Considering that the score is already there for you to see right at the top of the screen, I’ll do my best to not drag this out any longer than I have to. Max Payne 3 is an uncompromising and occasionally brutal title that eschews many modern game design conventions in order to deliver one of the most pure and enjoyable shooter experiences that I’ve ever played. With that out of the way we can dive headfirst into this review and hopefully dodge some bullets on our way down.
Max Payne 3 opens with Max sucking down alcohol like nobody’s business, and it’s obvious that Max has backslid from the relative peace he had earned at the end of previous title several years back. With nothing left for him in New York, Max has left the snowy locales that have defined the series thus far for the sun drenched and paradoxical duality of Brazil’s opulence and crushing poverty. Working a cushy bodyguard job protecting a wealthy family alongside new partner Raul Passos, Max hopes to make a new start and lots of easy money but, naturally, things don’t go quite his way. When the wife of his boss is kidnapped out from under his protection, Max goes on a blood soaked rampage of revenge and redemption throughout Brazil.
The story is quite strong and definitely aided by some high production values. It doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect, and the few twists presented are fairly easy to see coming, but the campaign is wonderfully lengthy and jam packed with tons of diverse locations, interesting set pieces and challenging enemy encounters. Another huge plus to the story is the fantastic voice acting provided by Max’s veteran voice actor James McCaffrey, whose hardboiled dialogue is a fantastic motivator to continue along the story.
The gameplay is also fantastic and some of the finest I’ve ever experienced in a third-person shooter, with controls that feel wonderfully smooth and precise for a third-person shooter. Animations are fantastic throughout, aided by Rockstar’s proprietary Euphoria character animation physics engine which seems to account for every movement, weapon combination, recoil and bullet wound with fantastic results. Bullet time returns of course, and is better than you’ve ever seen before. Environmental objects shatter, cover chips away, glass explodes and bodies rock back in exquisite slow motion, allowing you to create and control your own Hong Kong shootouts with glorious ease.
The enemies presented to you range from disorganized Favela gangs to crack paramilitary groups, and all of them can be brutally effective. It’s not uncommon to find yourself stuck at a checkpoint for ten minutes at a time attempting to fight your way through over and over again, but that’s clearly by design. Unlike most modern shooters, Max Payne 3 doesn’t feature regenerating health and you can only sustain a small number of gunshots before succumbing to your wounds. Simply absorbing bullets en masse and taking cover while you wait for the red jelly to drip off your screen isn’t going to cover it. Max Payne 3 stresses precision gunplay, smart use of the new cover mechanics, ammo conservation and the hoarding of painkillers. This slower pace is actually requires some thought on behalf of the player, and I have to applaud Rockstar for resisting the urge to bastardize Max Payne into yet another dumb corridor shooter.
Moving away from the single player portion, Max Payne’s first foray into the multiplayer arena is a mostly succesful one. The same great responsiveness feels perfectly at home in a compeitive environment and series mainstays like bullet time and painkillers are translated into this setting with great success and relative balance. Numerous game modes are available aside from the rote deathmatch and team deathmatch playlists, including Gang Wars which features a series of objective missions framed around a loose story, to Payne Killer which allows you to take on the role of Max or his partner Passos after killing one or the other. All in all the multiplayer isn’t especially innovative, but it does bring in a number of fresh concepts and, perhaps most importantly, it does them in a fun and engaging way.
Sadly there some pretty bad bugs and glitches that sometimes like to rear their ugly heads during this otherwise fantastic game. These range from background objects occasionally failing to load in properly inside cutscenes, numerous audio glitches and all manner of other oddities. However, most of these merely blemish the presentation and aren’t anywhere near game breaking, but they do bear mention nonetheless.
So, is Max Payne for you? It’s certainly a flawed gem and oddly unique for its refusal to adopt the numerous conventions that have become a game design standard in recent years. It’s challenging, visceral, brutal and satisfying in equal measure. So I guess it all depends on if you like your ex-cops boozed, drugged and hardboiled as all hell. I know I do.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes. If you have any questions about this game the reviewer will be able to answer them in the comment section. Max Payne 3 is now available at retailers.