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Jul 06, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $59.99
  • Developer: Rockstar Studios
  • Publisher: Rockstar Games
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Released: May 15, 2012
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Reviewed: Windows

Max Payne is a broken shell of a man. He’s older, thicker, and living his days out by obscuring them in sorrow as he drinks alcohol to excess and swallows pills to numb the pain. This deadly mix is destroying him, but in a way this is what he wants. The only thing he can do right is keep himself alive. He’s lost everyone around him he’s ever cared about.

Max Payne’s backstory:

Max Payne started off with a flashback to three years earlier in 1998 where his wife and baby daughter were brutally murdered by junkies high on a drug known as Valkyr. Max, as NYPD Detective gets framed for murder and so began the dark path he would go down. He continually has bad luck and ultimately got revenge and stopped the drug. In Max Payne 2, a group of killers known as the Cleaners are being investigated by Max as he now works for the DEA. He gets involved with Mona Sax – the assassin who tried to kill him in the first game, falls in love with her and tries to protect her against the Cleaners. Things don’t go as planned as he’s able to stop the Cleaners, but at the cost of Mona’s life.

Multiplayer is in the Max Payne series for the first time. You have your standard modes you’d expect, but the standouts are Gang Wars and Paynekiller. Gang Wars brings a twist to standard objective games by making the holding territories, capturing checkpoints, teamdeath match all in one mode as a progressive story told through narration by Max Payne. Paynekiller is a reverse VIP-mode in which the VIP has the advantage with the use of painkillers and bullet-time playing as Max Payne or Raul Passos (sidekick). By killing either Max or Passos (sidekick), you assume their role until your death.

There’s a robust, deep, and expansive levelling system that follows patterns set in other games. Carrying all your weapons has a major flaw – weight. Now, encumbrance is an issue when deciding what to wear into battle. You unlock multiple loadouts to customize your character the way you need to, sacrificing speed for more hardware or sacrificing protection for agility. It’s these decisions that make what would be an otherwise throwaway multiplayer component the most rewarding and exciting addition to the series to date. Within the updated Rockstar Social Club you can form a clan, known as a Crew which will even carry over to Grand Theft Auto V.

The story of the titular hero takes place mostly in São Paulo, Brazil – far from what Max Payne would call home. It being nearly 5,000 miles away from New York City. The life he once knew is gone, and so he takes on a well-paying bodyguard role for folks he cannot stand. Max Payne drinks to cope with the emotional weight of his past. This also allows him to tolerate the Branco family that he’s working for, as they’re rich and arrogant snobs who act like assholes to everyone they come in contact with. They are widely known throughout Brazil, making this family the target of two separate kidnapping attempts on the pretty heiress, Fabiana Branco. So begins the ever devolving situations of bad luck getting worse across 14 Chapters encapsulating the story.

Max even when seldomly sober, is a clutz and opens up situations to his disadvantage where he’d normally have the upper-hand. This is quickly reversed by the all too trusting enemies who allow him to turn the tables and clear the room with his supernatural bullet time ability. The return of bullet time has been emulated and recreated in countless other games, but not with the same panache. Using this feature is still the main draw and purpose of getting through a firefight while heavily outnumbered. Rather than just slowing down time, the much cooler but more dangerous option for Max is to shootdodge in any four directions. It makes him as equally effective as it does make him vulnerable to enemy gunfire. It’s a risk/reward system that requires you to think about the consequences of such an action. Though, take some damage and you can pop a painkiller to restore some health to allow you to continue. Take too many hits and you go into a last stand mode as long as you have at least one painkiller, have none and you’re dead.

Stylized and dynamic cutscenes replace the static comic-strip scenes that bookended each chapter in prior games. Scanlines, blowouts, blur, color separation, and random text blurbs litter the screen as you watch the cutscenes that double as a way to mask the loading that is happening underneath the hood. This evolution from still to full motion cutscenes do a lot to add depth and allow you to witness the brutality you wouldn’t otherwise see. This follows the game’s high-intensity flow and action-movie feel. The cutscenes do strange things sometimes where you are watching something you would normally have direct control over. When you do regain control, it’s only for a few seconds and then you snap into watching another cutscene. Something like this is very disjointed and breaks the immersion for only a moment because of it being so herky-jerky.

Combat wouldn’t be anything without being able to dual-wield weapons. This system has been upgraded to allow for mixing and matching of weapon types such as pistol and SMG, SMG and sawn-off shotgun, and variations therein. Max can carry a two-handed weapon such as a rifle or shotgun, but Max cannot dual-wield while holding a two-handed weapon – there’s simply no where to hold it, so the weapon must be placed on the ground. The animations for Max are fluid and natural as you’d expect from Rockstar. The way he holds a rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other is fantastic and must be seen in motion.

Max Payne is still a detective deep down, often spending time to find clues and offer his thoughts on the events happening around him. There were times where I felt absolutely terrified to enter a location because of how open the area and multiple openings enemies could come from. It was a unique feeling, but the dread was exciting as I truly felt isolated and vulnerable in every situation. The enemy count steadily grows with each passing chapter, and so does the body count after Max is done with them.

Max’s wreckless disregard for himself as he jumps over obstacles and dives to punishing depths is astounding. He isn’t getting any younger, so his movements are a bit slower and getting up from the falls takes a bit of time to recover. This harkens back to the way he feels about his life, it’ll cost nothing to lose. He is constantly in the business end of a gun, willing to take a bullet to save those around him – which is admirable, but stupid.

Max Payne 3’s audio is something every developer should look to. Having the band, Health to compose the soundtrack amongst other world music helped sink in the location and atmosphere of Brazil. Health’s synthesizer sounds and tempo provides a soundtrack that doesn’t get in the way or go unnoticed, but blends with what’s taking place. The voicework of the Portuguese language being spoken with no subtitles to translate put you right in the shoes of Max Payne from beginning to end, as in – you have no idea what the hell is being said. James McCaffrey returns for the third time as Max Payne, offering fantastic acting and variations on his voice. The lower and gravely tones are reserved for narration, but more natural and faster dialogue is higher. This helps separate the narration and conversation. The sounds of gunfire, vehicles, and the whoosh as you go in and out of bullet time compliment each other perfectly. The RAGE Engine performs beautifully, creating striking visuals, lighting and amazing depth and detail in the textures and utilizing Direct X 11 on PCs to great effect.

Having played the entire series, Max Payne 3 was the first game where I actually felt sorry for the dude. He’s a depressing individual, and by all accounts – should not be alive. The characters around Max and the world he inhabits were nothing short of great. Max Payne 3 is a worthy sequel with greater depth and development. Whether there is more to Max’s story remains to be seen, but this is one of Rockstar’s grittiest tales yet, and it fits Max Payne succinctly.