One of the defining games of my childhood was the original Max Payne. I got it for my birthday probably when I was about 10 or 11, thank you potentially irresponsible parents, and I loved it. I loved the gameplay, the shooting, the story, everything. Except the nightmare missions, they did and still do scare me, and I used to get my older brother to do them for me. Either way, it was probably one of the first proper shooting games I played, and introduced a lot of cool features and ideas to the genre. The bullet-time mode and shootdodging were imitated but never perfected in many titles, like Enter the Matrix, Stranglehold and more recently Sniper Elite. Max Payne 3 was created by Rockstar, taking it away from Remedy. A lot of people were skeptical about many aspects of this; the past bunch of Rockstar games killed off the main characters, and overall fans weren’t sure if Max would be done justice. Personally, I believe Rockstar have perfectly introduced Max Payne into this generation of consoles, blending all of the key elements of Max Payne 1+2 and adding contemporary features that without would make the game seem overly dated. Easily my favourite title thus far of 2012, I’ll highlight why Max Payne 3 deserves your time, money, respect, love, and gusta.
Max Payne 3 follows the exploits of the titular Max Payne, ex-NYC cop turned Private Worker in Sao-Paolo Brazil. The (very) brief backstory of Max Payne; in Max Payne (1) Max returns home from a routine days work to find his wife and newly born child murdered in cold blood by a bunch of drug addicts on the new designer drug Valkyrie. He avenges their deaths and realises the murders were much more than a robbery turned wrong. In Max Payne 2 he meets Mona Sax, a new partner and you play some of the missions as her, seeking revenge still. Still grieving, Max is more of a mess in MP2 than the original, and the death of Mona Sax at the end of the title (this is canon, the non-canon ending she lives) pushes Max over the edge. In Max Payne 3 he has finally had enough and became addicted to Alcohol and Painkillers and moved to Sao Paolo, trying to forget his old life in New York and working for a rich family as a bodyguard. Max is older, out of shape, and his addictions affect him massively in his ability to perform; the monologue constantly has Max ridiculing himself for being a failure, though I think he does a pretty good job!
For those unfamiliar to the series, Max Payne is a third-person shooter. However, it does break a lot of conventions that we have became very familiar with in modern shooters. For example, Max Payne 3 doesn’t have regenerating health, it has over-the-top gunplay in every firefight, and it tries to encourage the player to not take their time with things and take a lot of cover. Instead you have painkillers, a usable resource which do run out pretty quickly and also allow you a last stand mode, a new thing for the series. If you get ‘downed’ you have to kill the person who downed you and you come back with renewed vigour; however this doesn’t always go to plan and instead you’re better off managing your health yourself.
The big thing about the series however is the Bullet Time and Shootdodging. Hitting the RB and a direction has Max dive in that direction in glorious slow motion using Rockstars now famous (and advanced) RAGE engine, a spectacular physics engine that really shows how far games have progressed. If Max dives too close to a wall, he’ll collide with it and not just float forever towards it. If Max dives through a window, it’ll shatter at the impact point and he’ll hit the ground with all the finesse and grandeur that an overweight American would. It’s spectacular. Second, Bullet Time slows down time allowing you to easily get a headshot or pick the enemies off tactically. To keep the pace of the game, this feature is limited but recharges based on enemies killed. There are certain set pieces within the game that utilize both these features incredibly, but it’s also so much fun to use them yourself. My only very minor gripe about the shootdodging (compared to previous games) is there seems to be a slight delay between activating it and actually doing the jump, which technically makes sense. However, when you finish the dive you can keep on the floor and shoot your bullets a lot, which I love.
To keep with the times, Rockstar added a cover feature, though this is somewhat optional. Sort of like in very old shooters you can make decent use of crouching behind cover and using the camera to see round corners. However, the cover feature does work well, even if it just sets you up for your next dual-Uzi shootdodge at a group of thugs. One thing that some people may not like that much or find a little frustrating (until you get used to it) is the aiming system. Like the old games, you have a little dot in the middle of the screen which is where you’re aiming at, and pulling the LT just zooms in slightly, rather than the over the shoulder zoom you get like in Gears of War 3 or Binary Domain. It’s easy to adapt to, and fans of previous MP games will recognise it straight away, but new people to the genre may find it a bit weird to wield at first.
