, in that same motion, dropping it to the ground to reach for your holstered double pistols. It’s all so seamless, so badass, yet for as many times as it happens during the 12 hour campaign (and it does happen a lot) it’s a mechanic that simply never gets old. The Max Payne series is what made bullet time “a thing” and Rockstar Games manages to pick up exactly where Remedy left off.
An aspect of the gameplay that cannot go unnoticed is the game’s level of difficulty. Mind you, I play a lot of games for the site and enjoy a good challenge and all, but Max Payne 3 really tested my shooter playing ability. I died…a lot. So much so that I’ve dubbed it “Demon Souls with guns.” Thankfully, the game has little to no loading time and jumping right back into the action — though frustrating at times — never seemed like too much of a chore.
In terms of visuals, the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) has never looked this good. From the nightclubs of downtown São Paulo to the iconic and run down favelas, the game has a level of visual accuracy that is not seen too often in games. Whether in Brazil or New Jersey, the city skylines that blanket the game’s surroundings help to provide a great sense of scale and provide the player with the feeling that the action taking place is in a living and breathing city even though the game is a linear affair. It’s that attention to detail that simply cannot be overlooked without some well deserved praise.
Another visual highlight is how the all of the violence is presented. The game is brutal — I’m talking burn-people-alive-Brazilian- gangland-style kind of brutal. Even as you’re pumping enemies full of lead, you’ll notice pieces of flesh come off with blood gushing out. When enemies fill you with lead in return, guess what, the same pieces of flesh get ripped off. The game may not be as gory as a shock horror movie like Saw, but it’s certainly on par with the most recent Rambo flick, at the very least.
As they’ve done in previous titles, Rockstar relies heavily on music to set the tone for certain scenes. With Max Payne 3, they’ve turned to L.A.-based indie band HEALTH to provide the game’s soundtrack. Their song “Tears” comes up at a point of the game where Max is in full desperation mode and pushed to his limits. The track fits so well that it sounds as though it was created for that very moment. Throughout the games campaign, and as you make you way though the various São Paulo locales, you will also encounter many of the sounds and music one would expect to hear when traversing those areas, all of which helps to take the immersion to a higher level.
To keep players interested, the title incorporates an arcade mode that features “a new york minute.” This time attack mode gives players a five minute clock to get through the game. The more kills that you get, the more time that is added to the clock; as if things weren’t frantic enough already.
Also, in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar has included a competitive multiplayer mode. All of the expected play modes are here, they’re just covered with a different coat of paint. So while there’s no name change for deathmatch, you have “Gang Wars” which is objective based as well as “Payne Killers,” the equivalent of a juggernaught mode. With the inclusion of multiplayer, Rockstar has placed a bigger emphasis on its Social Club and has already announced how the crews created for Max Payne 3 will transition right into Grand Theft Auto V when it eventually launches.
All in all, Max Payne 3 builds on everything we’ve come to know and love from the titular character. Sure, the inclusion of multiplayer may have thrown people off a bit since the usual assumption is that those kinds of add-ons indicate a lack of focus or resources, but it’s certainly not the case here. The game’s single player campaign is the best one I’ve played this year thus far and wouldnt be surprised if it winds up on a few game of the year lists when it’s all said and done. Despite what your preffered genre is, I have to recommend that, at the very least, you give Max Payne 3 a look. It’s that damn good.