Date: June 4, 2012
Author(s): Rob Williams
After a long hiatus, the infamous Max Payne is finally back. But before you think he’s been living the good-life since the last time we checked in, think again. Beaten down and lacking any feeling of self-worth, we continue the Payne saga by getting an honest job protecting a wealthy family. What could possibly go wrong?
Max Payne is a man who defines what it means to suffer. A former NYPD cop, we were first introduced to Max shortly after the murder of his wife and child, and he’s lost many more friends and allies since then. Following the events of The Fall of Max Payne, Max’s grief got the better of him. He entered a downward spiral, and began living a life reliant on drugs and booze.
So, where from here? Max Payne 3 is an interesting game for a couple of reasons. The first two titles were developed by Remedy Entertainment and written by Sam Lake, whereas the third is handled by Rockstar Studios with Dan Houser as the lead writer. Dan’s other writing credits? Does Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption ring a bell? Oh, this ought to be good.
And it is. Max’s life is hardly smooth-going, and each game to date has done a superb job in getting that point across. While the original games featured a film noir theme, the third does not. However, what does remain is Max’s constant narration of the goings-on. If you haven’t played the original games, it won’t take you long to realize that Max doesn’t fear death – in fact, he would welcome it after the hell he’s been through.
In the game, much of Max’s history is left up for you to already know. Mona Sax, featured prominently in the original games, doesn’t make an appearance here aside from being seen in a quick flashback (she either died or lived in the second game depending on the difficulty level chosen). For this third iteration, Rockstar wanted to “start fresh” with the Payne saga, so hints from the previous games are far and few between. That said, there will be certain areas that are undeniably inspired by the older games, and if you look hard enough, you might even find a television airing Captain Baseball Bat Boy.
From the get-go, Rockstar’s “start fresh” goal becomes evident. Payne is no longer an NYPD cop. With the help of acquaintance Raul Passos, he’s become a private security guard for SÃ£o Paulo’s Branco family. SÃ£o Paulo, being a city engulfed with favelas and extreme poverty, doesn’t blend too well with a family as wealthy as the Broncos. As you can likely already see, Max has his work cut out for him.
Although the game is linear (unlike Grand Theft Auto, for example), the story isn’t always sequential. There will be times when Max will ponder over things that happened in the past, at which point you play through the memory. This technique is hardly new, but it is an interesting way to fill in the gaps and gain a new perspective to a certain event.
Most of the game takes place in SÃ£o Paulo, with New Jersey making an appearance earlier on. The locales are few, but the environments and levels heavily varied. In SÃ£o Paulo alone, you’ll be traversing the favelas, an airport, police station and more run-down buildings than you can shake a stick at.
During development, Rockstar conducted research to assure that SÃ£o Paulo in the game matched SÃ£o Paulo in real-life as much as possible. Certain elements include the culture and general vibe of living there, the police, the gangs and of course, the weapons. This research has paid off, because walking through a favela in-game can give you a newfound appreciation for how good you’ve got it. Some of the environments are so well-rendered, especially the inside of dank buildings on the verge of collapse, you’ll swear you can smell them (I refuse to believe it’s BO).
The game may be linear in design, but Rockstar gives us reason to explore every inch of a level thanks to golden gun parts and clues strewn throughout each one. Some of these, you’ll trip over. Others, you’ll have to carefully look for. Finding all of either in a given level unlocks cheats that can be enabled in the chapter select for that particular level. In addition, if all of the golden gun parts are found for a particular gun, it’ll appear golden from that point forward when wielded (along with the spent ammo cartridges).
As before, pill bottles are used to both restore Max’s health and enable a “last man standing” mechanic where, before dying, you’ll be able to shoot at whoever killed you in order to revive yourself. As pill bottles are the only way to restore your health, you’ll be spending a lot of time looking all over for them – and trust me, some are well-hidden.
On the topic of mechanics, Max Payne 3 introduces something rather significant to the series: multi-player. As is now evident, this isn’t some after-thought mode that Rockstar put in place to help sell more copies; it’s robust, and quite a bit of fun. Aside from straight-up deathmatch and team deathmatch, there’s a “Gang Wars” mode that will allow you and a group of friends to team up and go head-to-head with rival gangs. Each round involves a story which will evolve in a different way depending on how the current round ended.
For a little change, the “Payne Killer” mode assigns two people to play either Payne or Passos, each of which is heavily equipped with ammo and pain killers, making them hard to kill. But if killed, the killer assumes the role of that character, making this a challenging, but potentially rewarding mode.