One of the other things that I found surprisingly refreshing was the difficulty of the title. On normal the game provided a very adequate challenge; the combat was simultaneously not too easy or difficult, boosted primarily through the usage of bullet time and dodging. I can imagine on the two difficulties higher the game would be more than a challenge but surprisingly fresh; proper usage of the games selling mechanics allow combat to quickly be tipped in your favour. The main thing that keeps you considering before committing to fights is the lack of regenerating health. I’m so pleased that Rockstar kept to the painkiller format, as health regen in this game wouldn’t of fit or made sense, and would’ve ruined the challenge.
The setpieces and overall presentation (including graphics) of Max Payne 3 are probably some of my favourite I’ve seen. The original 2 titles swapped out cut-scenes for a comic-book Noir style story which could be read through and summed up key points of the story. If you wanted, you could go back and watch all the comic book playthrough (it was narrated and with music) from start to finish and it explained enough of the story to understand what was going on. Instead, Rockstar opted not to do this but instead go for a (now) more tradition cut-scene route. However, they look great, do not slow the pace of the combat, and look so good. Key phrases from Max Payne’s monologue pop up on the screen, sometimes to extreme comedic value, but overall underpinning and reinforcing Max as the underdog, the unlikely hero. The graphics I believe are very good including scenery, the areas, the character models and the shooting effects. The missions take place in a large variety of environments, each looking as good as the last. A swanky high end apartment, a nightclub, the Favelas of Sao Paolo, as well as some others I won’t mention due to spoilers all look so great. One of the other things I’ve noticed is that quite a lot of areas can take bullet damage. Tables and Walls crack, splinter, and sometimes wear away completely, adding a new element to the combat.
Definitely one of the stand out things in Max Payne is the sound quality. Without exaggeration (and I’m sure the same is for other fans of the series) the opening cutscene gave me goosebumps and a huge grin on my face. In fact, writing this is reminding me and giving me goosebumps. It’s probably one of the most stand out moments I can think of in recent video game past. Throughout the title the music is relevant. Max constantly comments on everything which is going on, from the ‘annoying’ house music played at various venues he finds himself at to the fact that it’s a miracle he’s still alive (and why is he still alive?). In fact, Max’s voice is so stand out and perfectly done and because of this it fits so spectacularly with the mood of the game. All of the sound effects featuring the weapons, from the actual gunshots to impact sounds on enemies, helmets, armor and scenery all are done with such a high quality. I don’t speak the lingo mind, so I couldn’t understand what was being said in Spanish (though I’ve been told it could be Portuguese?) however it still sounded great. Overall, the sound is some of the greatest I’ve heard in a game. It’s slightly upsetting that we no longer hear thugs saying ‘It’s Payne, get him!’ or ‘He’s no good to us dead!’ though.
For fans of the gunplay and over the top violence comes Rockstars now trademark brand of excellent multiplayer options. MP3 allows you to choose either Soft-Lock or Free-Aim in the multiplayer, and everyone in the game will have the same aiming mode for fairness. It has everything we come to expect from a multiplayer shooter including custom classes, multiple game-modes, perks, killstreaks, all with their unique Max Payne branding. My overall feel, and supported by Rockstars ‘gang’ system, groups of players who play together against other rival gangs, is that the online is best enjoyed when playing with a pre-set team rather than random people. Perks and Killstreaks all seem to benefit the team as a whole when they’re used seperately and not stacked; for example the ‘walkie-talkie’ perk relays information from your team about positions of enemies, much like a traditional UAV. Bursts work somewhat differently however, they have three ranks and are activated by kills. Certain amounts of kills correspond to certain levels of each burst, each having three increasingly more potent versions of themselves. Paranoia (my favourite) for example has a unique effect, rank one makes the enemy team see eachother as hostiles, eg you see your allies as hostiles. On Soft-Lock this also means you can lock onto them and shoot them, but with no effect. The second rank of it allows friendly fire on your own team-mates while it’s active and also adds a bounty to a singular person on their team, which enemy players can cash-in on, encouraging players to kill their own team. Level 3 of the Paranoia burst adds a bounty to all of the enemy team, as well as all of the previous effects. The Bursts and Perks all add their own unique variations to class dynamics, meaning you can rock weapons and custom perks/bursts to suit your style.
