Max Payne is back and more depressed than ever in Rockstar’s long-awaited Max Payne 3. Despite some painful flaws, it features an enjoyable story, nice cutscenes, and the addition of an action-packed online multiplayer mode that is sure to give fans and those new to the bullet time franchise a serious challenge.
It’s fitting that the previous entry in the series was titled Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, as he’s definitely fallen as far as he can go in his third outing. In a nod to Tony Scott’s 2004 hit movie Man on Fire, the picture features plenty of the same blurry, glitchy, mind-screw effects as you play. After watching Max nearly drink himself to death and pop pills while crying over his dead family’s photo, we soon learn that he’s moved away to Brazil to become a bodyguard for an industrialist there and his family of rich playboys and politicians. While at a party, a group of masked bad guys kidnap the industrialist and one of his daughters, prompting Max to go into hero mode and save the day.
What he doesn’t know is that there’s something deeper going on, as bad guys keep tracking the family somehow and keep staging more kidnappings after being rescued multiple times. Now it’s up to you and Max to get down to the bottom of things as you mow down enemies while working your way through nicely done cutscenes that unfold the story through Max’s gritty inner dialogue and interacting with other characters.
First the most part, the controls from previous games are still intact, with dodge, fire, change weapons, reload, and interact buttons, as well as a much-needed cover button for good measure. And you’ll be searching for cover quite a bit here, as things tend to get pretty hectic quickly. There’s also a crouch function by pressing down on the left analog stick, and an aim/lock on button (with an option to turn off) that helps take out the baddies quickly. You can recover Max’s health by popping some pills when you have some with the painkiller button, and this wouldn’t be Max Payne without the infamous bullet time feature.
Pressing down on the right analog stick initiates the famed bullet time, a rechargeable feature which slows everything down for awhile when the gunfire gets a little too heavy on screen. This allows you to carefully aim and take out targets before they even know what hit them, and you can also leap and dodge while doing this for some extra flair. To make things even more realistic, Max will stay on the ground after leaping until you move to get up. This comes in handy if there are a lot of bullets flying around, and you don’t want to get caught in the crosshairs. You can still shoot and twist / turn while you’re down as well, giving the feel of really being in the middle of an action movie gunfight. Another nice touch is the ability to slow down the shot of the last bad guy in the area you’re in, letting you watch the bullet cut through their face, body, etc while being able to shoot them even more as they die. This helps alleviate the stress from some frustrating moments of the game that I’ll get into.
Max’s adventure doesn’t end with the campaign, either, as there’s plenty waiting for you once the grizzled story concludes. There’s an arcade mode that lets you play a score attack mode in which you try to get the highest score possible, and even a ‘New York Minute’ mode where you start with 60 seconds on the clock and rack up extra time for every enemy you take out.
For the first time ever in Max Payne history there’s online multiplayer, complete with all the modes you’d expect, including deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and capture-and-hold. But it’s the gloriously violent Gang Wars mode where most fans will get their kicks in as up to 16 people can play in teams through four rounds of missions with different objectives such as defusing bombs, claiming territory, or taking out a randomly selected leader of the opposing gang. The team that comes out on top gets a slight advantage during the fifth and final rounds which is a good old-fashioned death match. You’re also able to earn “Bursts” or points you can use to enhance your gameplay on things such as upgrading your weapons. The bullet time works a little differently here as well, as it only traps you and your target in a brief window of slow motion versus slowing everything down.
Rockstar’s Social Club tracks your stats, achievements, etc. Those who enjoy multiplayer games will find a lot to love here and will have a blast slowing and mowing down others. Rockstar plans to add even more multiplayer features via DLC you can purchase in the upcoming months.
The game looks and sounds amazing, easily one of the most impressive productions ever seen on a home console. Details such as skin pores and stands of hair on Max and other characters help bring these digital misfits to life, and there’s an insane level of detail on weapons, objects and the backgrounds throughout. All of this is accompanied by a never-ending barrage of gunfire and explosions that will rock your speakers, with James McCaffrey returning once again to voice (and motion-capture) Max, topped by the perfectly fitting soundtrack by rock-band Health, as they capture the darkness and bleakness of the Max’s continuing slide into depression and the Brazilian slums he fights through.
But like our hero, the game isn’t without its faults. Max Payne 3 is tough. I know it’s supposed to be difficult, but the bad guys are just ridiculous and relentless. Worse still is that the first stage fools you into thinking that things aren’t half bad in this ruthless world of organ-harvesting madness. But you’ll soon realize that no amount of bullet time can save you from baddies that have pinpoint accuracy and gang up on you in large numbers. This coupled with the fact that checkpoints are far and few between, the lack of ammo to pick up or painkillers to get, and that enemies take a ridiculous amount of bullets to go down (t-shirts and tank tops are bulletproof now?) is bound to throw off even the most hardcore of gamers.
Another gripe is no matter what weapon you choose, when a cut-scene is finished playing, it automatically switches Max back to his default pistol. This quickly becomes a chore as cut-scenes appear frequently and you’ll have to constantly stop everything to switch back to your preferred weapon.
Despite its quirks, Max Payne 3 is definitely the most polished and emotionally charged in the series and a welcome return for one of the most complex characters in videogame history. Fans of intense action and bullet time choreography are bound to love what Rockstar has done here, even if the difficulty level threatens to overwhelm the fun. Technically, the game is stunning, with visuals that push the boundaries of the platform to the edge, helped further by James McCaffrey’s excellent performance and Health’s immersive soundtrack. Finally, online multiplayer makes this the most replayable Max Payne yet. There’s plenty to love here, just as long as you’re willing to overlook some of the game’s more frustrating flaws, much like its troubled titular hero.