Max Payne 3 (360)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Graphics: 9.00
Sound: 9.50
Gameplay: 8.75
Replays: 8.50
Gamelength: 8.00

The last time gamers played a Max Payne title was in 2003, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. While the industry has gone through many changes since the second game in the series was released, it still holds fond memories for quite a few people and was a perfect example of how to do both bullet time and noir in a video game perfectly. Max Payne 3 finds the series returning, but not without its own series of changes. Development has changed hands from Remedy Entertainment to Rockstar Studios, the setting has moved from New Jersey to Brazil and a cover system has been implemented, but as a whole this is still the same type of game fans enjoyed so many years ago. It may draw debate as to whether the campaign truly stands up to the first two and if the multiplayer has long term appeal, but action/shooter fans won’t regret the time they spend experiencing Payne’s continuing downward spiral.

It seems appropriate that after eight years away from the series, the storyline begins with just as much time elapsed from the events in Max Payne 2. Max has retired from the police force and taken a job in private security for the Branco family in Brazil (the reason why he has left NYC/NJ is revealed through some lengthy flashback levels that recall the feel of the first two games). After the wife of his client is kidnapped by local gangs Max and his security partner Raul Passos intervene only to find out that there is a lot more happening under the surface. I don’t want to give away too much of the story in the review as part of the appeal is getting deeper and deeper into the web of corruption in Brazil, and even though some of the twists are predictable the story as a whole is appropriately gritty. Everything definitely feels Hollywood inspired this time around, with the aesthetics mimicking Man on Fire at times (more on that later) and the general idea of the story/levels being that everything just keeps getting worse for Max and his rescue attempt. The best example I can think of for how absurd the game can be is an earlier level where the player is trying to protect the Branco office building from invading enemies. After fending off enemies rappelling through the roof, Max heads downstairs only to find troops ramming a vehicle through the front door right at him before sending in a heavily armored guy with a minigun. Moments like this are frequent, and every time it seems as though you’ve seen it all Rockstar throws more insanity at you. It may be a little flashier than the Max Payne of the past, but it’s definitely memorable and while in some ways it doesn’t quite match up to previous installments the story is engaging for the 10-12 hours that players will put into it.

The gameplay follows the traditional third person shooter format, although in some regards it feels a bit slower and more strategic when compared to the first two Max Payne’s. It may be tempting when you first pop the game in to try and run and gun through every enemy without taking cover, but you will quickly find that on any difficulty level this approach will result in a fast track to the grave. Due to the sheer number of enemies that Rockstar often throws at the player, the best course of action is to take cover and methodically clear out an area while utilizing bullet time when moving in the open. This gives the game a slightly different feel, especially if you’ve been playing the previous ones in anticipation, but there are some truly tense firefights and as you can only hold two weapons at a time this gives the levels a bit more of a strategic edge. Bullet time feels like it has been nerfed in some regards, but this is mainly because the enemies take so many shots to go down. Whether they’re wearing a t-shirt or a Kevlar vest, expect to use a good 3-4 shots unless you’re getting headshots each time and this can lead to some frustration considering that Max takes damage so easily. The developers have tried to counter this with different aiming options, allowing gamers to move between hard lock, soft lock or free aim shooting but it is safe to say that you may want to try out the lock options before jumping right into free aim just to see how comfortable you feel. They also provide additional painkillers if you die more than a few times in a row and if you have a painkiller on you and are about to die you get a last chance in bullet time to try and kill the guy who fired the fatal shot in order to recover. It’s almost as if they realized how hard certain portions of the game are, but some of the difficulty spikes are still frustrating especially when you consider that the placement of the checkpoints is questionable. Bullet time functions as before, where it can be activated in a dive or while you’re walking, but the way that Max lands after diving can leave you exposed and this may not always be the best move. Switching between weapons is accomplished by tapping the right bumper and then using the right analog stick to choose what you want to use, and while this works it can be kind of awkward when you’re in the middle of an intense firefight and have ran out of ammo in one gun. Aside from these points, the game plays as you would expect and the majority of it is spent taking out enemies from room to room with the occasional sniping level or vehicle mounted weapon. By the end of the game things do become a bit repetitive and the enemies take so much effort to dispatch that it can be infuriating at times, but the gunplay is so satisfying and Max controls so fluidly (it is surprisingly easy to move between cover and generally maneuver around the environment) that you’ll still want to see the game through to the end. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that when you take out the last bad guy in a group the camera provides a final kill-cam in all its grisly detail, and it is possible to hold down buttons to slow down the action and catch the precise moment of impact. It fits the feel of the game and in some ways is oddly satisfying, especially when you move past a section that was particularly difficult.