A staple of Max Payne games has been bullet time, but in multi-player, adding such a mechanic unveils obvious challenges. Instead of forgoing the idea of implementing it, however, Rockstar went with a compromise. Whenever you enter bullet time, only the players within your line of sight are affected. So yes, you do force others into this mode, but it’s really the only way such a mechanic would remain fair to everyone.
Multi-player in Max Payne 3 is both exciting and deep, something I admit I wasn’t expecting. As purely single-player games before, I wasn’t sure how well the gameplay would translate to multi-player, but Rockstar has certainly done a great job here. With MP-specific DLC on the way, it looks to have a long life ahead of it.
A mechanic that was popularized with the original Max Payne is bullet time, and as mentioned on the previous page, it makes a return here. When activated, the game slows down to a crawl, allowing you to better aim at one or more enemies – perfect for building up headshot counts. To use it, the bullet time meter next to your character’s health and ammo count needs to have some juice to it. This meter grows as your fired at – if five or more people are shooting at you at once, it can fill up fast.
Continuing the bullet time theme, Rockstar added two more modes to the game; “last man standing” and “shootdodge”. The former was mentioned on the previous page, where before dying, you’ll get one more chance at life if you kill your killer. Shootdodge is similar to bullet time, but where you jump sideways, backwards or forward, so as to dodge oncoming bullets. Shootdodge requires the bullet time meter to use, while last man standing uses one pill bottle.
Max Payne 3 brings something else new to the series; a cover system – and trust me, this is imperative to survival. When taking cover behind something, you’ll have two options: you can look over top of it when the time is right to take the shot, or take the safer route by shooting people in their general direction while remaining in cover. The latter is not nearly as effective, but if you’re low on health and pill bottles, you’ll be thankful the option exists.
To do this killing, there are at least 15 different weapons to help, including pistols and revolvers to shotguns and rocket launchers. A major omission is a lack of grenades in the single-player campaign. Y NO MOLOTOV LUV?
A highlight of all Max Payne games is the story-driven gameplay, and for those who like a good story, you won’t be left disappointed here. However, for those who don’t care about a story too much, you’re bound to be aggravated. There are many, many cutscenes throughout the game, and almost none of them can be skipped.
Throughout the game, there were multiple points where I’d die and be forced to watch a cutscene again, straight through. This is needless, and a major oversight on Rockstar’s part. I can understand those who might not want to watch a cutscene even once, so to run into an issue where the same 90 second cutscene needs to be watched two or more times… it’s foolish.
I’d be remiss to gloss over a couple of the other minor issues, also. The cover mode, while excellent, does prove to be an inconvenience if you are killed while in that stance. The result of you being shot, even if you succeed a last man standing, will see you lying on the ground. From there, any move you make will expose yourself to enemies if they are near. On one occasion, I died, then died again before I was able to get back into cover.
Another thing that risks getting you killed is standing too close to a doorway or wall, at which point Max will point his gun upwards. This makes sense, as it avoids clipping issues. But a situation it can create is you not being able to aim at oncoming enemies until you are free and clear of the doorway. This is yet another mechanic that got me killed on a few different occasions.
The last minor gripe I have relates to a crash. After starting chapter 5 for the first time, the screen went black right after the cutscene was to end, offering me the chance to retry or quit – either of which is the wrong answer. At that point, my only option was to force quit and restart the chapter (not major, given it was the start). Normally, I’d write this off as a fluke issue, but I do know one other person that encountered the issue in the same spot.
As annoying as some of these issues are, that about wraps them up. This is in fact quite good, because like many other brand-new games, I expected to encounter many more bugs than I did. While non-skippable cutscenes drives me batty, it’s things like that, that Rockstar can fix with a future patch (and I truly hope to see this done).
As a fan of the original Max Payne games, I consider MP3 to be a proper follow-up. I personally consider Max Payne 2 to be one of the finest games ever created, and despite the lack of a film noir aesthetic, Rockstar made sure to retain some of the unique properties that sets Max Payne apart from most other games, such as the constant narration and deep, complex and very gritty storyline.
As I played and finished Max Payne 3, I felt like I played through a movie. In some games, the story can go right over my head, but the way the story is presented here helps you to actually understand the situations going on, and not forget about certain characters as soon as the cutscene ends. If this game was directly translated into a Hollywood film, I assure you that it’d score higher than a 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
Whether you’re already a Max Payne fan or just discovering the series, this isn’t a game to be missed.
As always, the following page has a collection of screenshots for those who’d like to see more of the game, and soon, we’ll be publishing a compliment article to this one taking a look at some of the technical aspects of the game and also our recommended graphics settings.
Max Payne 3 (PC)
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