As expected with any successful gaming franchise, the fans of the series are usually the hardest to please for sequels or reboots. Now I don’t consider myself a die-hard fan of the Max Payne series but even I was weary of Max Payne 3, a reboot some 9 years after Max Payne 2 and for a series that seemed to have reached a satisfactory conclusion.
Developer: Rockstar Studios
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Windows PC
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Release: (AU) May 18th, 2012, (EU) May 18th, 2012, (JP) September 6th, 2012, (NA) May 15th, 2012
Max Payne 3 picks up 12 years after the events of Max Payne 2. Time has not been kind to our favourite cop, who now relies on a lethal mixture of painkillers and alcohol to get by with day to day life. After all the twists and turns of fate in his life, Max Payne has hooked up with an old cop buddy and now works as a private bodyguard for Rodrigo Branco, a wealthy man who lives in Brazil.
The story is not groundbreaking in any way, a former cop turned private bodyguard must find a way to save his boss’ kidnapped wife but the more he tries to help, the more things take a turn for the worse. What makes the story work is that the cutscenes are only moderate in duration which results in the player to experiencing a perfect balance between gameplay and story. Ultimately, your goal is to help Max Payne discover the mastermind behind all the kidnapping and killing that is wreaking havoc in Brazil. Along this journey, you will experience flashbacks which explains how Max managed to get himself into this business. While the flashbacks were unexpected for me, they were certainly necessary as it would not do Max justice to not explain what had happened in the 12 years since Max Payne 2.
Max Payne 3 retains the core gameplay elements of the first two games but also incorporates some new elements to deliver a game that plays like the original Max Payne games but also injects some spark to avoid feeling stale.
As with the first two games, you will spend most of the game with either dual-wielding pistols or a two handed weapon. There is a wide selection of weaponry in Max Payne 3 and if you’re looking for true to feel gun play, this is not the game for you as the key here is fun in utilizing the Shootdodge and Bullettime features to kill your enemies. Shooting is a lot of fun and in normal difficulty the enemies drop enough ammunition for you to not have to worry about ammo conservation but as you play the higher difficulty settings you won’t be able to shoot as liberally.
In the first two Max Payne games, when you cleared an area of enemies or killed a boss, the final kill would always be a slow motion kill shot. This features returns but with a new spin, whenever you reach the final kill cam, you have the option to slow time and also continue to firing at the enemy. The level of gory detail in the kill cam is astounding as you see the bullets enter the body in all its bloody glory and the effect each bullet has on the corpse.
Max Payne’s most famous gameplay feature returns with Shootdodge and Bullettime, two distinctly separate abilities, but both revolving around the ability to slow time. Shootdodge is activated when Max dives and remains activated as you kill your enemies, only ending when you finally reach the end of the dive. There were many times when I found myself lying in the middle of the floor quite exposed after a poorly planned dived, so while you may want to become John Rambo, the feature does require a little planning before use on the higher difficulty levels. If you’re less adventurous you can also use Bullettime, which allows the player to slow time whenever the player chooses, as opposed to only diving in Shootdodge. I found utilizing both Shootdodge and Bullettime in conjunction provided the most enjoyable gameplay experience as it allows you to employ a little bit of tact against large groups of enemies and coming out victorious. All in all, the most impressive aspect of these two abilities is when they are activated, you can see the bullets fired from enemy weapons whiz past Max which adds an added layer of drama and intensity to an already explosive game.
For good or for bad, the trend in first person or third person shooters is to have a regenerative health system. Even franchises that have original health bar systems have disappointingly implemented regenerative health systems. One of the more charming aspects of the Max Payne series was the use of painkiller bottles as a replacement of traditional “health packs”. For me this was always fitting as it tied well with the overall tone of the game and luckily there is no change in Max Payne 3 as the bottle, once again, remains your sole savior in times of low health. The only downside of keeping painkillers is that, the scarcity of painkillers and seemingly invincible enemies, makes even the normal difficulty setting quite a challenge to even seasoned gamers. An interesting new feature that revolves around having painkillers is “last stand”. In last stand, if you sustain too much damage time temporarily slows as it would in Bullettime and if you can kill an enemy before you drop to the floor, you can use a painkiller to remain alive. This feature was quite helpful at times but for the most part whenever it was activated for me (which was quite a lot!) I was either out of bullets or only had one in the chamber. While last stand is a good part of the game, I feel the game needed to include a way to override last stand and proceed straight to death if you have run out of bullets.
While Rockstar has always managed to create generally well concieved games, the one flaw in most of their recent works is the Euphoria engine which provides an, at best, awkward gameplay experience. Max Payne 3 is no exception as there were times when I would have no control over the direction Max was heading, which was an issue when facing large groups of enemies going from cover to cover. The other part where the game had issues was in the mechanics of Shootdodge sequences as I found that if I did not jump out into a clear path the sequence would cancel, leaving Max on the ground with enemies still firing away at him. Other than the occasions where I was unable to go into what seemed to be adequate space for cover, the cover system in Max Payne 3 is serviceable with no real hitches in moving in and out of cover.
Max Payne 3’s presentation and visuals provide one of the more unique, cinematic experiences in gaming. A distinct feature of the game is the distortion effect in the cutscenes and gameplay. Initially this effect may put you off but for me I felt it added to the experience as it emulates the drunken/drug induced stupor that Max Payne suffers through on a daily basis. What makes this game flow so well is that the transition between gameplay to cutscene and vice versa is seamless as the cutscenes utilize the game engine which resulted in an experience that felt smoother. The cut scenes also utilize a rather peculiar technique of showing words that characters have just said within the cutscene. At first I thought that the words showing up had a specific meaning and had meaning but I quickly realized that it was just a selection of random words which feels unnecessary.
However, mixed in with that, the game also had performance issues where I experienced poor framerate and screen tearing. There were also too many places in the game where I noticed texture pop up and environment loading, which in this day and age is pretty disappointing. These abovementioned issues are unacceptable for a finished product and really put a stain on what is otherwise an extraordinary game.
The soundtrack to Max Payne 3, composed mainly by a band named “HEALTH”, is a mix of fast paced percussion audio and synth-based tracks. The soundtrack is varied and tracks are selected to fit the mood of each part of the game, which left me with a pounding heart after some of the more intense gunfights in Max Payne 3. I would say that the Max Payne 3 soundtrack is one of the better game soundtracks so far this year.
Split over 3 parts comprising 14 chapters, the story mode alone in Max Payne 3 will provide you, depending on your skill level, with at least 10 hours of gameplay. In addition to the story mode, there are additional modes to unlock such as the New York Minute, an arcade mode where you are given a timer to finish stages and enemy kills/headshots give you more time. All of these modes seem to be placed to provide only the bravest with a challenge that I could only see ending in my spirits being crushed completely. There is also multiplayer which I only managed to experience briefly.
In my opinion, Max Payne 3 is a fitting conclusion to the Max Payne franchise and I hope that no developer attempts to reboot the franchise down the track. While expectations may taper your view, I feel that Max Payne 3 is the best of the series.
9.0 – Excellent. Fun, enjoyable, engaging, and memorable but is missing that little something that will make it exceptionable. People will fondly talk about this for generations to come.