Nearly ten years after the previous Max Payne game, Rockstar is here once again to revive the drunk, painkiller-addicted, bullet time enthusiast. And lo and behold, quite a bit has changed since Max’s previous outings.
For one, Max is no longer a rogue DEA agent or an NYPD officer, but rather he is a hired bodyguard for the Francisco family in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Alongside Max there is also Passos, another washed up ex-cop looking for a little bit of easy money. Needless to say, the two aren’t exactly what you’d call “professionals.” Rather, all they manage to do is mess up and are consistently drunk on the job even though the family they are protecting appears to be one of the most hated in Sao Paulo. It probably doesn’t help that despite the change in surroundings, Max is still a drunkard and still has his addiction to pain killers which he uses on a nightly basis for a little “R&R.” The story is told through cutscenes, which may seem like a petty thing to point out, but given that the previous games used a motion-comic method of conveying the story, it is quite the significant shift. The game also has plenty of internal monologue for Max, whether it be during cutscenes, an explanation of the clues you’ll find, or just a way of Rockstar pushing you through the game with Max saying that he doesn’t have much time to search around.
The biggest change to the story is that rather than sticking with the old film noir approach that Remedy employed, Rockstar opted to make the story follow a more action-driven style. While this is definitely a big departure for the series, it plays to Rockstar’s strengths, especially considering games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption. Some people might find this change disheartening, but it was important step nonetheless since it helps Max Payne 3 stand out from its predecessors and make the game Rockstar’s own, rather than iterating on Remedy’s work.
Just a typical vacation for Max Payne.
I won’t spoil any of the plot points, but I will say that as the plot moves forward, shit gets more and more messed up; coupled with a few good – if not completely expected – twists, Rockstar has put on an excellent showing for a shooter's story.
But what’s a good narrative without competent gameplay? Luckily, Max Payne 3 has stuck to some of the old gameplay mechanics that make Max Payne unique, yet injected modern ideas that make the gameplay better, but obscure some of the old ideas.
One of the major additions to the gameplay is the inclusion of a cover mechanic. This is nothing new for a Rockstar game, but it poses a bit of a problem to Max Payne’s jumpy style. While the cover system works well, the bullet time feature that allows Max to slow down time whilst leaping through the air suffers because of it. Since having the slowdown time feature and the cover mechanic would make the game too easy, Rockstar fixed this by making Max fragile. For example, on the hard difficulty, Max can lose three quarters of his health with one well-placed shot. Because of this, you’ll spend most of your time behind cover rather than jumping through the air and popping enemies off like clay disks. This is unfortunate, because Max Payne games were iconic for that exact reason. The fluidity of the movement and combat was something unique to those previous games, and while they are still present – and in the best condition they’ve ever been in – you’ll rarely go out of your way to use them. Instead you’ll hide behind cubicles, pillars, and luggage trolleys and use bullet time to drop enemy reinforcements. That’s not to say any of the mechanics are broken – save for a few times that Max decided to leave cover because I nudged the analog stick just slightly the wrong way – but there is no incentive to use anything but cover unless it is a scripted moment.
The other mechanics of the game are in tiptop condition as well, with some awesome additions to the game that make it much more intuitive. For one, there is the way that Max carries weapons. On Max’s character, there are two holsters on his chest for holding two sidearms, and Max can also carry one two handed weapon; nothing revolutionary there. What is neat is that whenever Max is using a one handed sidearm, he holds the two handed weapon in his hand since he has no place to put it, and when Max goes dual handguns blazing, he actually drops the bigger weapon. This isn’t very significant to gameplay but it looks awesome and it’s a great touch on Rockstar’s part.
That guy is pumped to die.
Another great thing about the game is how it handles Max being shot to death. Max Payne uses an old school mechanic called “non-regenerative health” which means that he actually needs health packs – in this case pain killers – to patch up bullet holes. What’s innovative about this is that when Max is shot down but still has painkillers left in his possession, he enters a last-stand mode where time slows down and everything goes grayscale as he has about 5-10 seconds to shoot whoever fired the last (read: death causing) shot. If he successfully kills him, then Max gains about three quarters of his health back but loses a painkiller. Max also goes down, and has to get back up which is a grueling process as Max takes his sweet time. Also, while you would have gained more health back if the painkiller had been taken before being shot down, given that Max is so fragile, having this safety net is nice.
Finally, the other great mechanic of the game is the extreme overkill at the end of each sub section of enemies, which is when all the enemies of a particular encounter are finished. The last enemy killed produces a bullet cam where the player can continue shooting, even if the enemy is dead, until their clip is empty, resulting in a bloody massacre that can all-so-satisfying after a difficult gun battle.
Alongside the shooting there are other things to do as well. Each chapter has a certain amount of golden gun parts (three parts per gun) to collect. When all the parts are gathered for a particular gun, the gun in the story missions become gold when Max uses them; no gameplay benefits, but hey, look cool. Max can also scrounge for clues that fill in backstory, but have no other gameplay implications as well. Finally, there are “grinds” which are the typical challenges that range from “Get 250 headshots” to “Kill 100 enemies in shootdodge.”
The setting of the game also lends itself to a variety of different shooting ranges such as office buildings, mid-construction high-rises, and a soccer stadium. All the locations have a nice feel to them, with some being quite claustrophobic and others being wide open. The only thing I have against them is that it is quite obvious when a shootout will happen because there is an awfully tendency to leave chest high walls everywhere. But when the game sets out to do set pieces, it does them great. The feeling of jumping a boat through a hut and shooting five guys in the head in the process is amazing, which is greatly aided by the beauty of these scripted events.
The setting is definitely helped out by the gorgeous visuals that the RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) can produce. Rockstar games have always looked pretty but Max Payne 3 blows everything out of the water. Everything from the stunning character models to the extreme gore that is the result of sawing a guy in half vertically with a machine gun looks great. And the way that the people get shot up with their eyes popping out and heads exploding is slightly disturbing but extremely well done and polished. With the inclusion of the euphoria middleware for body movements, Max Payne 3 stands as another shining medal on Rockstar’s chest for visual excellence.
Finally, there is the multiplayer which I didn’t play much of, but from what I saw it is very competent. The levels are ripped out of the single-player which isn’t bad because they are well designed. The unlocks are like any modern day shooter, and allowing two different playlists for free-aim and soft-lock was a smart idea. All-in-all, it is exactly what you’d expect it to be, and was probably just put in there to extend the life of the game a bit.
In conclusion, Max Payne 3 is a great game. It may not be anything like the previous games except for the characters and the bullet-time mechanics, but it’s still a great game in its own right. While Rockstar could have made a clone of the previous games, they instead went and made into their own game. While some people might find it disappointing that they did change it, I think that Max Payne 3 stands as one of the reasons that Rockstar is one of the greatest game developers of our time.
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-16 (Competitive)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC