Max Payne 3 is a fresh, compelling shooter that will give FPS fans a welcome break from the same old boring “modern day realism”. A great noir-style first person plotline and solid multiplayer gameplay to back it up.
Editors Note: While the title has been out for a while two things we do here at ODG are thoughtful reviews after solid play times AND mission first attitude. EODTech has been out ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of foreigners but really wanted to own this review, so we let him!
For those of you who played the first two Max Payne games, it should be enough to know that Max Payne 3 (hereinafter MP3) is an excellent followup and doesn’t drop the ball. For those of you new to the series, let me enlighten you. Max Payne is not a hero. He’s not a nice man. He’s ruined everything he’s ever touched, and managed to get everybody he’s ever even remotely cared about killed, as collateral damage in the train wreck that is his life. Max is an alcoholic junkie whose only skill is with a gun—and even that has become a curse, since it means he is still alive to suffer the memories of all the things he’s lost.
The story-line is about as dark as they come. Through a chain of events that only reveal themselves as the plot progresses, Max has been forced to flee America. He has found employ as a “security contractor,” which many of this site’s readers know is often merely a euphemism for mercenary, a hired killer. His job is to provide bodyguard protection for a family of wealthy Brazilian businessmen.
Early in the game, the in-over-her-head young trophy wife, her hapless sister, and the naïve youngest brother of the family become targets of one of the organized crime syndicates in Sao Paulo. Max and his partner must pull out all the stops in an attempt to save the survivors of these repeated attacks—and, later, to take their vengeance for the ones who do not survive. The story is convoluted and hard to follow, but I’m not sure that it hurts the game in this particular case. If you’ve ever lived in a large third world city, you may have a small inkling of how labyrinthian and intricate are the connections between law enforcement, politics, and the criminal underworld. The plot of MP3 could be seen as a reflection of that real-world impenetrability. [For those of you interested in researching this topic, I’d recommend Misha Glenny’s excellent “McMafia” as a starting point.]
The story is very hard to follow, though. I must admit that it is confusing. Often, people seem to betray Max for no reason, or at odd times. I make no excuse for this. However, the rest of the writing contributes very well to the overall noir feel of the entire game, and you never forget what Max is. He’s an unstoppable killing machine, yes—but only because by this point in his life, he literally knows nothing else. All the love, happiness, laughter, everything good and lighthearted has been drained out of him. He never comes out and says it, but Max wants to die. He’s just looking for a fight that’s rough enough to do the job. Will he survive? Or will he—as you almost perversely find yourself hoping—finally be allowed to rest—to die?
Heavyhanded philosophical babble aside, this is an excellent game. The graphics are amazing, if a little dark and “gritty.” Shadows behave as they should, shell casings bounce, realistic debris and blood fly during firefights, and the cut scenes are well-choreographed. The music is top-notch and as usual for the Max Payne series, sets the mood perfectly. The voice acting is pretty good, especially when compared with previous Max Payne games. I appreciated the little touches that run-and-gunners, trying to beat the game as quickly as possible, may not have even noticed. A diverting television commercial here, a memorial to a slain-by-gangsters soccer star there. Inside jokes that only longtime fans would “get.” These all contribute to a rich narrative. The sound mixing is not remarkable, but it is solid and consistent.
However, in addition to Max, the real star of the game is the gameplay itself. Max Payne was the first game to introduce the concept of “bullet time.” That is, you hit a button and your timeline slows to a crawl while you are able to take the time to line up crucial shots on your enemies. Since the first Max Payne, you’ve been able to build up a “bullet time bank” by killing bad guys. Each bad guy you drop earns you a little more bullet time. You can use that bullet time to execute any number of John Woo style moves wherein you, Max, dive through windows or doorways and kill four or six guys, at once, each with a single shot between the eyes. Or in the nuts (actually an achievement in MP3). Or whatever. The important thing is that you have the ability to slightly slow time as you dive through the air. As always, this is an extremely satisfying mechanic. And as always, it can come back and bite you in the ass.
