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Rockstar Games. A company I will follow to the grave. Ever since I played Vice City, I’ve always kept an eye on what Rockstar is doing and in the end, they turned out to be one of my all time favorite game developers, right up there with Nintendo. In between their flagship Grand Theft Auto titles, Rockstar tends to release other games. You may have heard of them. Manhunt, Midnight Club, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption. Any of these ring a bell? Rockstar Games isn’t one of my favorite developers just because of their GTA titles, I love them because of what they release in the interim. We all jizz our pants when the next Grand Theft Auto title is announced but it’s these other games that prove Rockstar is more than just a one-man show. You can see the detail and care put into these games is right up there with the amount of love put into the GTA titles. And each game feels unique and different. Maybe Ubisoft should take some notes.
Developed and published by Rockstar, Max Payne 3 was released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in May, 2012. I’ve beaten this game numerous times over the years and each time the gameplay is just as enjoyable. I can still remember when I was at the store day one to pick up my special edition copy and was thrown off when I realized the game came with two disks for 360. Regardless, I played the shit out of this game, minus the multiplayer, and all I kept thinking was how would some of these mechanics be incorporated into the next GTA? While Max Payne 3 takes a different approach to the storytelling than the previous two entries, this is still my favorite entry in the series. It plays out more like an action movie than a noir story, which I can remember divided some fans of the originals at the time of release.
After the events of Max Payne 2, Max retired from the NYPD and became a full time drunk. He put on some weight and interestingly enough, he now looks a lot like his voice actor, James McCaffrey, although a little fatter. One day, while sitting at a bar in Jersey, just drinking his life away, he’s approached by Raul Passos. Passos claims they went to the academy together and offers Max a job working security for the wealthy Branco family in São Paulo, Brazil. As we know, Max is a magnet for trouble and shortly after rejecting the job offer, he gets into deep shit with the New Jersey Mafia. After killing what seems like an endless amount of mobsters in the New Jersey area, Max reluctantly accepts the job offer. After his boss’ wife is kidnapped, Max gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving the family he works for and police and political corruption.
I’ve noticed some people seem to seriously dislike the stories in many of Rockstar’s games. Maybe it’s just the writing. Whatever the reason, I’ve always been a fan of both, and Max Payne 3 is no exception. This is all subjective, of course. I found all of the dialogue to be well written and it’s accompanied by well performed voice acting all around. James McCaffrey does an excellent job, and overall I really loved the story. I’m an easy guy to please and the story here feels very cinematic and even gives off some Hollywood vibes. The gameplay seamlessly transitions to cut scenes throughout the entire game. Max Payne 3 does away with the comic book style cut scenes of previous games and instead features, what I believe is motion captured performances. Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides to Max Payne 3 is the cut scenes themselves. The game is full of cut scenes and I believe the they also double as loading points, so if you play the console versions, you’ll need to wait a bit before you can skip them. On PC, it’s not as bad. The problem with the cut scenes in general is that if you want to replay the game, they just get in the way.
The cut scenes also pose another problem. They like to flash different colors and effects like double vision, scan lines, increased brightness, stuff like that. Now I don’t drink, but I think these effects are supposed to reflect what it’s like to be drunk, matching Max’s newfound lifestyle of excessive drinking. That, or the developers were drunk when creating the cut scenes. Either way, these effects don’t really bother me but they are rampant throughout the entire game and I can see how these effects would be considered obnoxious and could seriously annoy people. Every cut scene is like this so all of these flashing effects will be in your face all the time.
When reviewing a game, I normally save the presentation for last but I’m bumping it up this time. For the time it released, Max Payne 3 was gorgeous. Actually, it still doesn’t look too bad. The animations, visuals, music, and sound effects are all top tier. Everything, including Max, himself, feels like it has weight to it and it all just feels semi-real. This is definitely not a simulation of any kind but the way it’s designed, the environments and characters feel real, while the gameplay has a fun arcade feel to it. It’s hard to describe. There’s so much detail pumped into the visuals it’s ridiculous. Most of the story takes place in Brazil while flashbacks take place in New Jersey and Panama. Bullets will rip objects and walls to shreds and you can see even them speeding past your head when entering Bullet Time. You can see blood spewing from bullet holes in bodies. It’s both awesome and comical. You’ll shoot your way through an office building and seeing papers fly up in the air from all the gunfire is just one of several little touches that really prove Rockstar pays attention to the details. In a couple chapters during the story, you’ll trek through the slums of São Paulo and these showcase the real highlights of the visual presentation. Everything is run-down, vines are growing all over everything, garbage, grass, and weeds fill the streets, and even the background of the sprawling São Paulo is eye catching. Like many of Rockstar’s games, the music fits perfectly with what’s happening during gameplay and just makes everything feel more dramatic.
