Max Payne 3 Review (PS3/360)

May 21, 2012

PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

After almost nine years, alcoholic and depressed ex-cop Max Payne returns with nothing to lose and a proclivity for dangerous habits in Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3. It has been nearly a decade since anyone has seen Max in action. Thankfully, this long wait is now over and Max is at the forefront of the third-person action genre by delivering a bullet-indulgent, genre-defining, shooter experience to rival this generation’s finest, and the outcome is Max Payne 3.

Story: 5/5

Max self-narrates the story in his own distinctive, pessimistic and grim language. However, now it’s emphasized with a method that projects choice words and expressions into the scene and turns video into still images that are used to pull off the comic book panel effect. This crafty balance of old and new are reflected in the game’s story as well. The storyline jumps between flashback and present-day, displaying the agonizing story of how Max was dragged out of his scotch-soaked depression by former cop (now turned bodyguard), Raul Passos. Max is thrown feet first into the lion’s den, where violent gangs and corruption-fueled madness of the Brazilian criminal underworld come barreling towards him. This is directly due to who Max’s new client is, the prosperous and affluent Branco family. Max is now in charge of personally protecting the Branco family, which consists of three wealthy brothers, as well as the wild and erratic wife of one of them.

The story itself has more twists than an episode of Fox’s critically acclaimed show, “24”. The scope of the story is equally remarkable, taking you from the snow filled streets of Hoboken, New Jersey and New York City, to the back alleys and tenements of Sao Paulo, Brazil. When Max’s client, Fabiana Branco, is kidnapped by a vicious gang called Comando Sombra, Max finds himself pit in the most dangerous and darkest place he has ever been.

Gameplay: 4/5

Starting first with the core details of gameplay, there are three difficulties to choose from off-the-bat, before unlocking two additional choices. Basically, if you are not an experienced shooter, the game has plenty of freedom to make it much easier and enjoyable. However, for the hardcore third-person shooter player, I must say the latter difficulty settings are quite challenging (and I have yet to play the hardest option). This time around, Max can carry up to three weapons at a time. He can carry two single-handed weapons such as revolvers or pistols, which can be dual wielded as well. In addition, he can carry one large weapon such as a shotgun or rifle. Max’s trademark “Bullet Time” (slow-motion) effects are out in full, bloody bloom. Bullet Time is built up quickly and easily during combat, allowing you to alter the speed of time in your favor and give yourself the chance of scoring a headshot with every round of your six-shooter. The mechanic is absolutely essential to the design, ensuring your survival in the most intense sequences.

Max Payne 3 is about looking good as much as it is about essentially ‘playing good’, so don’t pass over the chance to be flashy. Associated with Bullet Time is Shoot Dodge, which slows down time as Max leaps himself into the air. Throw yourself in slow-motion backwards down a stairwell, jump sideways off buildings and blow up a gas canister on the way, take out incoming rockets from ten feet off the ground, run straight towards a wall of guys before catapulting yourself towards them and ending each of their existences before you land are just a few examples. All that and more is possible with Shoot Dodge. Despite all that, it’s not an easy game by any means. Due to the nature that you’re encouraged to tackle situations with elegance rather than realism, you will take a lot of damage. Unlike the majority of its third-person peers, Max Payne 3 foregoes the regenerative health system and makes the player search for painkillers, which most fans will know as Max’s med-kits.

Another cool feature is if you’re killed while in possession of some painkillers, you spontaneously enter ‘Last Man Standing mode’ and are provided with a slow-motion chance to kill the enemy that last shot you. If you cannot kill him for whatever reason, whether it be poor aim or no ammo, then you will die. Kill him however and you live at the cost of one painkiller. This comes in handy because during all the action exploding around you, keeping an eye on your health is not always high on the priority list.

Unfortunately, there is a gripe that must be stated in the gameplay and that is the controls and glitches I’ve experienced. The first issue are the controls, which I felt were too cumbersome and I’ll explain. For my first playthrough on the Xbox 360, I felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of buttons I had to remember and utilize. On my second playthrough on the PS3, I encountered the same issues of trying to utilize and press every button in an intense game that requires more attention on the screen than in your hands. It is just a minor gripe but one that seems to stand out more than usual because the rest of the game is extremely polished. Lastly, are the awkward instances that occasionally pop up when you are in cover and try to fire at enemies. Occasionally, Max refuses to aim forward and rather, aims the gun into the air and shoots up into the sky. The first few times it seemed humorous but as the game progressed and the intensity increased, it clearly became a tad frustrating.

