The past ten years have changed the gaming landscape to a great extent. Franchises and mechanics have come and gone, and clichés that were once considered as fun and entertaining have run amok to the point of becoming completely uninteresting. With these circumstances, it’s hard to see a franchise stick to its guns (pun unintended) and yet be surprisingly fresh and well-executed. However, that’s exactly what Max Payne 3 strives to be.
Nine years have passed since Max Payne supposedly fell from grace when circumstances forced him to retire from his job at the NYPD – and became an addict of booze and painkillers. When things got ugly with the local mob, Max took on an offer from an old friend and moved to Brazil to become a bodyguard for the powerful Branco family. From there on, it’s a hard-boiled tale of violence, betrayal and redemption as Max finds himself in circumstances where he has to fight for his life and move on from the past that hunts him. Set within a series of flashbacks, the game weaves a complex tale, involving many incidents of bad luck and challenges. The story may not be groundbreaking in any way, but it keeps you invested with a few surprising twists.
Back in the day, Max Payne was known for its action-packed style of gameplay, and has succeeded in maintaining that reputation here. Within the near-dozen hours you pour into the game, Max will have fired dozens of guns and thousands of bullets, and dropped a countless number of bad guys in the single-player campaign. The series has taken a dramatic shift in terms of style. The somber graphic-novel motif has given way to a darker, grittier style with plenty of gratuitous violence. The enemies aren’t always easy to hit, though; they’ll smartly make use of cover tactics and flank you, and will do everything they can to make sure you stay down. The game may not follow the contemporary film-noir style of its predecessors, but manages to incorporate enough to show the depth and complexity of what’s at hand.
The series’ iconic Bullet Time and Shoot-dodge feature is back with some tweaks to the overall design. You’ll be able to slow down time and see bullets fly by, along with experimenting a little with the mechanic to suite your tastes. Using Bullet Time to carefully pick off targets with a sniper rifle or Shoot-dodge to recklessly dive at your foes and empty your clip at them has a very satisfying feel. In addition, the game also throws in a few large-scale and exhilarating set piece moments that completely blow you away. A new cover system has been implemented that brings the game up to speed with most of its contemporaries and ads a new element of strategy to the game.
Sticking to its classic level, Max Payne 3 has no rebounding health system. Instead you’ll have to make use of painkillers to stay in the game and take more punishment. There is a ‘Last Stand’ feature, however, that allows you a quick one-shot at a bad guy if you’re taken out by him; though you’ll need one or more painkillers to use it. Still, the game does its best to amalgamate both the traditional style of gameplay with the more recent trends found in other titles.
Keeping up with the times, the game also supports a competitive multiplayer mode for teams of up to five. There’s the usual choice of team death-match and capture the flag game types, and with the addition of the objective-based Gang Wars and tag-style Painkiller mode, the multiplayer feels varied and enjoyable. There’s also a leveling system in place that lets you upgrade your gear and special perks, along with a remarkable clever implementation of the Bullet Time mechanic for multiplayer as well.
Sights and sounds
As a game on the cusp of new technology, Max Payne 3 certainly shines with amazing visual and auditory feedback. The graphic-novel interludes have been replaced with seamless cinematic cut-scenes that display a distinct film-noir style view. Multiple panels pop up, visual filters frequently come into play, and seemingly random words flash on-screen as the characters utter them. Max’s internal monologue drives the story, giving it a deep first-hand touch, and the voice acting of the supporting cast is just as strong. Character animations are generated dynamically and your many interactions with the world around you will leave you impressed. The environments themselves are stunningly rendered and provide great atmosphere and immersion for the dark and gritty tale.
The single-player campaign undoubtedly hits the high note of a character study of one of gaming’s most grizzled heroes. The multiplayer shines as a fun alternative to all the generic military shooters we’ve been seeing lately. Ultimately, it’s the hard-hitting plot and high-octane gameplay that sells the package, and put Max Payne 3 on the list of the most entertaining titles this year.