My friend misery.
Life hasn’t been kind to Max Payne. In all honesty, it’s been an absolute bitch. The old adage that time is a healer would bring a wry smile to Max’s face. Time has been nothing more than a period of prolonged suffering for him.
After a nine year absence from our screens, Max is still struggling to cope with the tragic loss of his wife and new-born daughter. Staring down the bottom of an empty tumbler, we’re reunited with Max as he staggers around a dingy hotel room; a forlorn figure carrying a few more pounds around his waistline, and a ton of misery on his shoulders. A dependency on alcohol and an unhealthy relationship with over-the-counter painkillers occupies most of Max’s free time. He’s a wreck – but at least he has the sense to admit it.
Mercifully for Max, his daily wallowing is interrupted by his new day job: protecting Rodrigo Branco, the head of a wealthy Brazilian family. At first, the gig seemed an easy one; fate had finally dealt Max a good hand. Babysitting the rich and famous in the sunny setting of Sao Paulo sure beat the cold, dark streets of New Jersey representing the NYPD. Hell, even the drinks were paid for. But this is Max Payne we’re talking about, and predictably, things get ugly. And fast.
During a typically lavish and extravagant affair, Rodrigo Branco’s wife, Fabiana, is kidnapped by a local gang. Fabiana may be nothing more than a blonde air-head – a trophy wife for Rodrigo to publicly display – but she’s a valuable asset for the right sicko to blackmail with. Consequently, the onus falls on Max and his Hispanic partner, Raul Passos, to get her back. What follows is a dark, sinister story filled with explosive action, emotional twists and hundreds of bullet-riddled bodies. From start to finish, Max Payne 3 delivers excellence; one bullet at a time.
Placed in the experienced hands of Rockstar – a company well-known for their expertise in storytelling and presentation – Max Payne 3 is a familiar yet innovative beast.
As with the previous games in the series, the game starts off at the very end. Max is standing above a mutilated body, gun in hand, looking as though he’s been through hell and back. It’s an iconic start to proceedings, immediately lifting the expectations of the player as you’re eager to find out exactly what’s happened. From there, Max’s internal monologues proceed to recap the events leading up to that point.
Max Payne 3 revives the gameplay mechanics that everyone adored almost a decade ago, whilst in turn, injects it with fresh blood – and lots of it. There’s a comforting nod to the old and a confident acceptance of the new.
The objective is essentially the same as it ever was; enter a room and erase all forms of life that stand in your way; however, increased realism now emphasises every action whilst subsequently adding new gameplay mechanics to the fray. Noticeably, Max can now take cover behind environmental objects, offering a much needed respite from the incessant spray of enemy bullets.
Max can only carry up to 3 weapons at a time: two handguns and one heavy weapon. Should you wish to dual wield, Max is forced to sacrifice the heavy weapon he is holding. It’s a seemingly obvious yet excellent touch.
Painkillers make a welcomed return and are once again used to restore Max’s health, with a visual blurring of the screen indicating when you take a dose.
Max isn’t as nimble as he used to be, with each dramatic slow-motion leap requiring more strength than our half-cut anti-hero previously had to muster.
New to the formula is the “last man standing” mechanic. If you have a painkiller in reserve, Max will avoid immediate death by activating the last man standing mode. When this happens, the game slows into bullet time whilst Max’s crosshair slowly moves towards the target that is about to kill you. Should you have enough ammo in your gun’s chamber and the right vantage point, Max can deliver an instant kill to the attacker with a well placed shot. Max will fall to the floor and instantly use the painkiller he had in reserve, but crucially, survives what would have otherwise been a bullet to the head.
Admittedly the last man standing mechanic takes a bit of getting used to, but rest assured you’ll be pleased it’s there come the latter stages of the game as Max Payne 3 puts the hard in hard-boiled. The game is punishing at times, even on normal difficulty. Clever AI will attempt to flank you and when you begin to meet foes with helmets and body armour on, you better have perfected your headshotting skills. The inclusion of a few poorly placed checkpoints will also have you reaching for one of Max’s stiff drinks, however, the game never feels unfair and will gift you extra painkillers in attempt to help you out.
