When looking back on the most influential games and series’, what will people say about the Max Payne franchise? Will it be remembered for successfully bringing time manipulation to the table or will it be known for the deep narrative of the fall of a man after everything he had loved was ripped away from him? The original Max Payne was a run and gun title with deep characters, stylized cutscenes and enthralling story. With Max Payne 3, everything that you remember has been improved upon to produce the best Max Payne experience every made.
Having never forgiven himself or gotten over the death of his wife and daughter back in New York nine years ago, Max is still drowning himself daily in heavy liquor and prescription painkillers. No longer a cop, Max is enjoying this lifestyle as much as Max Payne can enjoy something, until an old colleague from the police academy comes to him with a job offer in the private sector in São Paulo, Brazil. Max and Passos work together to protect industrialist Rodrigo Branco and his family; including his two younger brothers Victor the Politician and Marcelo the Playboy that loves hitting up nightclubs. All three of them are very wealthy and lead extravagant lives. After settling in, Max finds himself constantly drinking on the job everywhere he goes. This becomes his downfall as a well-known gang, the Comando Sombra, kidnaps Rodrigo’s beautiful trophy wife, Fabiana. Max finds himself in an even deeper and more dangerous plot than he could ever imagine. Not exactly the relaxing retirement he was hoping for.
Unlike the original, Max is limited to the amount of weapons he can hold at any given time: two single-handed guns, such as pistols and one larger weapon such as a assault rifle or shotgun. Weapons don’t magically stick to Max’s back as they do in the other games and you will actually see Max struggle to hold a shotgun with one arm and shooting a pistol using the other. If you decide to dual-wield pistols or similar smaller weapons, Max will drop the larger weapon if you are carrying one.
The gunplay in Max Payne 3 is polished to the point where I can’t even think of any game that feels better than this. From the beginning to the end, you feel in full control of the chaos that is happening all around you as if you were the star in a beautiful ballet. There are three main control options: Free Aim, Soft Lock and Hard Lock. Free Aim is the default setting and gives you complete control over the reticule when shooting. If you are looking for a little bit of assistance, Soft Lock takes the reticule and gravitates it towards the nearest enemy body part, be it an arm, a leg, the head, or the ever painful groin. For those who aren’t comfortable playing a Max Payne game or a shooter in general, the Hard Lock option would be ideal.
Max Payne wouldn’t be Max Payne if he wasn’t dodging bullets and taking out countless gang members in slow motion. As fun as it is to activate bullet time all the time, you are still limited to a meter that must recharge. The shoot-dodge mechanic thankfully doesn’t rely on the meter and Max can leap into the air in any direction whenever he wants without restriction. There is something satisfying about leaping through windows while getting headshot after headshot before landing on the floor. If you do find yourself on the floor you can continue to shoot and not worry about getting up first. A new feature, Bullet Cams, allow you to focus on the killing shot to the last enemy in an area. Here you can slow down the bullet as it spins without remorse and makes it’s way into your target with a thud. Max is not completly defenseless up close either as he is able to perform melee attacks that will end with you firing the final shot; the last thing your enemies will ever see. Somehow this always come off more sinister than just blasting away bad guys at a distance. Max Payne fights with no remorse as it may be that he has finally accepted that he doesn’t care if he survives or maybe longs for deaths sweet embrace to finally come.
If Max takes a fatal shot and you are sitting on unused painkillers, which are used to replenish your health, you will enter a bullet time situation where you will be given the chance to take out your would-be killer. If you succeed you will receive health at the cost of one bottle of painkillers. Thankfully Max Payne has stuck to its roots and does not have regenerating health that is prominent in way too many games these days. While having a nifty cover system in the game, you will not be able to hide behind a pillar or low wall and magically get your health back. It’s best to make use of the cover to reload your weapons and plan out your next strike, just don’t think too long as the AI is smart enough to flank your position.
The stylization of the game’s visuals is simply stunning and presents a world full of character, grit and destruction. Using cinematic effects such as scan lines and utilizing typography during dialog helps set the mood for the neo-noir style the game portrays. While the environments are nothing special, this presentation evolves the dull world into a motion comic with unsurpassed quality. Transitioning between cutscenes and gameplay is silky smooth with no delay. In one scene Max is leaping over a balcony, but as he leaps the game enables bullet time and gives you control of the shots as he plummets downward. James McCaffrey reprises his role as Max Payne and the inner monologues are nothing short of exceptional; I couldn’t imagine Max Payne without him.
Arcade mode has players trying to score as many points as possible as you replay previously completed chapters and post scores online in two different modes. Score Attack provides points for kills and placements of shots, while New York Minute sets a timer on the chapters with every kill adding to your timer as you swiftly make your way to the next target.
Before release I was skeptical about multiplayer working in a Max Payne title, but I was happily surprised at the amount of pure fun I had while playing it. Broken up into three main modes, Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch, Gang Wars and Payne Killer, it is then even further broken up into two different control settings: soft lock or free aim. Understandably they were trying to make it accessible to a wide audience of players, but it may have a costly effect by splitting the user base like that. Gang Wars supplements story elements into a dynamically shifting objective based match. Payne Killer has two players playing as Max and Passos respectfully. Once killed, using a rating system depending on who made the fatal shot and most damage, a new player will take over. Playing as Max and Passos is not without benefits as they have special abilities and weapons that are unavailable to the normal players. Bursts, which act like perks, are selectable abilities that can be activated during the match at the cost of the adrenaline meter. Bullet time is one of these bursts that surprisingly works well, as it works on the principal of line of sight. If you use it, you and another player you be placed in bullet time until the line of sight is broken or your meter is depleted.
Online Crews add to the multiplayer experience, which also carry over stats into the unreleased GTA5. Max Payne 3 has done so many things right from the neo-noir storyline and cinematic experience. With already announced robust DLC plans for the multiplayer experience, Rockstar has made sure that fans will be entertained and playing the game for months to come.
Note: The Max Payne 3 review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.