Max Payne 3 Review
- Rockstar Games
- Max Payne 3
Made2Game Max Payne 3 Review Score: 9/10
Formats: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Format reviewed: PS3
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Reviewed by: Nathan Clifton
Maximum pain. One of the many sensations our protagonist will feel whilst working his way through this adrenaline-fuelled shoot-fest. Although L. A. Noire may have disappointed for some, Rockstar are certainly back on form with their latest.
Max Payne 3 is a joyous thrill ride, fully utilising the developer’s knack for telling a good story as well as achieving something that most studios don’t ever manage – encouraging us to invest in a character’s plight. John Marston, Niko Bellic (on a somewhat smaller scale, blame his cousin), even the likes of Tommy Vercetti and CJ Johnson from previous Grand Theft Auto games, all had something in common: you, the player, wanted it to turn out all right for them in the end. It’s no different with Max Payne, and every time you succeed you can’t help but feel genuinely happy for the guy.
Ever since the introduction of Remedy’s embittered cop, the running has been far from smooth. The man himself has come a long way, from those grim evenings in New Jersey to the colour-filled environments of Sao Paolo, Brazil. Blue skies, neon nightclubs and football stadia all wait to welcome Max as he seeks pastures new in South America.
Now working security detail for the famously rich Branco family, Max’s old talents prove useful when the boss’s wife is kidnapped. He sets off with Raul Passos, the man responsible for bringing him to Brazil, on a frantic search for the young dame. The main highlights from the story come from flashbacks where we find out the reasons for Max’s current predicament. These are primarily set back in New Jersey (the setting for the first two games), and have the more-familiar noir feel commonly associated with the character.
The action is both fast and fluid courtesy of the excellent animation, with “Shoot Dodge” and “Bullet Time” returning as standard. As useful as both techniques are, the Shoot Dodge can leave you a sitting duck at times. The two or three seconds when Max hits the deck under fire can leave you very vulnerable, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself back at the checkpoint soon after. Bullet Time, on the other hand, almost gives you a sense of invincibility. Moving along a corridor taking aim at multiple targets feels easy as you simply evade bullets by outrunning them.
The sense of realism that Rockstar has captured in the character animations is the true star here. Max won’t be holstering an AK-47 on his back a la Nathan Drake, he’ll throw it to the ground if you want to dual-wield his trademark pistols, or indeed any other weapons. However, the discarded rifle won’t magically disappear as is often the case. Run out of ammo in your other firearms and you can reacquire your previously disowned weapon and continue to dispatch your enemies until it’s time to move on. It’s a neat trick that develops Max as a character: a runner and gunner who doesn’t want to be weighed down with a heavier arsenal. When he does decide to retain possession of a larger firearm and use a smaller one he’ll keep hold of it in one hand and fire the pistol with the other. As he runs from side to side and backwards and forwards, his arms adjust, his weight shifts, all in a way that feels unbelievably natural with a controller in your hand, and looks awesome. A weapon’s weight also dictates how quickly you can swing it round to target another opponent: moving a single-handed Uzi is considerably quicker than a shotgun, allowing Rockstar to show off the realism of their arsenal.
A choice of aiming modes, ranging from a hard lock-on to free-aiming are available, but you’ll really have to be struggling with the game to select anything other than free-aim. Take a fatal hit while trying to target an enemy and, providing you have some painkillers on your person (Max’s preferred method of health rejuvenation), you’ll have the opportunity to come back from the brink. Identify your assailant and eliminate him and you’ll be rewarded with a slow-mo death for him as well as continued life for yourself, just reward for your efforts.
You’ll always know when it’s time to progress through each of the game’s 14 chapters courtesy of the excellent – and quite graphic – Bullet Cam. From chamber to enemy, the final bullet from a shootout is traced, and can be slowed down, as it enters the last man standing to outstanding effect. It really gives a visceral feel to proceedings and is right at home in Max’s grim tale - the particulars of which are narrated by the man himself.
Early scenes show Max popping pills and drinking his life away in his apartment overseeing Sao Paolo’s bright lights, as he reflects on how pathetic his life truly is. Even during gameplay, collecting painkillers produces a quote filled with dry wit, a staple of the established series. Rockstar do a fantastic job of capturing all of Max’s emotions in the cutscenes, constantly giving the impression of a mental break down with stuttering visual effects that only add to the character and your attachment to him.
