One of the most memorable third person shooters I ever played was the first Max Payne game for the PC. It had an interesting story, cool presentation and style, and most importantly was a lot of fun to play. Leaping in the air with my dual wielding pistols while shooting bad guys in slo-motion was simply a rush and left me feeling like a Hollywood star. Well it has been 9-years since the previous Max Payne game, so Max Payne 3 arrives with some great anticipation. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to Max. He looks considerably older and a little haggard. He is battling a lot of inner demons along with some huge guilt and a substance abuse problem. Fortunately however, Max Payne 3 is definitely not showing its age at all as this was a fantastic ride from the moment I jumped into the game.
The story starts with Max trying to escape his past by taking a job in Brazil working as a bodyguard. His job is to provide protection and security for a wealthy and powerful Brazilian family known as the Brancos. However, when the wife of one of the Brancos is kidnapped by an unknown group, Max and his bodyguard associate Raul Passos set out to find those responsible and wreak havoc along the way. Max is determined to get the girl back but goes a little further than what he bargained for including the involvement of the Brazilian police, drug dealers, politicians and other ruthless figures.
One of the first things players will notice as I suggested above is Max Payne is not the Max Payne we remember from years past. He is clearly damaged goods and it shows with not only with his drug and alcohol abuse but through the occasionally hazy and double vision events we witness as narrated by him. He is a broken man who is suffering and living by the memories of his wife and child. He is only getting by with the bottle and painkillers. The only thing that seems to keep him going is protecting the people he feels he needs to protect.
The story is told by Max and the use stylish moving panels or “motion-comics” similar to the TV series “24” or “Heroes” that combine action, dialogue and text. This really gave me the feel of watching a television show rather than just playing a game. There are also many cut-scenes that show off the character designs and fluid body movements. The facial expressions and movements of Max were particularly well done especially in the introduction.
In terms of gameplay, players view and move Max in the third person view except for when he is sniping. Players move using the left stick and change the camera view using the right stick. There are numerous buttons to use including to reload; fire; melee and interact; climb, roll, vault and run; pick up weapons; cover; use painkillers; and to crouch or go prone. Despite this, I didn’t feel confused or overwhelmed in figuring out how to play as you primarily move, shoot and reload your weapons. Overall I found the controls bang-on and it took me no time to become accustomed to them.
As this is a shooter influenced by the Hong Kong style of action movies, there is ample violence and killing of bad guys. While Max’s main choice of weapon is his pistol, players can pick up and use several other types of guns including shotguns, sub-machine guns, revolvers, automatic and sniper rifles. Depending on the size of the weapons he is holding, Max can shoot using one firearm or with two at once. However, unlike other shooters, Max can only carry three different firearms at a time and must drop the larger weapon if he chooses to go dual shooting John Woo style. If Max takes damage, his health does not regenerate automatically and he will need to take painkillers to reduce the damage done to him. Painkillers can be found on fallen enemies or in spots throughout a level.
Of course the series would not be what it is today without the use of “Bullet Time”. For those unfamiliar with Bullet Time, players can briefly slow things down with the press of a button that enables you to aim and fire with the reticle at multiple targets at a normal rate while you and your enemies are in slow motion. This is particularly helpful when there are multiple enemies that require dispatching or when dodging bullets. Bullet Time is not unlimited but does recharge slowly. An additional feature added to the series is “Last Man Standing”. If Max receives a fatal shot while carrying painkillers, he will automatically enter Bullet Time and will have an opportunity to kill an enemy before he dies. If successful, Max will receive a small boost of health at the cost of 1-painkiller and the chance to continue fighting.
Rockstar further adds to the tradition of the slow motion kill with the “Bullet Cam”. The Bullet Cam feature appears after taking out the last enemy in a particular area or a wave of enemies. It lets players control the speed of each bullet as it enters the target and is dynamic, depending on how you take the shot. If Max is in close proximity with the enemy and presses the melee button, he automatically engages in close combat and then gives the player the final shot, often with a slow motion shot to the head.
