Max Payne 3 Review
Written : Monday, May 14, 2012
By: Richard Walker
Transport yourself back to 2001 to the beginning of Max Payne. A series that's been darker than pitch from day one, it's also always been shot through with its own line of tongue-in-cheek humour and pulp sensibilities, riffing on everything from Norse mythology to John Woo action movies. Coupled with Sam Lake's verbose writing, there was nothing else like it at the time. Yet Max Payne 3 is something of a sea change for the franchise, with Rockstar's outing charting Max's continuing descent in a savage, brutal and often harsh story that refuses to pull any of its punches. Just don't expect any Valkyr-fuelled rants about tasting “the flesh of fallen angels!”
Setting out to redefine the third-person shooter is no tall order, but it's a bar that Rockstar has set for itself with Max Payne 3, all without original developer Remedy at the helm, no less. It's an incredibly lofty goal, so has Rockstar pulled it off? Max Payne 3 essentially picks up where the series left off, with Max mired in booze and an addiction to painkillers, before his old academy buddy, Raul Passos offers him the opportunity for a fresh start in São Paulo, Brazil. However, wherever Max goes, trouble is always sure to follow.
While the story is played straight down the line taking Max to relentlessly dark territory, Max Payne 3 revels in its action-packed set-pieces. And although his advancing years means that Max is slightly less nimble than before - letting out an audible grunt as he dives - it's the slow-mo shootdodge that's still at the core of Max Payne 3's gunplay, and it's every bit as gratifying as you'd hope. There's a real weight and impact to shootouts that makes every moment a visceral thrill, laced with cinematic verve and dynamism.
"I knew I forgot to turn off the oven."
It's arguably the most cinematic game we've ever played in fact, executed with a raw style and panache that no other shooter to date has been capable of mustering. While the absence of the comic book panels at the beginning of each chapter is something we sorely miss, the dynamic 'motion comic' cut-scenes make sense, keeping the story rolling along at a breakneck pace with no loading screens to interrupt the flow. There are some scripted moments, granting Max infinite ammunition to tear up the place while he dangles from a helicopter, hangs from a chain or scoots along on an office push cart, but it's all awesome, bombastic stuff.
Although it's a wall-to-wall shooting gallery, Max Payne 3's shootdodging and Bullet Time gameplay mechanics keep the action constantly fresh, with Max's gruff internal monologue voiceover (provided by Max mainstay, James McCaffrey) maintaining the momentum throughout. It's an incredibly tough game too, even on the standard medium difficulty, punishing mistakes or careless tactics with a swift bullet through the brain. Painkillers still need to be hoarded for a health boost, and keeping one on reserve is vital, as you can exchange a pill bottle for a second wind thanks to the game's 'Last Man Standing' mechanic. Using cover is also essential, as running headlong into gunfire is a surefire route to becoming a bullet-riddled corpse. MP3 is no cover shooter, but crouching behind stuff certainly plays its part.
Each gun battle is a glorious symphony of cacophonous, balletic violence making every compartment in the game a playground for the arsenal of handguns, rifles and shotguns. As Max is bounced from pillar to post and the narrative takes in flashbacks to tie the whole puzzle together, every gunfight is a sheer joy, with gloriously gratuitous slow-motion bullet cams punctuating each and every sequence to let you know that you've cleared an area. Every weapon also feels suitably lethal, spitting chunks of white hot lead that thump into your enemies' hides, pop through eye sockets or burst out of the back of heads. Each kill is a grisly, gruesome treat, delivered in an almost forensic detail.
"If the bullets don't kill you, Max's shirt will."
There's masses of scope to replay the story once you've finished it too, with the Score Attack and New York Minute modes to tackle with classic Max skins to play with, medals to earn and leaderboard support, as well as several unlockable difficulty levels. It's a game that demands to be played more than once, and collectible golden guns and clues will also keep you coming back for more, as well as a variety of 'grinds': a range of objectives and milestones that reward you with XP. There are loads of grinds to complete in both single-player and multiplayer, adding extra impetus to keep playing. The gunplay is naturally its own reward of course, but the grinds and extra modes are a fantastic silver lining.
