STAFF REVIEW of Max Payne 3 (Xbox 360)

Friday, May 25, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Max Payne 3 Box art It?s hard to believe that it?s almost been a decade since we?ve last visited with Max Payne and his grim story. It also feels like it?s been forever that I?ve been waiting for Max Payne 3 ever since that first screenshot of a bald Max was shown back in 2009. I have to admit, when I first saw that screenshot of Max and it looked absolutely nothing like the Max we?ve come to love over the past decade, I was a bit weary, since it wasn?t being developed by Remedy either. Well, about half way through the game when you find Max?s reasoning to shaving his hair and growing his beard, it eventually grew on me, even if Max seems to have a new face that I?m not quite used to yet.

Max Payne came out in 2001 and was immensely popular for its noir style storytelling and the creation of what we now call Bullet Time. It was new and nothing had really done anything like that before, Max Payne was a tale about an ex-cop who lost his wife and child told in a comic book panel style complete with mass violence. Max wasn?t the standard hero figure though, as he was fighting his own demons and trying to cope with what happened to his family. When Max returned two years later, it may not have been the revolution that the first game was, but it was done very well and felt like natural progression in the series with small additions and mechanic changes.

Here we are almost a decade later, and Max returns once again, battling his inner demons complete with all the tricks that Max taught us so many years ago. You?ll be leaping through the air in slow motion in the signature Max Payne style while shooting hundreds of enemies, but the narration has taken a different turn this time around and the comic panel visuals have been ditched for a more grimy flair of storytelling. While some of the cutscenes still have that feeling of comic-style, it?s not the same as it once was. Don?t fret though, as James McCaffrey returns once again to voice Max, though this time a heftier and slower Max than what he once was all those years ago.

Max is still dealing with everything that?s happened to him, but in a way that involves bottles of liquor and painkillers, just to maintain. Max still hasn?t moved on nor forgotten what?s happen to him, and this is apparent as he still seems a mess when he?s not currently shooting through an army of bad guys. Max, an alcoholic and addicted to pain killers, takes a job in Sao Paulo, Brazil, protecting a wealthy family and hopefully able to forget parts of his past. As events unfold, no longer is Max in familiar surroundings and finds himself alone, lost in a foreign country without even knowing the language. Max will desperately search for the truth when things go south and having to shoot his way out of almost every situation in hostile territory.

Gone are the drab city streets and subways of New York, instead Max finds himself in much more colorful nightclubs and rundown slums of the city of Sao Paulo. As the story progresses, you?re never quite sure if Max is trying to finish his job that he was paid for or simply trying to accept his immanent death that seems to come around every corner. The story is quite entertaining and will last you around a dozen hours to complete, depending on difficulty, though the last few chapters of the game seem to drag on much more than they should, almost artificially, simply by throwing more and more enemies in your path rather than forwarding the plot. There are many collectable items to search and find along the way for the completionists out there, though it seems like you shouldn?t be wasting time doing it at times, as Max will constantly remind you that you need to keep moving forward at all times.

Max Payne wouldn?t be what it is without the then revolutionary Bullet Time that amazed us back in 2001, and it returns improved in Max Payne 3. Firstly, every bullet in the game is tracked and rendered and when you?re in slow motion, you can see every bullet?s trajectory coming towards you. Just like in previous games, using Bullet Time will slow everything down, almost Matrix-like where you can seemingly dodge individual bullets and shoot with incredible accuracy. Max has a new trick though called Shootdodge, which will do his signature dives in any direction, but with a new engine under the hood of the game, makes for much more believable dives and rolls. Clicking in the right stick will simply use your Bullet Time to slow everything down, but hitting the right bumper will enable you to dive in whatever direction Max is running, allowing for some signature Payne-like moves. Now, once Max has completed his dive and is no longer in slow motion, he?ll actually stay lying on the ground until you tell him to move in a direction. This is part strategy though, as you can lie on the ground and rotate while keeping a low profile out of harm?s way. These movements are completely believable and you don?t simply rotate as if you?re on a top; Max will roll on his stomach and move his arms and legs as you would actually have to.

Max may not have gained many new tricks this time around, but one of them is the ability to use cover effectively. This means that the game has a slower pace and feel to it than the previous games, and is not so much about quick run-and-gunning as opposed to careful hiding and dodging. For a game with such an important cover mechanic, there?s no simple way to move from cover to cover aside from an awkward and slow roll that doesn?t seem to help much or to use Bullet Time to avoid as many bullets as you can while maneuvering to your next cover. Max may not have many new tricks up his sleeve, but that also means things make a return, like his non regenerating health that?s recovered with pills you find. This makes combat feel more frantic and desperate, especially when you?re out of painkillers and one bullet away from dying.

New to the series is the included kill camera that will show you a slow motion and up-close angle of Max defeating the last enemy in a section. The camera starts off with the individual bullet leaving Max?s gun, travelling through the air, and landing wherever you shot them, opening a huge wound and snapping their body backwards. It does happen quite often, as you?re essentially killing a horde of bad guys, move to the next area and repeating, but it?s done with such style that it never becomes old, and I still found myself slowing things down even further simply because it looked awesome every time. Also, if Max has a painkiller but doesn?t use it before losing all his health, time will slow down and you?ll have a few seconds to kill the guy who ?killed? Max, bringing him back from the clutches of death and using that pocketed painkiller. While not a perfect mechanic, as you?ll sometimes be behind cover and can?t aim at the proper guy, when it works you feel like you?ve narrowly escaped death for the hundredth time.

