Throughout gaming lore there have been certain games that come in and out of development and dodge deadlines to the dismay of their loyal fans. Starcraft Ghost, Half-Life 3, the mythical Duke Nukem Forever; all these titles have taken their fans heartstrings and thrown them across the room throughout development. Among these titles lies Max Payne 3. When its predecessor ended back in 2003, fans were expecting a swift turnaround for the sequel. However, problems with developer Remedy and publisher Rockstar eventually lead the two teams to split and for Max Payne 3 to be continually delayed. Thankfully, the release date was not a joke thistime around. Max Payne 3 is out and it delivers on the famed action, while providing a dark story sure to satisfy fans of the series.
Published by: Rockstar Games
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Play it if: You love great action games or are a fan of the series.
Skip it if: You do not think you can stomach the violence inflicted to others or you as a player.
The game picks up several years after the end of the last game. Max has fallen into a deep hole in his life and the only way to get out is to take on a private security job in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As one would expect, the 8-10 hour story has its share of backstabbing and vendettas, all narrated by Max himself in classic film noire fashion. While the writing is as strong as ever, the game switches between bad guys too quickly near the end of the game. By the time the person who you are really after is revealed, there isn’t that strong a connection or hatred for them considering they weren’t even important earlier in the game. Nonetheless, Max’s constant monologuing and heavy handed use of metaphors is much better penned than before, characterizing him as a much more cynical, yet likable character than in earlier games. His remarks are actually witty and longtime fans of the series are likely to chuckle when they hear Max’s comments on techno music or Facebook statuses. While the story does get needlessly complicated near the end game, Max’s reasons for mass murder are always clear and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to this new chapter in his life.
Either way, as it was in both games before hand, the meat and potatoes of the experience lies in the ridiculous gunplay. Rockstar has implemented a cover system to the game, leading to a more tactical approach than before. The patented Bullet Time system is back, allowing Max to fall into a trance where he is faster than his enemies and has the ability to dodge bullets with ease. Every bullet is individually modeled, leading to a much higher level of realism to this unrealistic mechanic. Unfortunately, the difficulty within the game cancels out some of the overpowering action many fans are used to. Enemies take cover intelligently and have deadly aim, even from long distance. Not to mention that near the end of the game most bad guys will be covering every inch of their body in body armor, turning them into frustrating bullet sponges. While bullet dodging out of cover and through a window is as awesome as it ever was, when it is over you find yourself awkwardly laying on the floor and struggling to get up with a middle aged groan as bullets smack you across the face. Throw in the fact that your health does not regenerate and you need to be in constant search for painkillers and it can seem unfair at times. It is a problem of new meets old that can hold the game back. Enemies have gotten smarter, and the reckless style of play so suited for this kind of game just does not fly anymore.
Yet, when breaking down the mechanics of the action, it is a beautifully made game. The transitions between animations are extremely smooth, such as when you are left on the ground after a bullet dodge and can rain hell on your enemies. Despite the sometimes frustrating painkiller health system, the game finds ways around it with style. If you have a painkiller on you when you are fatally shot, the game will slow down into Bullet Time and direct your aim towards the guilty goon. If you dispatch him then Max will take the painkiller and give you a second breath of health.
Max Payne 3 is powered by Rockstar’s Euphoria physics engine that mixes Havok-style physics with artificial intelligence. This makes empting a clip on someone more realistic than in any other game in recent memory. Add in the fact that bullets damage enemies without censor, making an entry wound that quickly fills with blood and stains anything it touches, and killing someone in Max Payne 3 looks alarmingly close to the real thing. While the game is not the best looking around, the small details are what sell you on the package. Painkillers will not just be littered around the level, you will have to look for them in logical places such as bathrooms and behind some depressed secretary’s desk. Even the fact that every weapon Max is carrying is shown on his person, and when you reload a side arm he will stick the two handed weapon in between his chest and arm so that it won’t fall on the ground, is enough to convince you of the attention to detail Rockstar has put into this. Cutscenes are all done on the game engine and will often lead directly into gameplay, never taking you out of the experience. Max is suffering from a heavy drug addiction and the game will use some distortion effect in the cutscenes to remind you of that. It can get old quickly, but it successfully captures just how out of whack Max’s life is.
In a first for the series, Rockstar has added a full multiplayer suite with a dozen different game modes and fully integrated character customization. Standard modes such as deathmatch and king of the hill serve their purpose but the real bones of the experience lies with the Gang Wars mode. Players are sorted into teams and dropped into scenes ripped from the single player story. The game mode is always random but it will evolve according to who won the last match, linking together each round with cutscenes and voice over. There are five rounds in each match and the variety of game modes makes this some of the most fun you can have with the game. Bullet time is integrated beautifully into the experience. When you activate it any player in your line of sight will slow down until they break that line of sight. This goes without mentioning the implementation of Bursts (read: COD perks) as little additions to your arsenal. Each burst has 3 levels that you build up the same as you would Bullet Time. If you hold off from using it, and can stay alive, long enough to reach level 3 then the payoff is more than worth the wait. Overall, the multiplayer suite is fully stocked and has just as much attention put into it as the single player story.
Blast Factor: What is probably Max Payne 3’s biggest problem is that it does not always feel like a Max Payne game. You will often be forced into cover and have to pick off enemies like in Gears of War or Uncharted. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is sure to strike a nerve for fans that have been waiting years for this sequel. Nonetheless, when it does feel and play like it should, the experience is bar none some of the best action you can find in a game this year. Throw in the fantastic multiplayer offering and the return of the high scoring arcade mode and the game comes stocked with quality features. Much like Max himself, this game can stumble out of the gate and many of its mechanics have not aged gracefully, but at the end of the night, it is one hell of a good time to hang out with.