Max Payne 3 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Max Payne is back, and this time he’s worse off than he’s ever been.
It’s been eight years since we’ve seen the ex-NYPD detective, and he’s fallen deeper into his depression following the death of his wife and daughter a decade ago. Drowning his sorrows in pain killers and alcohol, a series of events starting with the meeting of Raul Passos take him out of New York and into the world of private security. While working for the Branco family, headed by real estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, an attempt is made to kidnap Rodrigo and his immediate family members. While the initial attempt was a failure, Branco’s enemies later succeed in taking Rodrigo’s wife, Fabiana, and Payne finds himself again off to save another woman in distress, taking on not only a drug cartel, but his own demons as well.
Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter that casts aside the noir shell of its predecessors for a different look, but still maintains a lot of the charm the previous two games had. Gone are the comic book-style cutscenes in favor of in-game graphical scenes with the look and feel of a Quentin Tarantino film mixed in with a little J.J. Abrams. Max Payne 3 features a story with very few low points, bringing tons of action to both the game and its cinematic sequences, making the experience feel like you’re in the middle of a high-octane action flick.
While Same Lake did not return to pen Max Payne 3, Rockstar’s Dan Houser (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption) and his team did an exceptional job of stepping up to the plate in Lake’s stead. The character development for not only Payne, but the secondary characters including the Branco family and Payne’s sidekick, Raul Passos, bring a larger depth of reality to the game. As you progress, you see the torment the Branco family is going through with the kidnapping of Fabiana – and the toll the death of Payne’s family and the death of Mona Sax are taking on Payne himself. It seems the theme of the story is that everyone has his or her demons to confront, and those demons seem to be winning the conflict.
But the writing isn’t the only thing giving this game such a fantastic story; it’s the voice acting as well. James McCaffrey reprises his role as an older, more grizzled Payne, and he conveys the grief that torments, and more often than not, causes him to act impulsively, often jumping into a suicidal situation without thinking. Portuguese actress Benedita Pereira and Uruguay native Frank Rodriguez bring quite a bit of realism to the characters of Fabiana and Rodrigo respectively as they progress from elite socialite and real estate tycoon to terrified victims of an evil cartel in no time flat. It’s far too often secondary characters are left to flounder in abysmally poor voice acting; it’s apparent Rockstar was having none of this for Payne’s return and it shows in the high production value.
From a cinematic standpoint, Max Payne 3 feels more like an interactive movie than it does a video game. Rockstar accomplishes this with its hyper realistic graphics, present both in-game and during the cutscenes. During the cutscenes, effects such as camera flares and ghosting images are frequently seen while multi-shot boxes and key words of dialogue pop in to view. While initially novel at first, the camera effects do detract from the cutscenes after a while due to frequent overuse. It’s as though the producers had just returned from a weekend marathon of Star Trek, Super 8, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. However, it doesn’t completely kill the mood of the game unless you’re prone to motion sickness or epileptic seizures, in which case you might want to avoid a third-person shooter anyway.
Between the cinematics and the gameplay, this game is constantly moving forward with very few lulls in-between events. The story moves along at a high pace, but provides you with enough detail so as not to get lost on the plot. The game does feature a much smarter AI than its predecessors, and is far less forgiving as well. Strategy is absolutely necessary in order to survive, since even on the easiest modes you can find yourself taking a dirt nap in relatively short fashion.
The key strategies to playing Max Payne 3 involve tactics, ammo management, and the painkillers – which restore your life as noted by the traditional Max Payne silhouette in the lower-right corner of the screen. While every enemy will drop a weapon after being killed, not all weapons are really suited well for a given situation. For instance, you might be in a scenario where you have machine gunners on top of a mezzanine or walkway, while the people you gunned down on the lower levels were carrying shotguns. Obviously, shotguns aren’t terribly effective at long ranges, so conservation of your longer range ammunition (pistols, machine guns) is necessary to easily make it through a level. Likewise, painkillers are in very short supply in the game, so it’s important to proceed with caution in order to use them as sparingly as possible.
