Max Payne is a game released in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment that was heavily influenced by film-noir and graphic novels with the unique novelty of bullet-time. This game was well received by fans and critics alike. For full disclosure, I still have my Max Payne mouse-pad that came with the first game. Later in 2001, the franchise was bought by Take-Two Interactive but that didn’t stop Remedy from releasing the sequel in 2003. Max Payne 2 was once again loved by fans and critics alike but didn’t hit the sale expectations they desired. In 2008, the franchise made its way over to the big-screen but did not live up to the expectations of fans or critics. But now, almost a decade after the last game-entry of the series, Max Payne 3 has been released. Remedy and the series have officially parted ways and the game was made by Rockstar Games. Despite the transfer, Rockstar has a fantastic pedigree. They are the developers behind games such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. They definitely know how to make their games and tell a story but this series has a special place in many hearts, can they do right by Max?
The story once again revolves around Max Payne. Despite all he has done for the first two games, he has still lost everything he cared for. He is a depressed, broken man that lives life for the next drink. A friend from his academy days approaches him with a proposition of doing private security which eventually leads him to São Paulo, Brazil. He is tasked with protecting the wife of a wealthy business man named Rodrigo Branco as she goes to a nightclub for dancing. The nightclub gets assaulted by armed men and she gets taken captive. Max feels like he screwed up and helps deliver the ransom for her release as everything starts to fall apart. The story is quite well done. Max Payne is older and more depressed than ever. His inner monologue reveals what he is thinking and how he is feeling. You really start to feel for Max as he keeps going further and further into the dark abyss. Overall, some of the dark film-noir style feels less than the previous games but it makes up for it in style. You won’t be disappointed by the narrative in this game.
Max Payne is a third-person action game that features both a dodge-based bullet-time and cover mechanics. To kill the enemy, you clearly have an arsenal of guns you’ll be using throughout the games. At one time, you’ll be able to hold two handguns and one two-handed weapon, like a rifle or shotgun. If you choose to go akimbo with both pistols though, you will automatically drop your two-handed weapon. The system feels nice as it forces you to choose how you want to approach the current situation at hand. In addition to running straight into the action, you’ll have two options to help take out enemies. The first is the bullet-time, in this mode time slows down to a crawl for you to get the maximum benefit from each shot. The difference between the previous Max Payne titles and this one is that it is only enabled during dodging, you can’t turn it on and off at free-will like during walking. The one really cool feature of dodging is that you stay on the floor afterwards until you start to move but this exemplifies a small issue with the next feature, the cover system. When you are on the floor shooting away, it would’ve been nice to be able to roll or crouch over to cover but instead you get up completely and will more likely than not, take a couple hits. Other than that issue, the cover system works just as you would think. Get behind a piece of cover and peak around and fire from. It works well. It’s not as full featured as others like Gears of War but this game isn’t made to be within cover all the time.
What determines your death is governed by health. Painkillers once again serve as your health packs in the game and each time you pick one up, Max Payne will have a nice quip about them. When you die, you’re quickly brought back into the fold within a matter of seconds if you want. The game automatically saves fairly frequently so you’re never put too far back. If a part of the game is particularly challenging, the game helps nudge you to success. If you’re not paying attention, sometimes you’ll miss it. If you keep dying, eventually you’ll be given more ammo, more health, and eventually painkillers to help you thrive and have a good time. If you get a killing blow on you and you have a painkiller on you, you will go into a cool last man standing mode where time will slow down until you can kill whoever just tried to kill you. If you kill them, the painkiller takes effect and you get your health, if not, then you die. Unfortunately there are times where you will not be able to kill the person who shot you because they’re behind a wall or in an awkward position but more times than not, you can kill them fairly easily and move on with your life.
