Let me preface this review by stating that I’m a big fan of the Max Payne series and film noir in general. Both Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne had adrenaline-fueled, symbolic, dark, and quite often funny parts of awesome whole experiences. I strongly suggest playing at least the first game if you haven’t already; its story is great and definitely gives you a feel for who Max is and why he keeps on fighting through many odds. But while the old games are great, they don’t quite reach the level of fun that I found in Max Payne 3.
A gritty, self-contained plot
Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game. Right when I started playing I knew that it was a great decision because of the top-notch production values which include the graphics, sound design, and direction of the plot. One of my favorite things about the game is that it has a very self-contained experience in that you don’t have to play the previous two in order to fully understand it. However as stated before you will empathize with and enjoy Max as a character much more if you’ve played MP1 and preferably MP2 as well.
Without spoiling too much, you play as the title character Max Payne, an ex-NYPD detective who takes a security job in Brazil to forget his involvement in several traumatic events and move on with life. He’s addicted to booze and painkillers which you will know to be an understatement once you start playing. Working with his partner Raul Passos, Max becomes an armed bodyguard for philanthropist Victor Branco and life-of-the-party Fabiana Branco: two of Brazil’s most popular faces. As par the course, things go wrong quickly and Max is forced to use a lot of firepower and his trademark gritty determination to resolve a kidnapping.
Gameplay is well-polished, but par-for-the-course, cover-based shooter action with "bullet time"
But of course, as with most games the story is only half of the experience with the other being gameplay itself. I can safely say that the gameplay is simply incredible. Max Payne 3 is a 3rd-person shooter, yet has the precision and finely tuned controls of a 1st-person shooter. What makes Max Payne 3 different from the rest of the pack is the ability to slow down time and "shootdodge" during firefights. Slowing down time is exactly as described to give the player that extra time to line up a headshot, while a shootdodge makes Max do a mid-air leap in a given direction while also slowing time. A new addition to the series is the cover system which you will be familiar with if you’ve played titles like Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The enemies’ surprisingly competent A.I. will try to flank Max and force him out if he’s behind cover, and times like these are when the time-altering tactics can mean the difference between success or failure. There is also an addicting twist on the single player story called "New York Minute", where you race against time and each goon killed adds points to a ticking clock.
Satisfying online multiplayer
For fans of online gameplay, there is a multiplayer mode for the first time in the series. You’ll find your standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes as well as my personal favorite called Payne Killer, a unique mode where two players become Max Payne and Passos and compete to stay alive against other players trying to claim their titles. Though I’m not a huge fan of multiplayer in general, I found Max Payne 3’s modes to be a cool diversion from your typical online fare and it was fun enough to have me return more than once. Fans of customizing their online avatars and their respective weapons through experience points and leveling up will find much to appreciate in the multiplayer.
Rockstar delivers its trademark polish, but somewhat lacks the humor and allusion offered by Remedy
In terms of gameplay, the sequel couldn’t have been in better hands. Rockstar has taken the series’ signature gunplay to the current generation while adding in the Euphoria physics engine. This incredibly realistic engine has been seen in games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Red Dead Redemption; in Max Payne 3, it truly benefits gameplay rather than being gimmicky or overdone.
From a technical standpoint, the game excels in almost all categories. Though I’m very firm in the belief that graphics don’t make a game, Max Payne 3 has a very realistic art style and the graphics are easily some of the best so far on a console. Each environment is unique and there are definitely no feelings of repetitive level design or things being rushed. The music is great and helps pull you in to the story as well as the intense firefights. Some of the best songs on the soundtrack include the new rendition of the classic Max Payne theme, the atmospheric and gradually intense drums and horns from the favelas in Chapter VII, and a song "Tears" that kicks in during the final mission (which is reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption’s "Far Away" in terms of quality and how unexpectedly it begins).
Where Rockstar falls short of Remedy
Some longtime fans of the series might be worried that Rockstar won’t maintain the same qualities they’re accustomed to from the first two games from Remedy. This is understandable since in most cases with any medium (video games especially), when a sequel is produced without the involvement of the original creative team the results are usually substandard. I can honestly say it’s a mixed bag. One of my few disappointments is that the game doesn’t really have any symbolism like the first two used, referencing Norse mythology in MP1 and The Garden of Eden in MP2. If anything Max Payne 3’s story is very similar to the film Man on Fire except with a very tough man protecting a couple in Brazil instead of protecting a young girl in Mexico. This similarity is not a bad thing, considering that the late great Tony Scott made an action-packed and visually rich thriller which was memorable enough to influence the already talented crew at Rockstar.
Another personal gripe is that there aren’t many moments of thugs having oddly humorous interactions with each other as there were in the first two games (moments like the two morons trying to defuse a bomb in MP1 and a goon whose Mozart-like piano talents could have been put to better use had he not tried to kill Max in MP2).
However since Max Payne 3 is written by Dan Houser, you’ll be sure to find several darkly comedic parts similar to the other games he’s written such as Grand Theft Auto IV. Fans of the first two games should pay attention to the televisions in certain chapters, you’ll sometimes find "The Adventures of Captain Baseball-bat Boy", a goofy show-within-a-game which many other developers wouldn’t have bothered to include all these years later.
Aim assist is for pussies
Max Payne 3 is not a perfect game, but what title is? For all intents and purposes I feel that the game excelled in creating an exciting and worthwhile installment in a franchise that’s held close to many fans, myself included. A great amount of people who complain about Max Payne 3 are those that have never played the series before or are simply ungrateful to have Max back after 9 long years when it’s possible we might have never seen him again. Very few games this generation stay consistently engaging yet Max Payne 3 kept me going all the way to the end. I completed the first playthrough on "Hard" mode, in which you receive no lock-on aiming assistance and the enemies are even more persistent than before. Selecting the free-aim option regardless of the difficulty keeps the feel of the first two games’ shooting, feels more satisfying, and ultimately will make you a better and more precise player. There were a few tough spots but none frustrating enough to stop me from pressing on, but for the average gamer’s first play I may suggest "Normal" to get used to the mechanics and general flow of the game.
SHOULD I PLAY THIS GAME?
A definite YES. If you’re at all interested in great quality 3rd-person shooters, and revenge thriller stories, then you’ll find a lot to like.
SHOULD I BUY THIS GAME?
YES. The story will take you around 12-14 hours to complete (it took me around 16 due to searching for the various in-game collectibles) and if you’re into multiplayer, then the many old and new modes will keep your vendettas with other players ongoing.