Max is all about guns and there?s no shortage of them in Max Payne 3. To add a much more realistic feel, Max is only able to carry two side arms (in his holsters) and one two handed weapon at a time. If you want to use Max?s distinctive dual wielding style, you?ll actually drop the two handed weapon to do it. Weapons don?t magically stick to Max?s back or go into an abyss only to be magically pulled out later. Max can carry what he can physically tuck under his arms at a time, making for some amazing animations throughout the game. If Max is using a one handed pistol but also carrying a two handed rifle, he actually tucks the rifle under his arm and carries it believably, even while reloading the pistol. The same goes for when using Shootdodge, as if Max hits a wall mid-dive, the slow motion will be cancelled and he?ll have to slowly get back to his feet. Simply put, the animation and believability in Max?s movements is astounding and not done by magic.

Max Payne 3 has some incredibly cool sequences where you?re automatically put into Bullet Time and have near infinite ammo for a short time; there?s nothing quite like hanging upside down from a helicopter, shooting a wave of bad guys and stopping an RPG from taking you down, with a slow motion. Towards the latter half of the game, enemies will become incredibly tough and armored, requiring Max to go for headshots or stay behind cover primarily rather than the run and gun style we used to know Max for. Some sections are incredibly tough and will have you restarting it numerous times, eventually in frustration, trying to figure out the best way to survive.

Once you beat the campaign some classic modes that fans of the original will appreciate, unlock. Score Attack and New York Minute are ways to keep you playing and keeps things interesting even after you?ve completed the levels a few times. New York Minute mode starts you with a minute on the clock and every enemy you kill adds more time, so it?s a race against time but you need to be precise and accurate to keep going ahead. Playing and completing these extra modes unlocks special characters for you to use in online multiplayer, distinguishing yourself from everyone else.

That?s right, Max Payne 3 has finally introduced multiplayer to the series. At first I was a little apprehensive and thinking it might just be one of those ?tacked on? modes, but after playing a few matches, I can see that it?s different enough to merit itself. You have a leveling and reward system that we come to expect these days, clan support (which will carry over into GTA V), load out options, and even Bursts (which we know as perks). Depending on your play style, you can customize your character with weapons and Bursts and save each personal loadout for the right time. The more and heavier weapons you use, the less stamina you?ll have and the speed of recovering health will be affected as well. Weight plays a big factor in deciding what loadout to decide on and on building your characters. Do you want more armor for less health, or more firepower for slower health regen; it?s all up to you.

Like everyone else, I was more curious how Bullet Time was going to work in multiplayer; somehow Rockstar figured out an ingenious way to make it work and keep it balanced for everyone in the match. If I use Bullet Time, only people in my field of view are affected, even enemies that see me from a different angle will be affected. While it seems like such a simple solution, it works well and once you start going in slow motion, you know someone is about to shoot you, as they can see you. Bullet Time is only of the bursts available though, there are others to suit your play style and character, such as damage buffs, one that will show where enemies are for everyone on your team on the map, and even one that will confuse the enemy and show the enemies? team appear to be opponents.

All the standard multiplayer modes are included, though there are some unique variants, my favorite being Gang Wars. This mode is played over the course of four rounds, each with different objectives that will change, depending on what happened in the previous match. In the fifth and final round, this becomes hectic in an all-out deathmatch. There?s enough content to keep Max Payne 3 online players happy for quite some time, especially since you can already buy the Rockstar Pass which confirms that a slew of DLC is on the way.

Normally audio has to be pretty spectacular to stand out and make me take notice since I?m not much of an audio guy, but Max Payne 3 did it easily, even from the classic opening theme song. James McCaffrey voices Max flawlessly once again and even makes Max sound much more grisly and desperate than ever. The soundtrack also is quite amazing and some of the songs completely made the levels (Airport level in particular) and put a huge grin on my face, as I knew I was in for an awesome sequence simply due to the queued music.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my time reuniting with Max, the game isn?t without its flaws. Quite frequently after a cutscene happens Max will almost always have a different weapon in hand or losing my main weapon completely for some unknown reason. There was even one time where I had weapons in my inventory, but he wouldn?t use them, even though he was holding his hands out as if he was holding guns, making it a tough sequence, having to melee and pick up a weapon just to use my other ones.

Know going in that Max Payne 3 is different from its predecessors, not that it?s a bad thing or a flaw, but it?s not the run and gun, Bullet Time focused, and comic panel style narration that we?ve come to know Max for over the years. Max has evolved, and so has the game, it?s just different this time around, that?s all. The inclusion of multiplayer will keep many playing for a long time, as will the Time Attack modes, so there?s much to do even once you complete Max?s story.

Rockstar knows how to tell a compelling story and even included awesome flashback sequences to a Max that is more recognizable to us longtime fans. Max has become even more hardened over the years and is pushed to the edge; Rockstar tells this tale in fantastic fashion, even without the comic book panels that we?re accustomed to. Max Payne is stylish as ever, even with his shaved head and tacky Hawaiian shirt.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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