Along with the single player, Rockstar has packed in some very welcome additions, such as New York Minute (a classic mode from the original Max Payne) and Score Attack. These are two single-player Arcade modes that test players to beat their own top scores, as well as friends and strangers, in the middle of all the wild gun battles; all of which is tied into the Rockstar Social Club. Creatively, if you get a high score in the Arcade modes, you will unlock exclusive rewards in multiplayer such as avatars and XP benefits. Each level has the prospective to unlock its own exclusive avatar available to you within a multiplayer Deathmatch. If you’ve earned platinum rankings in Score Attack and New York Minute runs, you will not only earn a huge load of XP, but also unlock coveted character avatars for multiplayer like Max Payne, Branco, Passos and more.

Multiplayer is incredibly satisfying, too. Thankfully, Rockstar has managed to find a way of incorporating Bullet Time that doesn’t break the experience; meaning many of the skills you’ve learned in single player are exchangeable. All the usual bells and whistles of customizable loadouts, avatars, unlockables, ranking up and individual awards are included. A number of interesting perks that provide increased fire rates, the ability to confuse the opposition by removing the ability to tell one team from another and, of course, the trademark Bullet Time itself are also incorporated here. The primary mode, Gang Wars, takes place over several team-based rounds and includes a loosely woven narrative that links each encounter. Once you get to the final match, the team that has performed best starts up with a point’s advantage, meaning it’s possible to play the hero card and recover from a series of heavy defeats.

Graphics: 5/5

Max Payne 3 is an extremely polished game and was obviously developed with years of careful production and planning. Rockstar is now on their fifth major title for this generation of consoles and it is safe to say that they’ve mastered and utilized every bit of power on the two consoles. Each locale provides a distinctive color pallet, packed with an astounding amount of detail. Visualize all of the effort Rockstar puts into conveying their open worlds to life. Now, picture all of that energy focused down to specific, linear set pieces and no sand-box open world maps. Now you’ll start to develop a sense of how astonishing the whole package really is. Everything is gritty, hyper-detailed, and gorgeously animated. Papers fly from desks as you shoot your way through an office building, kids are playing soccer in alleyways as you navigate the favela slums, and the city skyline looks stunning from the rooftops of São Paulo and Hoboken. Character and weapon animations are astonishing, as are the fantastic environments you will explore, making Max Payne 3 one of the finest looking games this generation.

Sound: 5/5

The music is a fresh blend of originality mixed with the previous Max Payne tracks, making a terrific sound to an already gripping game. A riveting story is one thing, but you need realistic voice actors to truly immerse the gamer into this world. James McCaffrey returns to his beloved role as the king of one-liners, bringing a new side to Max we’ve never seen before. The supporting cast does a fantastic job of adding to their own personalities as well. Both the main and supporting cast create a wide-ranging spectacle, providing for some very interesting narrative. Lastly, the sound effects for the weapons and explosions are perfect in every way imaginable. Each gun has a distinctive sound to them, creating a realistic touch that most games today fail to accomplish. Playing with the Turtle Beach headsets, I can say that the sound of bullets ripping through enemies, walls and cement columns really sounded chilling and powerful.

Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10

Max Payne 3 signifies an extraordinary return for the series. The plot wraps the noir storytelling around a bright and exotic locale, filled with action and corruption. The previous games were certainly dark tales. The stories of addiction, double and triple crosses, as well as some grim surprises are ripped straight from urban legends. It maintains the workings that made the prior games great, while modernizing them to excellent effect. Between the Story, Arcade Mode and Multiplayer, there’s enough substantive content to keep you captivated for some time. While there are some mechanically wonky moments, they’re too minuscule to detract from a stellar sequel that was well worth the wait. Between its pacing, presentation and excellent gunplay, Max Payne 3 has raised the bar for many genres.

PROs:

+ Unrivaled combat fluidity

+ Beautiful cinematic presentation that properly pays tribute to Film Directors, Michael Mann and Tony Scott

+ Brutal and intense gameplay

+ Multiplayer and Arcade mode add longevity

+ Physics, animations and gunplay are grounded in authenticity and feel extensive

CONs:

– Occasional aiming glitches while shooting

– Controls seem a tad cumbersome, especially for those that aren’t used to Rockstar’s controls (alas GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption)

A special thank you to Rockstar Games for providing us a review copy of the game!

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