Overall while playing Max Payne 3, you’ll feel like a badass. The gunplay is well done. It meshes what made the previous titles great with some modern tweaks. The guns feel solid and responsive. Bullet-time and cover work great in tandem. You’re constantly choosing between a conservative approach and a balls-out approach. Sometimes the latter is the correct answer. An issue, that is almost a problem, is that perfect aim of grenades that will be tossed in your direction. You can shoot them out of the air if you’re quick but is can be dealt with by keep moving and going all out to take out the enemies. The gameplay feels great for the most part though, even death can’t get you down in this title.
The online multiplayer is a battery of traditional gameplay modes. Deathmatch and team deathmatch are the two main forms until you can unlock the rest. The notable others are Gang Wars and Payne Killer. In Gang Wars, you’re placed on teams and go through randomly selected team objectives or modes. In Payne Killer, the objective is to kill Max Payne or his partner and once you do, you become them until you are killed. In addition to unlocking the other multiplayer modes, there is an unlock system to unlock new weapons and customizations for your character. Each level unlocks more weapons and customizations and the money you earn from looting corpses in turn is used to purchase those things. Looting corpses is a cool risk/reward system where you have to decide if you think the reward of money, painkillers, or ammo is worth sticking around in the open. The other really cool choice is that the online player-base is fragmented into two categories, which you can freely switch between at your own leisure. The two categories are soft-targeting and free-targeting. Therefore those who wish an easier experience, similar to the default setting for single-player, can easily jump in and those who wish for a more competitive experience can enjoy their way to play. The bullet-time in multiplayer is a cool feature and segregating the player-base based upon their targeting choice is nice but it doesn’t help the core gameplay that falls into spray-and-pray chaos. It harkens back to a day of fast-paced deathmatch style. You have to keep moving and try to get the right angle on your competitors. It is definitely entertaining for a while but it doesn’t feel like it has legs.
The graphics in this title are some of the best yet and this starts with the animations. They are wonderful. Nearly every action is mapped out and fluid which leads to a very immersive and cinematic experience. When you have a two-handed weapon in your arsenal, you’ll see Max carrying it in his other hand. If you pull out a second pistol, he will drop the larger gun. This combined with the other small touches makes for an immersive experience. The gameplay seamlessly blends into cutscenes and back again without a hitch. Even death brings on a near-instant refresh at the last checkpoint which keeps you in the game and more importantly, takes the pain out of death. You play, you die, and you keep on playing. No worrying about reloading the last save or dealing with a long load screen. It’s something simple that goes a long ways. Max Payne looks wonderful as well as the supporting cast. They exude emotions well in the cutscenes. Guns look great. The world of São Paulo and the other locations visited look fantastic. Overall, the game looks great and the cinematic style and polish goes a long way to making it immersive.
The soundtrack was done by HEALTH and they deliver some great sounds. The familiar theme of the old titles is sprinkled into the game at appropriate points but for the most part, the new locale has a new vibe to it. It works great and even the song from the trailer is incorporated into the game. The voice acting is awesomely done. You’ll never tire of Max Payne’s inner dialogue as he talks about how he is feeling about what’s going on. The supporting cast is also well done. The guns all sound great and there are little ambient details that make the world feel living and breathing.
When Max Payne 3 was first shown, a lot of fans discounted it. It showed Max bald in a day lit run down South American city. This was not the Max that we knew nor the film-noir style we had been accustomed to seeing him in. Then the game went silent until a couple months before release and the technical videos started to peak our interest in the title again. And now, after playing the game, I can say that the initial impression was wrong. The story is fantastically told. The gameplay takes the elements we loved about earlier Max Payne titles and brought them into the modern day. The graphics are awesome, especially the animations. Listening to the soundtrack by HEALTH and the fantastic voice-acting helps make everything come to life. This is a fantastic addition to the Max Payne franchise. Some things could be better but the presentation and polish covers all that up. The worst addition is the multiplayer, which can be some fun but doesn’t seem like it will have much legs in the coming months considering it doesn’t feel that special. Overall, the Max Payne single-player experience is worth the price of admission. Some of the previous titles fell short on length but most will be pleased with how much you get here. Max Payne is back.