Max Payne 3 Review
Max Payne 3 is Rockstar‘s latest offering, which continues the saga of the ex- NYPD Cop Max Payne first started in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment. Does the latest instalment live up to expectations, or is it a tragic mess like its titular character’s life? Read on to find out.
Max Payne 3 picks up the story eight years after the events in Max Payne 2. Having left New York, Max is now in Sao Paulo, Brazil, working in the private security industry for a wealthy family. Still plagued by memories of his tragic past, it’s not long before things start freefalling downhill and Max is pulled into the criminal underbelly of the city, chasing after those responsible for kidnapping his boss’s wife.
Let’s get this out of the way first: this is a Rockstar game, so from the outset I’m expecting a lot. I was a fan of both Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV and knowing the studio is responsible for this title means my expections are high. Happily, I can say I wasn’t disappointed.
Storywise, the game is paced and presented perfectly. During the marketing of the game, it was noted by Sam Houser that Max Payne 3 would kick off a new cynical, world-wearier chapter of Max’s life, and the way in which the game’s narrative is framed definitely reflects this. The current events are interspersed with flashbacks from the past and scenes of Payne’s attempts to dull the pain of his memories and his present existence. These scenes are a fantastic way of showing Max as he currently is, and provide context for whiy he is such a beaten, broken man. Making use of these scenes also provides the additional benefit of informing those new to the series about prior events without giving the feeling to series veterans that they’re being handheld through events they already know about. It’s a nice touch, and it helps not only with backstory, but also with the pacing of the game. The flashbacks and past scenes enable the player to take a breather from the in-game action, and tust me when I say you’ll be glad for that breather.
The script and the storyline itself are excellently written. The dialogue and description of events by Max are superb and perfectly fit the mature setting and narrative. Dialogue is crisp, no-nonsense, non-flowery talk with that subtle touch of detective noir you expect from the series. Max is portrayed as a more grizzled, broken, older man and the writing helps with grounding this character exploration with events in the game. The game doesn’t just tell you Max is cynical and battered – it shows you why, and this exploration is fantastically well implemented. Character development and storyline progression are interwoven in the polished, skillful way that is starting to become synonymous with Rockstar games. The storyline manages to keep you interested and engaged throughout its entirety, and you’ll want to keep playing to see what happens in the story and to Max himself.
The way in which the narrative is structured aligns with a ‘just one more checkpoint’ playstyle. The game’s story is divided into chapters, with each chapter its own separate segment of the plot. These clear segments allow for pick up/put down gameplay and provide those of us who are time poor a way to enjoy the game and not feel worried about hitting a save point. A further plus of this structure is that despite being self-contained segments, the chapters flow together and there is never a feeling of odd transitioning or a break in the narrative flow.
The cutscene presentation was a highlight of the game for me. Scenes have a 24 style presentation vibe to them that, when combined with the scene direction and the use of word emphasis, makes for an exceptionally unique visual style I have never seen before. It’s a very fresh take on the usual ‘show cutscene, present necessary information’ staple in videogames, and I hope this isn’t the only game that utilises this style.
The game’s soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the script and the action unfolding on screen. The music melds seamlessly with setpiece scenes and is never too loud to drown out voiced dialogue. I did suffer a glitch at one point in the game where the voiced dialogue stopped playing and the only sound I could hear was the background score playing behind it, but aside from this issue I couldn’t fault the soundtrack. The music has that dramatic flair with subtle undertones of mellow notes that compliment the storyline beautifully. Additionally, the way in which drums and percussion are used gives a tense urgency to the on-screen drama that works spectacularly well.
Graphically, the game is very impressive. The environments which Rockstar have chosen to serve as setpieces for the in-game action provide for splashes of colour and are visually very appealing. There’s no dreary brown and black, monotone colour palette here. The areas in which the action takes place are also varied and include daytime settings and nightime escapades, allowing for a nice mix of lighted and shaded locations. It’s always enjoyable to see variety in action locations, and the graphics engine proves adept in showcasing even small nuances in scenes. In short, this is a beautiful game and the mix of locations means your time spent in Max Payne’s world will be a visually enjoyable one. I will note, however, that Max Payne 3 is a gory game – there’s blood and bullets flying everywhere. The inclusion of a ‘final kill camera’, used to let you know you’ve cleared an area completely of enemies, shows you via close up the impact of bullets you’ve fired into an enemy – and it is brutal. You’ll see blood pumping out of entry wounds and enemies’ expressions curled into a rictus of pain as they die. It’s full on, and it’s not for the faint of heart – so be warned. There’s a reason this game is for mature audiences – and the graphics engine only enhances the carnage.