To help you maintain tactical advantage in the game, Max Payne 3 introduces a new feature and brings back some old ones – including a cover system – to the franchise. The cover system, like any other modern shooter, allows you to duck down behind barriers and walls. However, most of these barriers are destructible, so staying in one place for too long can quickly make you dead. Bullet time once again returns to the game allowing you to slow down the action, making it easier to dodge bullets, get a bead on the enemies, and drop them one by one in slow motion.
Also coming back is the Shootdodge capability, which allows you to take a dive while in Bullet time. Once you hit the ground, you’re able to stay in the grounded position and fire in a 360-degree arc until your adrenaline runs out. This adds a lot to the cool factor of the game. For example, diving off of the top bleachers in a sports arena at your foes and flying through the air for the entirety of the adrenaline meter and knocking down foes in rapid succession with dual-wielded Uzis is just crazy fun.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the gameplay (and a surprising one at that, considering Rockstar’s past of creating well-balanced games): the difficulty spikes and the checkpoints. There are times during the game where the difficulty seems to just blow through the roof, with a vast number of enemies being thrown at you from seemingly every direction with superior firepower and tactical positioning. Even on the easiest setting, I found some of these areas would take five or six attempts to make my way through successfully, having to memorize the patterns of the enemies and really just sit down and think out the strategy on the fly while in the midst of being turned into hamburger by the incoming fire.
The game’s checkpoint system makes things worse, as it tends to create a checkpoint right as you’re walking into the (almost literal) wall of enemies. This makes it feel like Rockstar is punishing you for having the audacity to have died while playing its game or for going out to get something to eat.
Multiplayer is also available, and while I’m not terribly fond of developers shoehorning the multiplayer aspect into a traditionally single-player game, Rockstar has built a decent set of features to satisfy some gamers. On top of the out-of-the-box loadouts, custom loadouts are available starting at a level four ranking, which gives you three custom setups to play with. Weapons can be unlocked by purchasing them with cash earned for kills, winning a round, or looting the bodies.
The customizability of the loadouts is pretty significant. You can carry up to two single-handed weapons (and dual-wield after level six) and a two-handed weapon such as a rifle or shotgun. You can also carry what they call a projectile weapon (they’re grenades). Special powers that use your adrenaline meter can be added, such as gaining a temporary health boost or additional armor. Finally, a number of slots are available for additional perks such as armor, extra ammunition, health regeneration, and more. However, there is a caveat: The more equipment you load, the heavier you become. This affects how quickly your health regenerates and how much stamina you have.
Multiplayer matchmaking in Max Payne 3 sports a couple of nice features like the Rookie Deathmatch and Rookie Team Deathmatch playlists, where you can go to get used to the controls and get a feel for the multiplayer arena. As you gain levels, additional playlists such as Payne Killer, a multiplayer match where two players are designated as Passos and Payne. The two will work together against the rest of the players. However, if they are killed, they move over to the thug side, and the killer will then become the player they killed.
Multiplayer does make for a good distraction, although it is, at times, irritating. Load times between matches are significant and the controls regarding grenades are poorly designed. Essentially, you have to aim your reticule where you think you want it to go, go to the weapon select wheel, and pull the right shoulder button. This system would work great in the single-player campaign (interestingly, you can’t use grenades in that mode), but it’s absolutely ineffective in multiplayer unless you can convince the other team to stand still for a minute while you fumble with the menus to lob a grenade in their direction.
Overall, Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game with an in-depth storyline, spectacular voice acting, phenomenal graphics and everything else you could possibly ask for. But there are issues with the game, especially the difficulty spikes and checkpoint issues, which can really annoy a player who’s looking for an immersive experience. However, if you can get past these small annoyances, then by all means, toss on that wrinkled business suit, knock down a few shots, load the .45, and show those mobsters what happens when Max Payne goes native on you!
Max Payne 3 receives a 3.75/5.0.
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