Max’s impressive single player campaign isn’t the only solo offering Max Payne 3 has to offer. The game’s arcade modes are another challenge entirely. Removing the cutscenes from the action completely, New York Minute (returning from the previous two games) gives you sixty seconds to complete each chapter, gaining time as you dispatch your enemies. If you die you can try each chapter again, but in New York Minute Hardcore, failure sees you fall back to the first chapter. Brutal it may be, but a serious challenge for those who consider themselves pros.
Head online and Max Payne 3 continues to flourish with a slew of game modes including standard deathmatches, but it’s in Payne Killer and Gang Wars where the multiplayer shines. The former gives you the opportunity to become Max and his buddy Passos by killing them. Take control of Max and you’ll be duel-wielding Uzis and have access to a lot of painkillers and his trademark bullet time; Passos packs a punch with his light machine gun and his own stock of medication. Both are formidable foes and it will take teamwork (and your own selfishness) to bring those players down. You’ll find yourself working as a team one minute, then cursing the player who struck the fatal blow the next, as he reaps the rewards of your hard work. Frustrating indeed.
The unpredictability of the five rounds of Gang Wars (bar the last, always decided by a classic Team Deathmatch) makes it one of the online component’s best features. Teams of eight battle it out over five objective-based rounds ranging from Turf Grab to Survivor. Different gang wars draw from different campaign scenarios to tell an impressive story, and each round dynamically evolves from the previous. For example, if you win Turf Grab you’ll be on the offensive in Short Fuse where your objective will be to plant bombs and defend them, as opposed to preventing the bombing. It’s the most entertaining and interesting mode by far, and seeing extensive narrative used in multiplayer is not only refreshing, but a model other developers would do well to adopt.
Another notable feature is the new “Vendetta” system. Get killed by the same player twice (in any game mode) without returning the favour and you’ll have the chance to initiate a Vendetta – kill your opponent before they kill you and you’ll receive extra XP, meaning that feeling of frustration as you’re slaughtered over and over again by the same player can finally be channelled into something useful. The aforementioned choice between soft-lock and free-aim runs through to multiplayer, and strikes us a strange design decision as it takes a lot of skill out of the experience. In fact, it’s no surprise to find the majority of players preferring the free-aim modes.
But where would online multiplayer be without its perks? Or, in the case of Max Payne 3, “Bursts”. Bursts come in all shapes and sizes and use your adrenaline, which is spent on bullet time in the single player modes. Only one Burst can be selected per loadout, so switching set-ups during a round is mightily tempting. Utilising the three stages of each Burst, both in timing and intensity, can turn the tide in a match. Revealing enemy positions, fooling enemies to target their friends as foe or acquiring a grenade launcher until you meet your end are the sort of thing you can expect. Bullet Time is also a Burst in multiplayer, and its implementation is interesting despite fears that it might unbalance the action. Bullet Time, as well as Shoot Dodges which also automatically slow time down, only works in the attacker’s line of sight. It works surprisingly well, too, although it’s easy to be caught in the bullet time of another firefight occurring a considerable distance from your location.
A standard slew of weapons including SMGs, assault rifles and pistols are available to unlock at higher levels as well as more useful three-level Bursts, and equippable armour and items. However, to gain access to these you’re going to have to play a lot of the multiplayer. A lot. And then some more, because levelling up online in Max Payne 3 requires a significant amount of patience. Rockstar are not generous with their current XP system, so take advantage of any bonus experience weekends.
Max Payne 3 builds on everything Rockstar has worked on to date. With elements of the character development in Red Dead Redemption and the presentation of a gritty underworld similar to GTAIV, it feels like a natural evolution. The multiplayer shows that you don’t have to do everything in the first-person, staring down the barrel of your gun to put together a worthy product. The soundtrack from HEALTH is available now on iTunes and its recognisable “Tears” (from the TV ads) and “Blasphemy” are particular highlights, combining with the situations Max finds himself in to create almost perfect scenarios.
Some uncharacteristic decisions from our protagonist break the immersion at times but not enough to suck you out of Rockstar’s account of a man hell-bent on his objective, and the twists and turns in the plot are expected but not obvious, thanks to the developer’s capable handling. As Max himself says, “Time moves forward, and nothing changes.” If he’s talking about the quality of the Max Payne franchise he’s not wrong, and it’s hard to disagree that this latest entry from Rockstar is the series’ best.
Words by Nathan Clifton (Twitter: @NathanClifton)
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