Review: Max Payne 3

Review: Max Payne 3

Storyline happens to other people… and this time around, storyline happened to me.

It’s been a solid 9 years since we last heard from Max Payne, the man who has a knack for finding trouble and inadvertently getting his family killed in the process. In the time since the end of Max Payne 2 Max has left the police force and the events of the first two games have left him a broken, disheveled drunk who is still addicted to painkillers.

Max Payne 3

Back in the day Max didn’t care about much other than sailing gracefully through the air and lodging bullets in and around the heads of anything that posed even the slightest threat. His cavalier attitude and reckless abandon left mountains of dead bodies everywhere you looked, but age has finally taken its toll on Max.

Max now finds himself wallowing in an ocean of self pity and unhealthy amounts of regret while trying to erase the past by carefully examining the bottom of every available bottle of scotch. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked.

While Max himself is doomed to relive the past, this latest entry in the series, however, is not. To accommodate Max’s new puesdo-philosophical outlook on life and the people around him, Max Payne 3 doesn’t just put gameplay in the backseat. It actually boxes it up, tapes it shut, straps it into a car seat, and hurls it into the deepest recesses of the trunk and promptly loses the key. In short, story is the main focus through and through.

Now, I know that video games are about actually playing, and trust me, I felt that same way about 2 hours into the game after only having controlled Max for what felt like 30 minutes. But the story in Max Payne 3 is so incredibly engrossing and deep that it could have been released entirely without the gameplay and still been worth the price of entry. Yea, coming from the guy who repeatedly declares that ‘storyline happens to other people,’ this is a big deal.

In a nutshell, Max has let his past slowly drift away from him in an attempt to move forward with his life by taking on what he hopes to be a lavish, relatively laid-back lifestyle as a personal bodyguard for Rodrigo Branco, the head of the richest family in São Paulo. As is par for the course, everything that can go wrong does and Max suddenly finds himself directly in the center a twisting conspiracy that leaves you guessing right up to the very end.

Plenty of games have amazing stories, but Max Payne 3 is not only masterfully written, the presentation is absolutely mind-blowing. The change in location is a great start as I’m not sure I could handle another title set in the grungy New York underworld. You’ll travel through exotic locales including hopping night clubs and run down favellas, all of which are overflowing with poverty and danger around every corner.

Perhaps the most noticeable presentation change comes in the form of visual screen effects. What could very well be an attempt to underscore Max’s unstable mindset and provide a glimpse of the world through his drunken eyes, the screen is frequented by intermittent scan lines, shifting film stock, and loads of grainy noise and filter effects. Although great initially, it really becomes a bit of distraction through the rest of the game, especially during the cutscenes when you just want to enjoy the gorgeous character models and animations.

I rarely feel as involved in a game as I did during my time with Max Payne 3. I’ve watched movies where I forget that I am actually not part of the goings-on, but very few games have ever drawn me so deep as Max Payne 3. There were times I would completely block out the surrounding room and actually feel like I was immersed in the world and the characters within. Perhaps the most deciding factor in my love for the story comes from the exceptional voice work by James McCaffrey (Max Payne) and the equally impressive cast of supporting characters. His grizzled narration of the entire story, even after the cutscenes are long over, lend an extra ounce of immersion to the story and an even clearer glimpse into the mind of Max Payne.

As I mentioned before, gameplay is far from the focal point of this title, so if you are looking for a game that offers up the next level of ground breaking action and gameplay, you aren’t going to find it here. What you are going to find, however, is improved, polished, and easy to pick up gameplay that succeeds in doing nothing more than supporting the overarching narrative.

Max Payne 3

The gamplay does tend to ground itself a bit more in reality, aside from diving through the air slaughtering hordes of enemies in bullet time. Although every weapon from an enemy combatant is available for use, Max can only carry two side arms and one two-handed weapon at a time. Dual wielding the sidearms in turn forces you to drop your larger weapon, so deciding which weapons are best for the job at hand often takes a bit of planning. Although ammo is plentiful and weapons come easy, the gameplay can be brutally difficult at times.

