Thursday, August 9, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review - Stop! Bullet Time!

Score: 9.0 / 10
Max Payne 3
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer - Rockstar Games
Publisher - Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 15th, 2012

  • Combat never disappoints with flashy, familiar gunplay
  • Solid look and style of storytelling that holds your interest
  • Sharp textures and environments
  • Surprisingly fun multiplayer
  • Cover to cover mechanic feels a bit unresponsive
  • Cut scenes put a break in the pacing
  • Multiplayer server connection can be sporadic

Like a sadistic bullet wielding ballerina, Max Payne has made its mark as a third person shooter with style since its debut on the Playstation 2. The noir style storytelling and quick draw gunplay has seen it through two installments, both received relatively well. Rockstar looks to keep the franchise alive with a refined cover system and the addition of competitive multiplayer. Despite sticking true to the formula from the previous games, the polish and overall experience with Max Payne 3 makes it a game that both newcomers and veterans alike can appreciate.

Cop Drama

The tone for Max Payne 3 is set right from the start, as we find Max drinking heavily and popping pills to cope with his dark past. Down on his luck, retired from the NYPD, and still reeling from the loss of his wife and daughter; the game flashes through both past and present to explore the series of events leading to the game's opening of a war-torn airfield. Players will bounce between his departure from New Jersey at the mercy of a local mob to his new job as a bodyguard in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Each chapter adds a piece of the puzzle together as you experience each betrayal, surprise, and turn of events. The cast of characters may not be that fleshed out aside from Max, but the plot serves its purpose and you do not need to play the first two installments to understand what is happening.

Storytelling sticks to previous installments with a noir style influence, giving off a cop drama feel that melds well with the overall somber overtone. In addition to cinematic sequences to hide load times, Max will self-narrate his thoughts as you progress to help to fill the voids between fights. Some of his one liners may feel too cheesy, but it fits perfectly with the "80s cop" shtick the game is going for. Words flash across the screen, comic panel frames overlay many segments, and seamless transitions from cinematics to gameplay are common occurrences. The story may be basic, but the presentation of it all is what is truly captivating.

The interesting style of storytelling is coupled with stellar visuals. Max Payne 3 boasts stunning textures and character models, complimented with top notch mocap to bring each character to life. You traverse through a multitude of settings ranging from vibrant nightclubs to desolate havanas, each with its own personality. Bullet time is enhanced with a bass friendly thud and each bullet that leaves the chamber makes as much of an impact on your subwoofer as it will on your intended target. With a solid voice cast backing up the dialogue, it is a game that just looks and sound great.

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge

Max Payne is all about being quick on the trigger with stylish gunplay. Sticking to the classic over the shoulder perspective you guide Max through each chapter, tackling baddy after baddy to the chapter's conclusion. An arsenal of weaponry will be at your disposal; be it classic dual wielding pistols or semi-automatic rifles. Unlike most current titles, the health system for the game is a throwback to the older generation in which Painkillers are used to restore lost health and are scattered throughout the level. Without the modern regenerative health, it will make you a bit more wary before charging headfirst into battle. This cautious feeling seems to play down the "action hero" feel and can keep you taped to the wall longer with each advance in difficulty settings.

Exploration in the game is minute in both combat and traversal. During battle you will find plenty of opportunity to grab cover, but transitioning between pieces is nonexistent and you are better off using the classic bullet dive. Once the field is clear of enemies, you are free to explore the immediate area for the numerous clues and golden weapon pieces strewn about. This is actually discouraged by Max at several points, as he continually speaks up to press the matter at hand. Despite a few scripted sequences and on-rails scenarios, much of the game involves entering a room, killing everything, and moving to the next room to repeat.

You will have to be quick on the trigger, as the enemy AI is a step above what you would typically see in a third person shooter. Enemies will flank and charge your position, in addition to being much more careful in popping out of cover predictably. The cover system and bullet dodge will have to be utilized efficiently, as even on normal mode you can drop quickly if you are not careful.

Time Bandit

The staple of Max Payne is the slow-mo Bullet Time, which makes its triumphant return. A bar next to Max's health will continuously charge as he takes fire and dishes it out. You can then slow time around you to gain a few opportune moments to line up headshots and pick your targets. It proves handy when the enemies are approaching on all sides, giving a brief moment to plan your next move.

Going hand in hand with the bullet time is the bullet dodge ability, allowing you to heroically leap into the air, popping baddies as you go. Needless to say, this is the go-to move for much of the game, as there is no rate of diminishing returns in leaping into a room and mowing down every last person before you hit the floor. Unfortunately, the leap is incredibly sensitive. Even the slightest object in his way can throw him off kilter and skew your aiming.

A new addition to the bullet time arsenal is a "last stand" mode. If you fail to pop a Painkiller in time and have one in your inventory, it acts like the fairy in a bottle from Legend of Zelda. Time slows around you, and you are given one last "revenge" shot on the enemy that caused you the inconvenience. Successfully hit him and you can get back on your feet, but fail to find him or miss the shot and its game over. It puts a forgiving touch to the non-regenerative health, and can make for some nail biting finishes for a firefight.

Bullet Buddies

New to the Max Payne franchise is a fairly fleshed out competitive multiplayer. Players can choose from a multitude of deathmatch inspired modes to battle it out with up to 16 other players online. While the standard deathmatch mode gives the expected experience, Gang War will be the mode of choice as two rival teams duke it out over five chapters with varying objectives dependent upon the match's outcome. The game can start out by trying to hold turf, and transition into a protect the VIP scenario. It keeps you guessing and provides a nice shuffle to keep modes from becoming stale.

The multiplayer is easy to get the hang of, as the same cover system and run and gun mechanics lose nothing in the translation from single player to multiplayer. The iconic bullet time is worked into the multiplayer in an interesting way; Only the players in your immediate field of vision are affected by the trigger, slowing your movement for a brief interval. It has its moments of questionable execution, but works well for the most part.

Upon completion of each match, the expected experience and leveling system will play its part. You have the ability to choose a loadout to match your preferred style of gunwielding. The more you pack on, the less stamina and health regeneration you have. This healthy balance allows a multitude of possibilities to customize your preference; be it a stealthy bullet time assassin or fully loaded soldier. With a slew of perks, challenges, wagers, and playlist options, the multiplayer ends up being so robust that it makes it hard to cast it off as another tacked on mode. The main downside lies in the huge amount of lockouts to weapons and armor, leaving the new players in that all too familiar feeling of being at the mercy of the fully loaded at-launch buyers.


Having only a brief experience with the first two games, I walked away from Max Payne 3 generally pleased. It gives the feeling of playing through a compelling action movie, and despite the loop of cleaning rooms of enemies the combat manages to entertain from start to finish. It is a complete package of a game, with plenty of content to keep you coming back for more. Max Payne 3 is a bullet diving ride, that any shooter fan can appreciate.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! When I rented it, I figured I’d play through the campaign in a couple of days then send it back and move on to the next game in my queue. But not only was I blown away by the single player (which was better than I’d hoped), I’ve been addicted to the multiplayer. Good thing I don’t rent games from Redbox anymore; at a couple bucks a day this would add up quick. That’s why I’m thankful one of my coworkers at Dish talked me into giving Blockbuster @Home a try: there’s no telling how much money it’s saved me from feeding those kiosks.