Since the slow motion is a limited feature, players must consider the best way to take the enemies out. Is it best to do a run and gun style and then save Bullet Time for the last few standing or do you choose to try and shoot them more conservatively by using cover? Do you attempt headshots for the entertainment and satisfaction or do you go for the safe side and shoot at the torso and hope they go down? After all, if you don’t finish them, the AI can get back up to pop off a couple more rounds where you end up being the victim of the slow motion, close-up death visual. The AI will also seek cover, flank you, throw grenades and rush you, too. Needless to say, I was impressed with the AI intelligence.
If you do die, the game has a quick load feature where it reloads in the last area where you previously finished a wave of enemies or passed a certain area of the map. Unfortunately, some of the levels have a lot of enemies to kill and you may end up a little farther back than you would have liked which can be frustrating. Also, the initial loading and saving is a little time consuming. Not to mention, before you even fire up the game you do have to wait for a rather lengthy initial install.
The environments in Max Payne 3 are designed well with a good feel of Brazilian life and culture complete with the nightlife, soccer stadiums and tropical levels. Liquid effects like water, rain and blood appear fluid and smooth. The similar theme among the levels is that they look realistic yet reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. In fact, there are times it seems like I was playing through a movie rather than a video game but not so tightly scripted that I felt restricted.
The music in Max Payne 3 is really well done in that it combines the drama and suspense of the action yet can change to a more brooding and a sadder tone when focused on Max and his inner struggles. The sound effects are top notch and the voice acting is second to none. They match perfectly with their characters and are convincing in delivery and speech. However, in addition to the actual game content there is strong coarse language and is not recommended for a younger audience.
As players progress through the Story mode of the game, they complete chapters that can be played again in Arcade mode which is divided between Score Attack and New York Minute. In Score Attack, players are scored based on their performance including consecutive successive hits, headshots, damage and painkillers taken. In New York Minute, players perform a speed-run through a level with only 1 minute to complete. Scores in these modes can be shared on an online leaderboard where you can compare your scores with others as well as obtaining achievements in the game.
Despite the sharing of scores and achievements, the biggest highlight of the online capabilities is the multiplayer mode. In addition to the standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and King-of-the-Hill style modes, Max Payne 3 introduces the Gang Wars aspect, which combines elements of the single player story with changing objectives, linked by a shared story thread including motion-comics and narration. Players will not know what mode they will be playing next, with each gameplay type changing based on the events of the match before. Players can also customize their character in multiplayer mode with unlockables available in almost every menu option by gaining XP through kills and other achievements. Multiplayer also enables players to create Vendettas and join Crews, which are meant to increase player alliances and grudges within the online multiplayer community while also reducing the anonymity associated with many shooters. Vendettas simply enable players who have been killed twice in row by the same opposing player to find them marked on the map and essentially hunt them down. Bonus XP is awarded to the player that kills the other. Joining a Crew, whether it be public or private, enables you to have customizable emblems on your equipment to distinguish you from other players similar to an online clan. Crews can also engage in Crew Vendetta which are rivalries with other Crews and kept track by Rockstar to see which Crews are winning which feuds.
For me, the multiplayer aspect was a little disappointing in some ways due to the unlocked portions and limited weapons available to those who just started playing. While I can understand the developers would like to reward skill with XP, I felt a little too limited with my beginner weaponry. Still, the multiplayer experience was fun especially since Bullet Time can also be used against any player that is within your sight and vice versa. Time will tell to see if Vendettas and the Crew elements will be successful in the future but the ideas seem promising.
Overall, Max Payne is a solid shooter that not only keeps the core elements that made the series a hit but also added improvements in almost every aspect making Max Payne 3 the best in the franchise to date. The story is suspenseful, engaging and I was impressed the games character development. The single player and multiplayer gameplay is not only fun but also challenging. Fans of the series will surely enjoy this game and those new to the series will be in for a treat.