Max Payne 3 isn’t exactly a fast-paced game. During the beginning chapters especially, there’s a lot of walking and listening to Max narrate. It’s a very story-driven experience but the action is pretty consistent throughout. There’s fourteen chapters total and five difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, Hard, Hardcore, and Old School. You need to complete the game on Hard to unlock the later two. Beating the game also unlocks the Arcade complete with a Score Attack mode, Challenge mode, New York Minute mode, and New York Minute Hardcore mode. Score Attack is all about achieving a high score. Challenge mode involves you completing specific challenges in between checkpoints. New York Minute and New York Minute Hardcore require you to complete chapters before the timer runs out, with each kill rewarding you with extra time. The only difference between New York Minute and its Hardcore variant is that Hardcore only gives you one life.
Bullet Time is the slow down effect, the most notable feature of the series. Get used to it because without it, Max Payne 3 would be a pretty difficult game. Max Payne 3 is a cover based shooter but entering Bullet Time not only helps you survive out in the open but is just awesome in general. Killing enemies and getting shot at raises the bullet time meter and when you enter Bullet Time the meter begins to drain. Bullet Time will automatically end when the meter is fully drained. During Bullet Time you can see bullets whizzing past your head and you can aim more accurately. There are several scripted events in the game where you enter Bullet Time automatically but normally you can press a button to enter it or shootdodge. Shootdodge means Max will jump in the air and automatically enter Bullet Time, making you feel like a badass when you’re able to kill multiple enemies while in mid-air.
When not in Bullet Time, Max seems to be a bullet magnet. You’ll frequently be popping your head out to get a shot off only to quickly get back into cover because you’re health is draining rapidly from gunfire. Unless you’re in cover, enemies seem to have pin point accuracy and this is only a downside because it’s so obvious. Whenever you enter Bullet Time its like the enemies suddenly can’t aim for shit but once you’re back in real-time, they can gun you down instantly. Luckily, you can find and take painkillers found throughout the environments to heal yourself. If you die enough times in a row, the game will eventually give you more painkillers. This is actually fantastic because if you have no painkillers, some sections can feel really cheap. After years of playing this now, I can honestly say I don’t like the “last man standing” mechanic. Once you’re health has been drained all the way, if you have at least one painkiller on you, Max will automatically enter “last man standing” which means he enters Bullet Time as he falls down and you need to shoot the guy who put you in this state to get back into the action, using up a painkiller. If you don’t have any painkillers you just die which is preferable. I don’t like “last man standing” for two reasons. One – I always seem to enter “last man standing” in the worst possible spot, with some object obstructing my view of who shot me. And two – because Max always has to fall down. That’s a problem because he takes a minute to get back up and during that time, he’s extremely vulnerable and enemies can easily put you back down. I’d rather just die and try again. I should mention the Old School difficulty mode removes “last man standing”.
Max, himself, isn’t exactly a spring chicken. He’s a middle-aged man and a heavy drinker. Max can walk and jog. He’s doesn’t really move fast. Regardless, the action is intense and Max is surprisingly flexible since he can quickly aim in any direction at any time. You have complete freedom when it comes to aiming and because of it, you never feel restrained during combat. You’ll acquire all types of different weapons including pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, heavy machine guns, assault rifles, rocket launchers, and even a grenade launcher. Some weapons include attachments like scopes, flashlights, and laser sights and these can be toggled on or off. You’ll acquire weapons and ammo from fallen enemies and you’ll be switching out weapons frequently. In addition to the Bullet Time, the gunplay is the other stand out feature of Max Payne 3. It’s phenomenal. Not only do all of the weapons feel satisfying to use but the enemy reactions to bullet impacts are incredible, thanks largely to the game’s physics system. Max Payne 3 runs on the RAGE engine and a lot has been improved since Grand Theft Auto IV. Enemies react realistically to being hit by gunfire and it’s fun to shoot different parts of their body just to see how they react. Granted, the animations can be a little wonky at times, but overall, this has some of the best and coolest gunplay I’ve ever seen in a video game, even to this day. Whenever you fire the fatal shot at the last enemy of a squad, you automatically enter Bullet Time and you can slow it down even more, and just watch as the bullets rip the dude to shreds. It’s awesome.