I will say this about the Max Payne series: it has not forgotten its roots. The first Max Payne came out when games were still hard. You young whippersnappers may not remember, but there was a time when you actually had to be good at games to win. Back when the first Ghost Recon came out and you died with one hit. Or when the first Hitman came out, and there were no saves—ever—period—if you died, you were dead, no reloading a checkpoint, no salvaging all your hard work, you started over from square one. Similarly, MP3, at least in the “normal” difficulty setting in which I played it, is unforgiving. If you miscalculate and fail to execute every bad guy before your bullet time dive is over, then sorry: you’re left sprawled on the floor aiming the wrong way while the surviving bad guys make you into one of the lesser-known Jackson Pollack paintings. Or if you don’t keep careful track of your ammo, and you run dry without any way to replenish, and if the bad guys have the drop on you, then guess what: you’re gonna die. I like this unforgiving gameplay. I all too often, while playing through “Call of Black Battlefield Modern 3: Duty Ops Warfare,” feel like there’s no harm in dying. So what, I think, I’ll just reload like thirty seconds earlier, and then try to storm the Burger King again. No big. But in MP3, it HURTS to die. You lose your level progress and a huge chunk of time. The auto-saves are often fifteen or thirty minutes apart. Woe be upon ye should you crap the bed when assaulting the final group of douchebags before the end of the level. Screw it up and you may just have to go back all the way to the beginning. For those of you with zero patience, I can feel your pain. But as a fan of not only the series but old-skool gaming, I have to say I appreciate a hard game.
Rockstar has finally given into peer pressure and implemented a cover system, but it’s not too difficult to get used to. Taking cover doesn’t mean you’re invincible, however. Just like in real life, you need to take care not to be outflanked by the bad guys. Even on the casual difficulty setting, they are not morons—they will often search for alternate routes so they can get around to your sides so they have a clear shot on you. So take care.
The multiplayer is solid. Nothing to write home about, but not bad. I like the way they’ve worked bullet time into multiplayer. When a player initiates bullet time, it manifests in a bubble around him—say, thirty or so feet in game terms. If you’re within that bubble, your time slows down also. If not, you stay on normal time. I think this is perhaps the best way that bullet time could be implemented in a multiplayer setting, and now that I’ve seen it in action, I wish they’d have figured this out in time for me to play multiplayer Red Dead Redemption.
I also liked being able to operate at a high level from the beginning. Unlike many multiplayer games, it didn’t feel like I was the only new guy in a group of tweens who spend hours memorizing each map and use their birthday money to purchase upgrades. I was able to place in the top few finishers pretty frequently, even as a newcomer. It is gratifying to finally play a multiplayer game that insists that a level 50 player has to obey the same rules as a level 1 player. There are a couple of upgrades you can purchase with actual money, such as a higher painkiller capacity, but they must not make a huge difference, because I never saw anybody who seemed too powerful. The selection of outfits and weaponry are nice but don’t seem to alter the experience, and merely reflect the taste and preference of the player.
There are some additional multiplayer mechanics such as wagering, but I played for two straight days and still didn’t get ranked up enough to unlock those. So I can’t comment. Sounds cool, but it’s ridiculous that I can play for like six hours and not unlock a basic feature. Bad play, Rockstar. Some of us have jobs and children and regular access to sex. We can’t spend eight hours a day gaming. Throw those of us with lives a bone here. I think the multiplayer is pretty good, but it takes far too long to unlock certain features.
The multiple difficulty levels, fulfilling story and rewarding–even unusual–multiplayer add up to this game being a joy to play over and over. I have a mutliplayer day coming up to raise money for a vets charity, and I am actually looking forward to playing online MP3–something I’ve said about almost zero other games.
For a character-driven, story-intense multiplayer, I think the Rockstar team hit this one out of the park. Max Payne 3 stands out from even their usual fare, which is excellent. A small part of me wants Max to finally find happiness or at least some kind of peace. But most of me recognizes that redemption is just out of the question for him. Rockstar doesn’t try to shoehorn a happy ending or a ton of shiny, distracting new mechanics into this game. They realize what made this franchise great in the first place, and didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. All developers should be so wise.
All told, I believe that Max Payne 3 is not only a worthy successor in the series, but an excellent departure for those of you who love shooters, but who’ve been nursing this nagging dissatisfaction with the current crop of awful “modern” war shooters. Like me. If you love dark stories, lost causes, and unforgiving gameplay, Max Payne 3 may be right up your alley.