It’s been a long time since the last Max Payne game. Almost ten years in fact. In that time, a lot of conventions have changed in the Third Person genre. Most notably has been the arrival of Gears of War, which popularized the cover-based dynamic and introduced an entirely new level of violence and gore.
It was Max Payne and its sequel that delivered gritty third person gameplay, along with a story about a hard-boiled New York cop going through night after night of hell. Max Payne 3 more than delivers on that legacy, implementing a number of smart changes and evolutions. With all the flash of the previous games, the introduction of a cover-based dynamic and the evolution of video game presentation over the last ten years, Max Payne 3 beats the odds and comes out of the gate, guns ablaze, ready to kill everything in sight, one (debatably) well-delivered cliché at a time.
The story in Max Payne 3 is the driving force behind the entire presentation, setting up a tale of betrayals, murders and some of the most harrowing elements ever seen in video games. Max Payne is broken man. The deaths of his wife and daughter still haunt him to this very day, which have given rise to alcoholism and drug abuse. He lives in a vice-and-grief-induced haze, unable to cope with day to day life.
In this state, he is hired for a job down in San Paulo protecting a local family, consisting largely of spoiled rich brats, from drug cartels and police corruption. Needless to say, things quickly go to hell as Max has to overcome his own issues and save the family that he has been paid to protect. The style is washed out and visceral, calling to mind Man on Fire. Instead of Denzel, our hero is Max: a washed up has-been who goes on a quest for vengeance – not for the money, but out of duty. Redemption may be out of reach for him, but he nevertheless tries to save the others that have asked for his protection.
The story is told through cut scenes, but Rockstar did not turn their back on the style of the older games. Instead of graphic novel style panels, everything takes place in real time, and words occasionally flash on screen highlighting key phrases. It’s done in a very smooth manner, which is indicative of the entire game.
All the best elements from the previous Max Payne games are back, including bullet time, the element that made gamers flock to Payne in the first place. Rockstar has always been about giving their games a subtle but important touch, and that is so very clear in Max Payne. Most notable is the attention to detail with guns. If a cut scene forces Max to drop his rifle or lose his handguns, then you won’t have them anymore afterward. At times this can be frustrating, but it also emphasizes the immersive quality of the game, insisting on complete continuity. You will almost always see the guns that you had equipped in cut scenes. It makes you feel like you are actually involved in the entire game.
But the immersion does not end at subtle moments in cut scenes. The action is so visceral that you will never be able to turn your head from the screen. Max Payne 3 never ceases to pile the bodies, one on top of another, until you reach its climax. In fact, that is one of its few problems: while the action may never stop being engrossing, the story gets more muddled the deeper you get in. By the end of the game, there are moments where you won’t quite know what you’re fighting for. And honestly, that might be exactly the point Rockstar is trying to get across.
Max Payne 3 is a completely linear affair, and that’s just the way it should be. Every inch of the game is beautifully scripted, and you will find yourself in places you wish you could un-see. The flashbacks will be particularly enjoyable to fans of the old Max Payne games.
The gameplay is difficult and layered, with gratuitous amounts of bullet time and equal parts style and grace. Max Payne 3 adds cover-based gameplay, which is absolutely necessary to utilize if you play on any difficulty other than easy. Bullet time diving is still here, along with the ability to trigger bullet time when you would like. Max also has an arsenal at his disposal, and each gun has a unique feel to it.
That style mentioned before is not just in the gameplay. With every final shot in a wave of enemies, the last bullet will always be slow-mo. You can watch the bullet as it comes out of your gun, slow down the speed, and watch it blow a hole through your target. You can even fire multiple times while watching your enemy crumple to the ground.
Painkillers are still present, allowing Max to gain some health and take the edge off. New to the game is Last Man Standing, which means that if you die while you still have painkillers, you have a chance to kill your assailant. If you’re able to, you get to stay alive. This cuts down on frustration like no other. Don’t think for a second that the game is easy though.
However, you’re not resigned to failure either. When beginning the game, there are a few different options for target locking, reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption. Hard lock, soft lock and free aim. The latter is most difficult, while the former makes headshots a breeze. Regardless of aim mode, there are always plenty of chances for you to die.
The challenge is what makes the game fun. Each shootout is dynamic, and persistent health makes it feel real. Dashing from cover to cover is frantic and exciting, and seeing that final kill is never short of satisfying. Especially when you pop an extra clip into the guy.
Max Payne 3 also offers something new to the series with a multiplayer offering. The game is class-based and asynchronous, something that if done incorrectly could be incredibly skewed and unbalanced. However, here it works. To begin with, there are four different classes to choose from, each with a different load out and special abilities.
All four classes have bullet time, which works in a wildly different manner than single player. When bullet time is activated, all players within line of sight move slower. If you want to evade it, just escape your enemy. Other abilities include seeing enemy positions, appearing as a friendly to the enemy and infinite team ammo. The usual modes are here, with one particular exception. Gang Wars ties the multiplayer into the single player, creating a seamless experience (with voiceover!). Even if the multiplayer doesn’t catch your interest, I suggest you give this immersive new mode a try.
Graphically, Rockstar has made a game as uncompromising as its protagonist. Weighing in at a hefty 28 gigs, there’s no doubt that the textures are absolutely gorgeous. Especially people and weaponry, but really there’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. As you watch the sun set in San Paulo, or maybe as you shoot up a graveyard in New Jersey, you’ll come to realize that this game is a visual masterpiece. Just make sure you have the hardware to run it. You can find hardware requirements at the end of this piece.
It’s almost been ten years and yet, Max Payne still hasn’t lost a step. Max is still just as broken as he ever was, which is not to say he’s flat. In fact, he’s one of the most interesting characters in games today. His pain is detailed, often subtle in presentation. Where the story may occasionally get convoluted, his characterization always shines through. The folks at Rockstar have created a fantastic new entry in the Max Payne series, with fast cover-based gameplay and all the subtle touches from ten years ago. This is all topped off with a strong multiplayer offering and graphics to die for. All in all, Max Payne 3 is an experience not to be missed. And it’s good to have the hardboiled detective back.
Max Payne 3 is available on Steam for $59.99. Thank you to Rockstar for providing this review copy!
- Windows 7/Vista/XP
- Intel Dual Core 3GHz or AMD equivalent
- 3GB System RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce 450 512MB RAM or AMD Radeon HD 4870 512MB RAM
- Windows 7/Vista/XP
- Intel i7 Quad Core 2.8GHz or AMD equivalent
- 3GB System RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce 480 1GB RAM or AMD Radeon HD 5870 1 GB RAM