The gameplay in Max Payne 3 is stellar, and it’s no lie to say that the game is one of the best first person shooters I have played – with one caveat which I will mention a little later. The game features three targeting modes – hard lock, where Max will lock onto the nearest enemy; soft-lock, which requires a little movement before a lock occurs; and off, where there is no lock-on targeting and shooting is free aim. Regardless of which targeting mode you choose, you’re able to aim the reticule to target different areas on enemy bodies – and the game will keep track of which areas of the body you favour hitting – a count will pop up on screen when you hit certain numbers of parts hit, which is a nice inclusion. There is a heaviness to weapons which makes them feel real, and each weapon you are able to pick up feels different. Max is able to carry one small weapon (pistol, machine gun etc) and one larger weapon (shotgun, assault rifle etc) which is a realistic way of handling the game, and one that I appreciated. Another realistic addition is that well-placed headshots mean instant kills in the game for average enemies (at last on the difficulty I was playing) and shots to arms or torso’s require several hits to drop an enemy. There is nothing more frustrating in an FPS game than enemies who act like bullet sponges, requiring three to four headshots to kill. It was pleasing to see that for the most part, this is not the case in Max Payne 3. There are some ‘boss’ enemies who will require almost a full clip to drop, but these are few and far between, and their appearances are never too challenging as to make you put down your controller in frustration.
A mixture of on-foot shooting, vehicle segments where you need to shoot enemies, and special scenes where you take control of a particular weapon (usually a sniper rifle) and need to protect yourself or another character from enemies makes up the majority of the gameplay in Max Payne 3. On occassion you’ll be accompanied through areas by another character, but for the majority of the game it’s you as Max against a stream of baddies. Towards the end of the game, this steady stream does start to feel monotonous and there is that feeling of grinding through areas, clearing them of enemies and moving on to do it all again in the next area. For the most part, however, the pacing and level design are well-implemented and at no point did I feel I was stuck without any way of defeating enemies.
It’s a shame, then, that the enemies themselves all look the same, at least in their attire. In each chapter, the majority of enemies all wear the same sorts of clothes and uniforms, and given that you are fighting the same enemy gangs/paramilitary forces, seeing the same enemies every second chapter is disappointing. The AI of the enemies is also maddeningly accurate, which led to several irritated outbursts from myself during my playthrough. Enemies have a knack of not only being able to shoot the tiniest part of yourself which is exposed out of cover, but also having pinpoint accuracy when throwing grenades. Regardless of where you position yourself, those grenades never fail to land right at your feet. This became less of an issue once I discovered you could shoot thrown grenades mid-air, but it was still frustrating how accurate the AI was.
The gameplay feature which has become synonymous with Max Payne games – bullet time – is present and accounted for in Max Payne 3. Shooting enemies fills up your bullet time meter, and once full you can unleash all of Max’s slowed-down rage for as long as the meter lasts. It is a very unique and interesting feature, but I found myself only using it when I had no other option but to use it because the game forced me to use it at certain points in certain situations. In these situations, the use of bullet time and the downplay of taking cover leads to a guns blazing, balls to the wall, testosterone filled charge at the enemy playstyle that, whilst in keeping with Max’s character, does feel forced. The mechanic itself works well, and it is advantageous to use, but I often found myself forgetting about it and instead using cover and well placed shots to clear areas and drop enemies.
Health in the game is handled via Max popping painkillers whenever he’s close to death. Painkillers can be found throughout the levels, and as there is no regenerative health system, you’ll be wanting to explore areas just to find those very important painkillers. Also tucked away in the levels are golden gun parts, which, if you collect them all, will turn the guns featured in the game into golden replicants. Sadly, aside from these items, and the occasional crime scene style clue to find and tourist to meet, there really isn’t any motivation to replay the game once you’ve completed it. This isn’t to say that Max Payne 3 isn’t a fantastic game – it is – but it’s not the kind of game you will be playing again and again.
On the whole, Max Payne 3 is a solid offering from Rockstar which ticks all the boxes and excels in its storyline, pacing, gameplay and score. It’s definitely worth a playthrough, and whilst it might not be the game you find yourself playing over and over, your time with the game will be an enjoyable, unique experience. There are standout setpieces, memorable moments and fantastically written dialogue sequences all supported by a hauntingly epic soundtrack. If you are yet to play this game, I recommend you give it a go.
Max Payne 3 scores an 8.5 out of 10.