It’s been over 10 yrs since I first experienced Max Payne on PC. I will never forget the skepticism I had when an old friend first showed it to me. It seemed cool, but it wasn’t until I saw the bullet-time moves until I was sold. It was also the first time I was actually gripped by a game’s story. Now, Rockstar games has given us Max Payne 3. How does it live up to the franchise name?
Max Payne as a character is someone who has suffered more in each game than most characters do across their entire series. He’s constantly pushed by his drive to do his job and what he feels is right. However, he is plagued by the murder of his wife and child from the first game. Now, nine years since Max Payne 2’s story, he is a scarred man, brutalized by the events of his past, who has left his home turf of New York and New Jersey and has accepted a job as a body-guard for a rich family in Brazil. Addicted to booze and painkillers, Max fights his addictions as much as he fights the people who kidnap the wife of the man who hired him. The story takes Max on a wild chase throughout Sao Paulo. With every bullet he shoots he learns more of the thick plot surrounding the truth about the family he’s sworn to protect. The story like all the Max Payne games was amazing and kept me guessing at who was really an enemy and who was a friend.
The story is also independent and does not require prior knowledge of the series to complete or enjoy. Everything is told in the noir style that many fans have come to love about the series. It’s engaging from start to finish and I felt Max’s pain at every turn as he faced what seemed like ever increasing odds and imminent death around every corner. The style of the game is an aberration and a welcome one at that.
There is a multiplayer component to the game that is a treat to play. Offering many different game modes, the bullet-time mechanic makes its way into multiplayer without feeling over-powered or trite. Rockstar has implemented their “Social Club” aspect to the game and allows for crews to be formed that can carry over into the up-coming GTA V and no doubt other titles they release. I tend to be more of a single-player guy drawn to games’ stories more so than the multiplayer. However, I have enjoyed every second of Max Payne 3’s multiplayer and never once became bored or frustrated. It does require the usual skill to compete against other players, but it is fair and very well-balanced.
The gameplay is done in the 3rd person perspective like the previous games in the series. However, this time Max controls smoother and is now able to take cover. While the third person shooter/cover mechanic may draw comparisons to other games that use the same mechanic, in Max Payne 3 it feels more natural and also feels like a natural evolution of the mechanic and not a copy/paste job from another game. Back is the ability to slow down time and shoot dodge, where you go into “bullet-time” and can jump and turn 180 degrees while unloading into your enemies. It’s just as amazing here as it’s always been in the series, however at times it feels a little too necessary in order to take down a room full of mercs who seem to have better aim than what a normal human should.
The combat is visceral and bloody. Thanks to a new gaming engine you can see every bullet that goes into your enemies. Their reactions are spot on as are the realistic ways in which they succumb to their injuries. The only complaint that I would have about the gameplay itself is that there is a certain amount of control that is taken away from the player. However, this does compliment the linear narrative and allows players to stay focused on the story at all times.
Sound and music:
The sound is spot on and the weapons feel like they have weight. Dual wielding pistols (a Max Payne staple) feels punchy and delightful as you send every merc and goon to their bloody end. The music is there, but is effectively in the background and does not take a huge spotlight until poignant moments involving some change in the plot. It’s a noir story, not a high-flying big explosions Hollywood production and it fits the atmosphere perfectly.
While the grainy film stock quality during some cut scenes may throw off some people, it grows on you after the first few minutes and becomes a part of the story. The screen flashes and twitches with strong lines and unique lighting and is not just as an artistic motif, but also as a reminder than Max’s mind is almost always clouded by brown liquor and strong pills. Certain words or phrases of importance and relevence to the narrative will flash across the screen as well, reminding you just how dire most of the situations are. The script is immaculate and Max quips with witty and often poetic remarks, as the previous two games have done. James McCaffrey returns as Max and as always does an amazing job on the voice acting. The graphical update is amazing and evolves Max from the stiff face protagonist of the previous games (which were limited by the tech of the time) into a real face whose pain is always apparent from start to finish. Draw distances are great and never cloudy. However, you will be focused on the action happening in front of you more so than pretty vistas as Max Payne 3 shows you blood; and lots of it.
Rockstar has brilliantly taken the reigns from Remedy games and created a stronger Max Payne game using Max’s previous entries as inspiration. The torch has been passed into Rockstar’s always capable hands and while it may be a while before we see another Max Payne game, rest assured, Max Payne 3 will keep you entertained and busy for a long, long time. While the linear nature of the game and the lack of control may throw off some, it’s a tight package. There are glitches that do distract and can pull you out of the moment. But they were never enough to warrant a huge reduction in the score.
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