The same formula applies to multiplayer too, which pits two of the game's multiple factions against one another across an enormous range of playlists. Initially, you only have access to Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, as well as rookie playlists for beginner players, but once you rack up 100 kills online, you'll open up almost everything Max Payne 3 multiplayer has to offer. That includes the crux of multiplayer, with the story-driven Gang Wars and Payne Killer providing potentially limitless gameplay, with the former offering a dozen different objective-based rounds that build towards a 'winner takes all' final round. As team-based modes go, Gang Wars is brilliant, keeping things constantly fresh and engaging, with wagers to gamble on and vendettas to settle.
There's custom loadouts to mess around with – once you've attained the necessary level to unlock them – and more guns than an NRA meeting to purchase and modify. You'll constantly earn cash as well as XP as you progress through the multiplayer ranks, enabling you to acquire new equipment, weapons and Bursts. Bursts are special multiplayer abilities that you can activate once you've built up enough adrenaline, giving you an edge with judicious use. They can turn the tide in a fraught firefight, exposing enemies, boosting firepower or buffing teammates with some extra health. Picking the right Burst for you, alongside the right weapons and equipment will help you define your own multiplayer characters.
"Giant toxic fart clouds are no laughing matter."
Like single-player, tactics and strategy are king in multiplayer, and running into a hail of bullets simply isn't an option. Thankfully Bullet Time is a treat online, activated with a shootdodge based on the line of sight of other players. Trust us. It just works. Multiplayer is utterly compulsive and a perfect reason to crew up on the Rockstar Social Club website. Chances are, you're going to be playing it for a long, long time. Matchmaking is ultra quick too, meaning delving into an online game is a breeze and you're seldom left waiting in lobbies for long.
As you'd expect, there's a selection of achievements attached to multiplayer, a handful of which are an enormous time sink, especially reaching level 50 and unlocking every weapon. Single-player takes the lion's share of the achievements though, demanding several playthroughs, including completion of New York Minute mode and completion of every single-player grind. And they're not called grinds for nothing. Just think yourself lucky you don't need to complete the multiplayer grinds for a cheevo.
Max Payne 3 is quite a different experience to its predecessors under Rockstar's watch, keeping any levity restricted to its TV sets, where you'll find insane commercials and even the return of Captain Baseball Bat Boy. Outside the in-game TV however, Max's gripping hardboiled tale is something akin to a Michael Mann movie, with a damaged Max at his lowest ebb, perpetually prone to misfortune. Its darker tone may eschew the playful undercurrent of Max Payne and Max Payne 2, but Max Payne 3 is a work of unbridled noirish brilliance that demands true skill to master. It also demands your attention, because to miss out on it would be cause for a bad day. And goodness knows, Max has had enough of those to last a lifetime...
James McCaffrey's voiceover is reliably superb and Health's original soundtrack is brilliantly spare and perfectly in keeping with the game's tone. Each and every gun sounds suitably lethal too. Bang!
Truly exemplary. The level of detail is superb, and few games can match the unparalleled sense of place and atmosphere that Max Payne 3 conjures with its visuals. You can almost smell and taste the filth and poverty of the Nova Esperança favela.
Max Payne 3 is an unapologetically violent, yet unreservedly excellent shooter. Its gameplay serves as a natural evolution of the Bullet Time and shootdodge mechanics introduced in the original games over a decade ago, making for one of the most brutal and heavyweight action games you'll ever play. Cover plays more of a role this time, but the cover system works perfectly.
The story is dense, layered and utterly engrossing for its 10-15 hour run time. Once you've finished it, you'll definitely go back for a repeat visit. Max Payne 3 is also packed with additional modes to unlock and the multiplayer is unfathomably deep, crammed with playlists and game types. In short, it's massive.
A typically strong achievement list from Rockstar with only a handful of multiplayer tasks to complete. Multiple playthroughs are required, but there's collectibles to gather and extra modes to discover. Max Payne 3's achievement list covers all of these bases and more, also asking that you perform some rather amazing Bullet Time feats at certain junctures during the story.
A true cinematic gaming masterpiece, Max Payne 3 is not just another triumph for Rockstar, but it's also testament to what the developer can do when it turns its hand to linear storytelling. Max Payne 3 might be a stylistic shift for the series, but it's also a raw and brutal portrait of a man pushed to the edge that deserves a place alongside Rockstar's superlative open-world efforts. Get ready to enter a world of Payne.