Unlike the open world titles Rockstar is known for, Max Payne 3 is a linear experience but still offers plenty of replay value. Throughout the environments are Gold Weapon Parts scattered around and after you collect all of the weapon parts for a single weapon, you unlock the gold variant of that weapon. Gold weapons do more damage and can hold more ammo. There’s also Grinds which I guess are the game’s form of achievements. Just by playing you can complete grinds like earning a specific amount of kills with certain weapons, killing a specific amount of enemies, being in Bullet Time for a specific amount of time, that kind of stuff. When playing through the story you can also find clues that give more information on what’s happening. And let’s not forget about the multiple difficulty modes and the chapter select. You can replay any already completed chapter and improve your skills.
Even after playing through the Story mode hundreds of times, there’s always the excellent Arcade mode. Score Attack is one of my favorite ways to play this. It’s all about racking up big scores. Head shots are worth more than body shots and chaining kills together increases your multiplier for more points. Challenge mode is also pretty cool. In between checkpoints you’ll need to meet specific requirements within a time limit or fail and have to retry. For example you may need to kill a specific number of enemies or kill them in a certain way, like shoot them in the groin or kill them during a shootdodge. It’s definitely an interesting and fun way to play. It’s actually a great way to show off how risking death is much more fun than staying behind cover all the time. This risk versus reward approach is all made possible thanks to the Bullet Time mechanic. The New York Minute mode returns from Max Payne 2 and it’s not exactly my favorite ways to play this. I didn’t really care for it in Max Payne 2 either. It’s just that I don’t like being timed. You have one minute to complete each chapter and each kill grants you more time.
All of the modes in Arcade let you choose a different appearance for Max based on the story and even previous games. Score Attack and Challenge modes also let you play already completed chapters. New York Minute requires you to complete the chapters again just to unlock them for that mode. Another reason I don’t like it. If going for a high score wasn’t enough, Score Attack lets you toggle on or off several modifiers like only head shots kill enemies, explosive rounds, incendiary rounds, limited ammo, and other stuff that can really help increase the replay value even further. There’s quite a bit of content and modes to play through in Max Payne 3 and that’s just the single player.
I rarely buy games with the intent on playing the multiplayer and that also goes for Max Payne 3. However, there is one mode, that I think was introduced through DLC, that I really wanted to try and that’s Dead Men Walking. It’s just like the Dead Man Walking mode from Max Payne 2. A horde mode, if you will, that can be played cooperatively. Of course I only wanted to play by myself and, unfortunately, the game kept crashing whenever I would try to play in the Hoboken map. There’s only two maps available for this mode and eventually I was able to get a private game going in the other map. You need to kill waves of enemies and earn “Grit”, or points, that can be saved for a high score or spent to unlock containers filled with painkillers, weapons, and ammo. It’s a fun mode but I really wish it had a single player variant.
While I adore the gameplay, tolerate the intrusive cut scenes on repeated playthroughs, and truly enjoyed the story in Max Payne 3, the game does have some issues. For one thing, it crashed on two occasions during my time in the story mode. During a couple of cut scenes, textures and objects refused to load. Also, the final chapter in the game includes a final gunfight that’s made up of pure bullshit. You can’t adjust the difficulty for the Score Attack mode but I think the modifiers are supposed to make up for that. But other than these things, Max Payne 3 is a solid game.
Ultimately, Max Payne 3 is one of the greatest third-person shooters I’ve ever played. Even though I’m a huge fan of Rockstar’s games, I’m not blind to issues and Max Payne 3 has several. They’re not major issues by any means but hopefully these issues can be rectified in future titles. Once you’ve completed the story, the cut scenes will seem intrusive on repeated playthroughs and the cut scene effects can really be obnoxious. But overall, Max Payne 3 is excellent. I loved the story, the characters, voice acting, action, and just the gameplay in general. The game does an excellent job at capturing what I would imagine is the intensity of a gunfight while managing to be fun at the same time. The Bullet Time mechanic introduces a risk versus reward style of gameplay, and the multiple difficulty modes and extra game modes add a ton of replay value. If you’re a fan of action games or shooters, you really owe it to yourself to check this game out, if you haven’t already.