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Max has been through some shit. His wife and baby were murdered, he was framed for murder, he was hunted by killers, and it looks like he has an addiction to painkillers. The original Max Payne laid the groundwork for the Hong Kong action film inspired gameplay we would come to know and love. Getting into intense firefights while running and jumping around and blowing away bad guys in slow motion. The sequel, Max Payne 2, refined the core mechanics established in the first game and while the gameplay is challenging, it’s not as difficult as its predecessor. In my opinion, Max Payne 2’s gameplay is better but the story and atmosphere are certainly not on the same level. The next game in the series, Max Payne 3, takes our beloved protagonist on a new violent adventure in Brazil. Developed and published by Rockstar, Max Payne 3 was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in May, 2012. For this review, I played the PC version.
Max Payne 3 is set years after the events of Max Payne 2. Max is no longer a police officer. He’s a drunk. A man named Raul Passos finds him in a bar in New Jersey and makes him an offer to become a private security contractor in South America. After an incident with the Mafia forces Max to leave the state, he accepts the offer and works security for the wealthy Branco family. While in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the wife of Max’s employer is kidnapped by a gang who demands money for her release. While Max and Raul set out to get her back, Max uncovers a plot that goes a lot deeper than a simple kidnapping for ransom. Right off the bat, I can tell you the tone and atmosphere are very different than those of the previous games. I’m not even sure I would consider the presentation that of the film noir style. But it’s definitely cinematic. The graphic novel panels exhibited in the previous games are absent in favor of cut scenes. Overall, I liked the story. It’s a bit convoluted but I liked the writing and loved James McCaffrey’s performance as Max. The story is primarily set in Brazil and many of the characters speak Portuguese. I’ve never been there nor do I speak the language so I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the accents or dialogue. Many of the cut scenes showcase numerous visual effects which I’m assuming represent Max’s drunken state or hangover. For example, the presentation will get brighter for a second or two and there are periodic bouts of what I call double vision. I don’t mind it personally, it never got in the way of the gameplay, but I can understand if someone found these effects to be annoying. It’s also worth noting that the game includes a lot of cut scenes and they do mask the loading times. They can feel a bit intrusive on subsequent playthroughs if you just want to get into the action but, luckily, they can be skipped. Although, sometimes you have to sit through a portion of a cut scene before you can skip it.
Like the previous games, Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter with bullet time, the ability to slow down time, being the standout feature. Max can walk, run, crouch, vault over obstacles, snap into cover, blind fire, enter bullet time, and perform a shootdodge. Max can hold a limited amount of painkillers that he finds throughout the environments and they can be consumed at any time to replenish a portion of his health. Bullet time allows you to easily pick off enemies and dodge bullets. It’s a crucial part of the gameplay and can be a life saver during some of the tougher encounters. Entering bullet time and/or performing a shootdodge will drain through what I call the bullet time meter which is replenished by shooting at and killing enemies and by getting shot at. If Max has painkillers on him and takes a shot that drains what’s left of his health, you’ll enter the last man standing mode where time automatically slows down allowing you to gun down the enemy that shot you and if you do kill him, Max will be back in the action at the cost of a painkiller. Although, it is annoying when the enemy moves out of sight so you know you won’t survive but you have to wait for the animation to finish anyway. When performing a shootdodge, Max dives through the air and when you land, you can remain prone and shoot at enemies. It does take some time for Max to get up so you really need to be careful when performing a shootdodge because landing in the wrong spot can result in Max taking a lot of damage or dying. You want to always be aware of your surroundings and try not to miss when shooting. You might survive a firefight by performing a shootdodge or land thinking you’ve killed all of the enemies in the vicinity only for some asshole to come out from cover and blow you away as you’re getting up. Max doesn’t move fast and the game does convey a good sense of weight in terms of the characters and movement in general. However, like many of Rockstar’s games, controlling Max can be a bit clunky. Getting in and out of cover can sometimes be finicky.
Max can only hold a limited amount of weapons which can be swapped out with others found throughout the environments. You’ll get your hands on multiple handguns, assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, shotguns, a sniper rifle, grenade launcher, and rocket launcher. You can pick up weapons with attachments like laser sights, scopes, and flashlights and these can be toggled on and off. Each weapon does feel satisfying and when you fire the fatal shot that kills the last bad guy in an area, you’ll often get to witness the kill in bullet cam where the camera follows the bullet in slow motion. If you want to survive firefights, you’ll want to utilize bullet time and cover. If you’re running around out in the open without utilizing either of those, you’re going to die quickly. If your bullet time meter needs to be replenished, blind firing is a great way to kill enemies and/or just keep them at bay. Parts of the environments can and will be destroyed during firefights, including objects and structures that can be used as cover.
There are multiple difficulty modes to play through and two of them need to be unlocked. Because I’ve beaten this numerous times before on both 360 and PC and because I decided to play through it this time with a keyboard and mouse, I played through the story on Hard which is the toughest difficulty available at the start. I found that playing with a keyboard and mouse makes things a lot easier compared to playing with a controller. Aiming with the mouse makes a world of difference in my experience. Max Payne 3 puts up a decent fight and can be very challenging on the higher difficulties. Enemies will run around, take cover, throw grenades, and can be very accurate. They will sometimes rush you but a lot of times they tend to stay behind cover. You’re always outnumbered so standing out in the open while trying to pick them all off can result in a quick death or at the very least, consuming most if not all your painkillers. The beginning of the game has you up against gang members but you’ll eventually engage paramilitary dudes and the UFE which are a special police unit. The foes encountered later in the game are equipped with body armor so they can take a few shots before going down.