Max isn’t as nimble as he used to be, with each dramatic slow-motion leap requiring more strength than our half-cut anti-hero previously had to muster. His movements are more realistic, heavier; his pace, slowed; but when he’s flying through the air, with bullets zipping past him, Max shows why he’s still the master of the moniker he invented; he has no equal. Bullet time in Max Payne 3 feels incredible. It was a revelation nine years ago, and even today, with all the copycats and impersonators that have graced the market since, Max’s unique brand of justice still feels head and shoulders above anything else. And I haven’t even mentioned the new bullet cam.
Remember when you cleared out a room full of goons in the previous games and the final enemy would die in a satisfying slow-motion fall? Well, Rockstar have taken that simple mechanic and turned it into a sadist’s wet dream. When your last enemy has taken enough bullets to trigger the slow-motion death scene, players can hold down the A button to slowly watch the journey of the bullet which ends your enemy’s life in graphic slow-motion – and you can throw in countless more bullets after that should you so please.
Each bullet rips through your target with sickening yet euphoric ease, disfiguring them with each bloody entry and exit point. It’s nothing like you’ve ever seen, but it’s something you’ll want to witness again, and again, and again. But please, before you jump to the conclusion that I am some sort of vulgar, distasteful individual, let me stress that the satisfaction comes from the fact that each one of these killcam deaths is a hard earned victory. The man who is falling to his knees in a crescendo of bullets and blood spray was trying to do the same thing to you. You won this dance of death, and the victory is yours to savour. It’s immensely satisfying knowing the bad guy got what he deserved.
Guns feel powerful and deadly; your actions, meaningful. The environments are a playground of destructible scenery and convincing physics thanks to Rockstar’s euphoria engine. Whether you’re battling it out in an office block or a snowy graveyard, each arena feels distinct and alive. There’s also plenty of variation, with enthralling set-pieces and epic bullet time moments throughout. At no point did I ever feel that the gameplay became tedious or a chore.
The graphics and animations are also a delight, though the lack of interactive environments is slightly disappointing. Fans will be pleased to hear however, that you can still catch an episode of Captain Baseball Bat Boy on the television should you choose, which offers some solace.
The Sound Of Payne
The soundtrack in Max Payne 3 is a revelation. Produced entirely by an LA-based band known as HEALTH, every accompanying track amplifies the on-screen action and Max’s state of mind with aplomb. I actually enjoyed it so much that I downloaded the soundtrack shortly afterwards; the highest possible compliment one could give.
Praise must also be given to the voice acting throughout Max Payne 3 as it is consistently brilliant. James McCaffrey’s voice over as Max Payne is delivered with such gravelly conviction, you’ll wonder how you ever coped without him. There’s plenty of memorable one-liners too, delivered with Max’s unique sardonic style. The same can be said about the rest of the supporting cast, each of whom feel genuine and convincing. You’ll quickly find yourself rooting for Max, making you even more determined to help him seek bloody vengeance.
Longer Than A New York Minute
During the single-player campaign you’ll find clues which Max can examine to further your insight into the story, the opportunity to collect golden gun parts, unlock in-game achievements such as pulling off 200 groin shots as well as varying levels of difficulty for players to tackle.
Rockstar also had the audacity to include a fantastic multiplayer component, successfully balancing the use of bullet time to bring multiplayer pain to the world of Max Payne 3. Gang wars and each mode has been crafted with care. It’s pleasing to know that there’s a whole new experience waiting for you at the end of the single-player campaign.
A review copy of Max Payne 3 was provided courtesy of Rockstar. The game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Payne For Pleasure
Max Payne 3 is a triumph. A captivating and thought-provoking story is married with excellent and magnificent gameplay. The action is relentless and the high presentation values are supported by a wonderful soundtrack and voice work. Max Payne’s return is an absolute pleasure to play and I for one will be playing this one for a long time to come. Guess I’m just a sucker for Payne.