The second aspect of customisation is the weapons and weight system, which I believe is very fair and balanced. You can rock any combination of weapons you choose, and all of your items and weapons have a weight count. You can go either Light, Medium or Heavy, all of which have corresponding levels of stamina regen (for sprinting) and health regen. Lots of weapons, armour and items correspond to heavy playstyle, meaning you run slower and don’t regenerate health as quick. Conversely, only one gun and not much armour means you can be light, sprinting a lot further and longer but taking more damage (lack of armour) but getting health back quickly inbetween combat. It’s a balance act, and you can spend ages customising your things. Do you take the weight reduction attachment for the AK47 to push yourself from Heavy to Medium, or go with the extra damage and stick to Heavy? It’s overall very customisable and unique. In certain game modes I find myself cross that I haven’t a pistol as a spare weapon because I’m trying to keep my weight in a certain class. It works great though.
Also there was much speculation about the Bullet-Time in the multiplayer and R* have addressed it perfectly I believe. You can use up some of your ‘Burst’ gauge to activate a shootdodge, which in turn slows down time, yet you cannot do a proper ‘Bullet-Time’ mode. When you do a shootdodge, if you have sufficient Burst, you slow down time for anyone who has line of sight with you and vice versa. Overall some pretty cool shootouts take place from this feature and its one of the unique-selling-points of Max Payne’s online.
Some of the game modes are fairly stereotypical of the genre, ranging from Deathmatch and its Team variants through to capture the flag-esque games. However, one of the very cool modes in Max Payne 3 (my favourite too, as I’ve mentioned in other reviews) is Gang Wars. What this mode consists of is 4 different game modes on the same map (following a story too) and climaxing with a shorter game of Team Deathmatch. By winning earlier rounds this gives you more points towards the final showdown, acing all four early rounds almost always ensures an overall win. Secondly, this mode consists of 18 players, which means a lot of bullets and overall chaos for your money.
Other lengthening aspects of the game includes the now expected difficult achievements as well as a variety of different difficulties, including New York Minute (a fan favourite).
Some of the only negatives I can think of in Max Payne 3 is the lack of a coop mode. You spend a lot of the game with at least one other NPC aiding you in combat, so I can’t see why it wouldn’t be cooperative. That said, the story is so enjoyable and none of the others were cooperative, so R* have done a good job of making this one online. Also, the shootdodging’s physics are so perfect that sometimes this actually works against you; you’ll dive backwards, hit a wall, it’ll get cancelled and you’ll get gunned down. These are basically my only slightly minor issues, and overall they do not detract from the experience that is Max Payne 3.
One thing I probably cannot exaggerate during this whole review is how much I genuinely enjoy every aspect of the gameplay. I never realised this until I played the multiplayer for 3 hours without stopping the other night, something I rarely do, and even more rare because I wasn’t with any of my xbox live friends, as it was 2 in the morning. Everything seems so perfectly done, and this is a bad thing; as a fanboy I already have a very biased opinion of Max Payne towards the positive, but because the game is SO GOOD I sound even worse trying to describe how good it is.
G: 9.5 L: 9.5 S: 10 GR:9 APII: 2, 2, 2, 2.*
Finally; Fans of the series are not going to be disappointed by Max Payne 3, and people new to the series are in for one heck of a treat. It’s the new benchmark for Third-Person shooters to set themselves up against and rivals even Gears of War 3 in my books. The single-player is story driven, fresh, and features some of the best cut-scenes and set pieces (and especially narration) I’ve seen in a video game. The multi-player is also something new, featuring gang specific warfare, marathon game sessions and balanced classes and shooting. As I said at the start, Max Payne 3 is my favourite game so far of 2012, and I think it’ll take something really marvelous to knock it off that top spot. Kudos to Rockstar, and kudos to you, Max.
Max Payne 3 – 9.6/10
*we’ve slightly changed the weighting. sound lost 5%, graphics gained 5%. no big deal.
This review is based upon a release copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game. Max Payne 3 was provided by Rockstar for review purposes.