The obvious return of bullet time is complimented by the new fully destructible environments which add a whole new level of interactivity to the firefights. It’s hard to top diving off a balcony in bullet time and cutting down a dozen enemies with bullets trails whizzing past your head and into the walls around you.

The real downfall with the gameplay comes from the total lack of depth. What you see in the first 10 seconds of gameplay is exactly what you’ll be seeing at the end of the game. There are no unlocks, no skill upgrades, or anything even remotely resembling character and weapon progression. This ultimately turns the gameplay quite stale after just a couple hours. And with a title that is easily 10+ hours long, things can start to drag.

Max Payne 3

While the battles can run stale, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interrupted by moments of shameless, gratuitous violence. Max Payne 3 is not ashamed to cram blood, violence, and gore directly down your throat. Slow motion bullets hammering their way into people’s foreheads, arms, legs, and torso leave a rather graphic exit wound and copious amount of blood squirting forth. Although these scenes only occur when you defeat the last enemy in the room/area, they are extremely satisfying.

The non-regenerating health system applies some added stress to an already stressful situation by forcing you to forego your cavalier tendencies and use the newly implemented cover system. Again, nothing new is introduced with this feature, so if you have ever played a cover-based shooter, you’ll feel right at home. What does add a sense of drama to the whole ordeal is the new Last Man Standing feature.

If you are running low on health and get hit before you can pop a bottle of painkillers, the game will jolt into bullet time as you fall to the ground. At that point you must shoot and kill the enemy who last hit you. If you succeed you will be granted new life and another chance to continue. Don’t have any painkillers? Then you’re S.O.L.

You will occasionally stumbled upon scripted action pieces where Max dives through a window, off a balcony, or down some contraption and you are tasked with killing as many people as possible in the process. Although they are nothing spectacular, they help break up the monotony of the overall gameplay.

Max Payne 3

Seeing as how this game comes from Rockstar, it obviously draws on some proven concepts from previous titles, but the gunplay within is almost a direct copy of what we played in Red Dead Redemption . Although that’s far from a bad thing, just know that you aren’t going to find anything new or innovative here in terms of gameplay.

Once you’ve bested the lengthy story, which has little to no replay value,  you can tackle the rest of what this title has to offer including a variety of Arcade Modes and the new multiplayer modes.

The arcade modes range from score challenges to speed runs where you are tasked with either amassing as many points as possible or seeing how quickly you can complete a given level from the story. New York minute may be the only incentive to truly run through the campaign again as you are dropped into the game, given a clock that counts down from 5 minutes and awarded more time for every kill you get. If the clock runs out before you finish, it’s game over.

From the moment I set foot into the multiplayer realm I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen and done this all before. Although bullet time has been loosely woven into the multiplayer, it doesn’t add enough to really set this apart, especially in the traditional multiplayer modes like team deathmatch and solo deathmatch. The one surprisingly exciting game mode is Gang Wars in which you and your gang are tasked with completing different objectives such as claiming territory, assassinating a leader from the opposing gang, and diffusing bombs. Although some sort of narrative is implemented into Gang Wars, it is far from memorable and certainly nothing to write home about.

If you want a comparison, think Uncharted 3. Everything about this game’s mutiplayer screams UC3 and every other traditional third-person shooter on the market. That’s not to say it is terrible by any means, but it certainly won’t leaving you astounded at the plethora of additions and game modes.

In all, Max Payne 3 is a masterful story that has traditional gameplay elements lightly sprinkled within. If you enjoy incredibly engrossing narratives, deep characters, and tense cutscenes, you are going to find exactly what you are looking for here. Unfortunately, the story is almost too prominent and some people may be put off by the lack of physical gameplay. Rockstar has certainly outdone themselves this time and if this game is any indication of what’s to come in GTA V, color me excited.

Score: 8.5/10

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