Rockstar titles have had stellar production values and Max Payne 3 may be their slickest yet. The game has been designed to hide loading times the first time you play a level, so areas load as a cutscene plays and then throws you right back into the action when the moment is right. If you boot the disc up and reload an area you started, still comic panels showcase the area you’ve been in or are about to explore which adds to the style. The cutscenes and gameplay attempt to be as stylish as possible by using various effects and flashing key words from the dialogue across the screen to emphasize them, and it seems likely that gamers will either love or hate the way that this has been done. As for the look of the game itself, it may be an entirely linear experience, but designing this way has allowed the designers to add a lot of little details to make the levels look incredible. You probably won’t notice details such as how destructible the cover is and how many objects in a particular area can be shot apart while you’re desperately trying to stay alive, but if you bump the difficulty level down to easy at some point and just experiment you’ll find how many subtle nuances are packed into each area (this is also particularly noteworthy when exploring the favela for the first time). Character models look great and the animations in particular are some of the best I’ve seen in a Rockstar game. Everything reacts appropriately; if Max is carrying a heavy weapon and needs to climb a ledge, he’ll drop the weapon and if you dive backwards into a wall he will collide with it in a way that seems realistic. There were the occasional glitches, but there weren’t nearly as many as in Rockstar’s open world titles and as a whole this came off as very polished.

I don’t usually devote an entire paragraph to the audio work in a video game review, but the work that has been put into Max Payne 3 deserves mention. James McCaffrey reprises his role as Max and is stellar throughout, giving the right amount of cynicism and toughness to a character that has continued to go through hell. As the majority of the game takes place in Brazil, Rockstar has chosen to make many of the other characters speak Portugese and not provide translated subtitles during scenes. This not only adds authenticity, but it provides players with the same amount of information that Max has as he explores the seedy underworld. Considering how many games take material set in foreign countries and give it English accents, it is great to see a title that accurately reflects the location it is set in. The band HEALTH was chosen to compose the score, and while I remembered them from years ago as being more of a freaky noise rock group they chose to take the electronic route and have written some material that adds to the ambiance. Prior to the release of the game Rockstar was making a big deal about the song “Tears”, which they said was featured during a standout moment in the campaign. I assumed this might happen during a cutscene, but the song is integrated into a stunning gameplay scene that comes closer to the action movie vibe than I have seen from a game in quite some time.

Aside from the story mode, there is single player content that consists of multiple variations on the arcade/score attack formula and full-fledged multiplayer. While some people may check the game out and never dive into multiplayer, it is better put together than you might expect. Players start off with a character that they can make some basic adjustments to, pick a class and modify what guns/items they are carrying (with a meaningful impact on how weighed down the character is), and then dive into a variety of different modes. Rockstar has taken a page out of the FPS/TPS multiplayer formula, as characters gain levels and earn money by performing well and completing different challenges in game and this allows them to unlock different guns and aesthetic differences. The gunplay is solid and in all of the matches I played there weren’t very many issues with latency or host migration, resulting in some fun and frantic matches. Kill streaks come in the form of bullet time, which can be triggered in such a way that it affects every player in your immediate view distance, and perks such as rapid fire and a grenade launcher. Lobbies are split between free aim and soft lock variations, ensuring that players compete with the style of aiming they are comfortable with and no one has an unfair advantage. Initially you are restricted to a lobby for new players to learn the ropes, but after a few levels you can branch out and see all of the variations. In addition to the standard deathmatch modes, there is a Payne Killer mode that puts two players in the role of Max and Passos against everyone else and when they die the roles switch. There is also a Gang Wars mode, which is what Rockstar has tried to place emphasis on. This mode encourages players to work together and ties in elements of the single player narrative (complete with some cinematic introductions and changing objectives) into cooperative team play. It’s an interesting idea and is quite a bit of fun to play, and I’d recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking for a slightly different take on the multiplayer format.

Max Payne 3 is a highly polished title that brings the series into the current generation with a bang. It does run into some repetition and the spacing between checkpoints will likely infuriate some players, but the single player campaign has some over the top moments that are fun to experience and as a result it is worth replaying. Multiplayer is surprisingly more in depth than expected and I’ve personally managed to get some solid day long sessions out of it, but I have to wonder how long the interest level will last and if people will still be populating the servers enough for Gang Wars to remain a viable option by the time the big fall titles are released. But regardless of this, even if you’re not going to check out the multiplayer at all Max Payne 3 is worth picking up for the campaign alone. It doesn’t quite end up as the best game you’ll play this year, but in the action/shooter department it’s one of 2012’s highlights.

Overall Rating: 9.00

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