The game will take you to numerous locations. The flashback chapters take you through areas in New Jersey and Panama. Most of the story takes place Sao Paulo, Brazil. You’ll blow enemies away in a nightclub, stadium, condemned hotel, and favela, among some other locations. The environments are mostly linear so getting lost is never an issue but you will come across small rooms and areas off the beaten paths which can house resources like weapons, ammo, painkillers, and sometimes clues and golden weapon parts. Each chapter has different clues to discover which basically provide backstory and scattered throughout the environments are golden weapons parts. When you collect all the parts for a weapon, it turns gold and its damage and ammo capacity are increased. Max Payne 3 often feels very scripted which is most evident during the set pieces peppered throughout the story. You’ll get to cover NPCs with sniper rifles, ride in a boat while fending off attackers, and there’s a neat sequence where you get to gun down enemies as you pass them in a bus. Max Payne 3 is an action-packed romp but its linear and scripted nature can often make the experience feel restricted. And playing through some areas a second time can feel like a drag. For example, there are a few sequences where you’re just moving from one location to another. These could easily be conveyed through cut scenes which are already prevalent to begin with but at least you would have the option to skip them, getting you to the action faster.
Max Payne 3 includes multiple Arcade modes that mix up the gameplay and most of them do need to be unlocked. One neat thing about these modes is that before you start playing, you can select one of multiple Max skins, two of which reflect his appearances in the first two games. New York Minute is one of the modes and the goal is to beat chapters as fast as possible. The timer starts at one minute and counts down and each kill rewards you with more time. Completing the game on New York Minute will unlock its Hardcore variant where death sends you back to the beginning of the game. Score Attack is my favorite Arcade mode. The goal is to rack up as many points as possible. Each kill rewards you with points and different types of kills reward you with different amounts of points. Killing multiple enemies in succession increases your multiplier. You can lose points by killing innocent people, taking damage, consuming painkillers, dying, and entering last man standing. Finally, there’s the Challenge mode where you have to complete challenges in between checkpoints. This mode is cool because it forces you to do things differently. For example, challenges will require you to do specific things like kill a specific number of enemies but only during shootdodges, no kills from cover, only headshots, and other stuff along those lines. The Arcade modes do add some replay value to the game and you can earn medals in each mode.
Max Payne 3 was definitely a great looking game when it released and it still doesn’t look too bad. The character models look excellent and the animations are phenomenal. In fact, I think most if not all of the characters and their movements were motion captured. As a result, characters move realistically which makes the combat look and feel very satisfying even if it means controlling Max can sometimes feel clunky. Rockstar is known for the amount of detail in their games and Max Payne 3 is no exception. You can see the individual hairs in Max’s beard. Bullets will rip through bodies and the bullet cam is a great way to see the awesome gore effects. You’ll see detailed entry and exit wounds, blood can spray and squirt, and pools of blood form under dead bodies. Even the world of Max Payne 3 is a very detailed place. Detailed and gritty. The chapters where Max traverses through the favela are the most eye-catching in my opinion. You’ll see graffiti on the walls and foliage, objects, and debris scattered around. From what I understand, Rockstar actually conducted field research around Sao Paulo. I’ve never been so I can’t comment on how accurate the environments are but I do think they’re well crafted. The texture work is excellent and the environments are diverse. I did witness some pop-in here and there but overall the visual presentation is phenomenal. On the audio side, you will hear the classic Max Payne theme from time to time but much of the soundtrack was composed by the band Health. The sound effects are good with satisfying weapons fire, loud explosions, and you’ll hear a lot of shouting during combat. On the technical side, every time I tried starting a multiplayer session, the game would crash. Other than that, no issues.
I’m not exactly sure how many times I’ve beaten Max Payne 3 but I know I loved it every time. It’s my favorite game in the series. The gameplay puts it at the top for me. The sense of weight, the feel of the weapons, and the gore effects result in a sublime experience. I could play this for days. I still say the first Max Payne is the most atmospheric and Max Payne 3 definitely doesn’t have the same charm as its predecessors. I get more of an over-the-top action movie vibe from it. All of them can feel like that to some extent but Max Payne 3 feels more explosive. It’s a game that can keep you coming back thanks to multiple difficulty modes, the clues, golden weapon parts, Arcade modes, and it even includes multiplayer which I didn’t get the chance to try. Some of Rockstar’s infamous control jank is present and can be a nuisance but as far as their third-person shooters go, it’s not as janky as Grand Theft Auto IV or Red Dead Redemption. At least not in my experience. Max Payne 3 is a linear third-person shooter with brutal and satisfying gunplay and intense action.
I would absolutely recommend Max Payne 3 to fans of the series and action games in general. It may not convey the same atmosphere as its predecessors but it’s a great action game that delivers in the gameplay category. The amazing gunplay, detailed presentation, and visual effects make for a visceral experience. Definitely check out Max Payne 3.