Max Payne 3 Review
After 11 years of sobbing into his whisky glass, gamings grumpiest hero Max Payne returns in Max Payne 3 and with his return he brings an explosive, emotionally-charged experience that proudly carries the Max Payne name. Max Payne 3 raises the bar for action shooters to come but does not achieve full greatness due to a few school boy errors that simply, should not exist in a game of otherwise such high calibre.
Max is older, more cynical and fed up with life regularly wishing for the easy way out. Emotionally scarred from the death of his wife and kids, Max decides to become a bodyguard for the famous Branco family in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a place of excitement and wealth, if you don’t live in the sprawling favela that is. As you would expect, everything collapses under his feet with kidnappings and double crossing. The story is interesting enough to hold your attention but the real narrative draw is Max himself.
Rockstar have heavily concentrated on the character of Max and show his erosion incredibly well. He is a flawed character with little empathy yet we are drawn to him due to his situation. The numerous cut scenes (which make up a considerable amount of the story) are plagued by a strange fracturing effect, think 3D films without the glasses, whilst injected with seamlessly random words popping up. The effect is obviously to make the player feel what is going on in Max’s head but it sadly comes across irritating and towards the end, is a major distraction. However, this does not get in the way though of the tale of Max’s plight as we witness his collapse but also a partial rebirth in the way of cold turkey and a bald noggin.
Whilst Max may not be a perfect human being, his shooting skills certainly are. The much adored ‘Bullet Time’ makes a heroic return as well as ‘Bullet Dodge’, the name given to the dramatic leap through the air. It makes us wonder why Bullet Time hasn’t been utilised a lot away from the Max Payne series as, trust us, this is great fun. Popping of headshots whilst leaping over a desk is a thrilling experience and one that places Max Payne 3 in the top tier for adrenaline pounding gaming.
As times have evolved both in the real gaming world and in Max’s home, a new cover system has been introduced. Sadly though, it can’t be praised for its precision or intuitiveness. Towards the end of the game when enemies become harder to take down yet retain pin point accuracy, cover is a necessity but its flaws arise.
There is no transitional cover meaning if you want to move round a corner you are forced to stand up, exposing yourself and then re-enter. Partner this with the fact that after you pull a Bullet Dodge move Max takes an eternity to get back to his feet and you have yourself an irritating death wish, especially on the higher difficulties.
The later sections also involve shootouts in wide spaces which do not fit in with how Max Payne needs to be played. When Max is fighting in a crowded office with paper and splinters flying about the place, it is the ideal situation for an akimbo leap through a pane of glass, but when the war is in a wide open terminal, the game forces you to play turtle-like, only using Bullet Time to pick of headshots from your solid piece of cover. It doesn’t taint the experience but takes away the Matrix style fighting that has become a trademark for the series.
Saying that though, the shooting is solid and overall, the gameplay is smooth and the settings are diverse and brilliant. Nice little touches such as having to drop his main weapon when reloading his handgun shows that Rockstar are paying close attention. Unlike the rest of Rockstar’s library, Max Payne is a linear experience yet due to clever design choices you never feel cramped or forced into a certain area, each section provides enough scope for numerous approaches, all of which involve jumping through the air whilst blowing a thugs brains out.
The story takes Max to numerous locations and even a few flashback moments that link in with the current situation, all of which are unique and seem to ooze the general feeling of depression and cynicism. That’s not to say everything is grey and drab, in places colours are bold and vibrant , and that’s not just Max’s ridiculous Hawaiian shirt. The framerate in consistently smooth but there were a few examples of pop in, even during cut scenes. Whether it be to our own stupidity or not, we did find the physics system to be slightly problematic in places where we would be trapped by an unmoveable barrel for example forcing us to return to the last checkpoint beforethe huge firefight.
The idea of ‘mature’ gaming takes many different stances but Max Payne is a great example of it. Not only do Max’s monologues portray a crippled, pessimistic man who questions his own sanity but some deeper themes arise too. For example, near the beginning Max is trapped in a flame engulfed building yet somehow drags himself out. It can be seen simply as him escaping from a fire but it also marks a new era of his life; how he metaphorically dragged himself from hell ready to start a new, yet is trapped by the fact that he can never leave his sins behind. It is great to see a game take on such major hidden messages. We don’t want to spoil any more but look into them; your appreciation will grow exponentially.
Through all these little niggles though, Max Payne 3 really does shine. We could not help but be reminded of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves during our playthrough. The way the story is so perfectly woven through exceptional voice acting but more so the transition between set pieces. It is a very flowing experience and like Uncharted, one that absorbs you, one that makes you melt into the sofa. The 10 hours it takes to complete may feel short by some peoples standards but when it is paced as perfectly as Max Payne is, it really doesn’t matter.
However, the major similarity is the unshakeable feeling of perfection. You get the sense that the pinnacle of its genre has been raised and from now on, all games will be judged by its quality compared to this title. Maybe this is due to the mature dealing of Max’s peril or the brilliant array of set pieces, but either way, it seems that Max Payne 3 is the top dog of the action shooter genre now, and it is going to take a lot of work to topple him.
Max Payne’s combination of involving story, nostalgia ridden Bullet Time and multi-layered themes create a memorable experience that is undeniably something special. It is not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination but the fact that occasionally Max’s depression can sometimes appear tongue-in-cheek or that when getting to his feet Max has the agility of a fridge is made negligible by the quality of its surrounding frame work. 11 years may have made Max a depressed, negative pile of self hate but for us gamers, it has allowed Max to evolve and return with the biggest action game of the year. Now please Max, give us a smile!