In the nine years since the last outing of the eponymous hero Max Payne, it doesn’t seem as if many could have foreseen where the grizzled gunman would find himself in his oft-promised third outing. São Paulo, Brazil seems a world away from the moonlit streets of New York City and Max is hardly the same man he was a decade ago; older, alcoholic and considerably more broken after failing to protect a wife, a lover and his newborn infant child. Max Payne has fallen and awoken in a fresh hell.
Developed primarily by Rockstar Vancouver, Max Payne 3 is in many ways a departure from the standards set by Remedy Entertainment in the previous games. Most of the important hallmarks of the series are still present from the gritty noir narration, albeit scripted with much less eloquence than the prior games, to the slow motion “shoot-dodge” mechanic that gave the first Max Payne adventure a notable boost in attention. A new piece to the puzzle is a cover-system which although seemingly intruding on the spirit of Max Payne (guns blazing whilst flying through the air) adds a new dimension to the action.
Gone are the comic-book styled vignettes once used in place of cut-scenes to deliver hefty doses of exposition. Instead, Rockstar have bought a frazzled and frayed digitized look to the universe, with colour separation and excess digital noise accompanying erratic camera swings to add not only a cinematic style but also to add insight to Max’s own sensory overload.
As the game boots up for the first time, Max engages in a monologue upon arriving in São Paulo. Somewhere between self-pitying and self embittered, he drinks too much and throws himself around a hotel room. Visually, the game does a fantastic job of showing us that Max is a man constantly caught between a bottle of whiskey and flashbacks to his tormented violent past. That’s not to say that the violence is all in his past; it often seems that the only time Max doesn’t have a gun in his hand is when it’s too dangerous to have a drink. Max Payne 3 is first and foremost a shooter and almost immediately Max is thrown into slow motion battles to protect the rich Brazilian family that are employing him. From here, the story takes plenty of twists and turns around environments such as greed-driven nightclubs, the poorest slums São Paulo has to offer, an airport and a slice or two of New York to keep things fresh.
Although the environments seem to be in a constant state of flux, the same cannot be said for the action. All the shooting mechanics, from the famed shoot-dodge, to the interactive cover, feel top of the line for a modern game; but at its core, that’s all Max Payne is. For a studio as pronounced at offering diverse content in games as Rockstar, Max Payne 3 doesn’t seem to stand up to any of their previous efforts. Unlike Grand Theft Auto IV or Red Dead Redemption, games where it really felt like the world was your oyster, all there is to do here is shoot the next guys and move forward. Despite a large number of collectables and great performance capture, it’s hard not to feel a little fatigued towards the last few hours of the story mode. In fact, it almost seems as if Rockstar came to terms with this as some of the most stylish and impressive moments are found in the game’s final chapter; ensuring the game ends on a final triumphant note.
For those who find themselves deeply engulfed in the gameplay of Max Payne 3, there are plenty of challenges to be found once the main game is over, from a Time Attack mode and Highest Score game to the competitive multi-player. There’s not a great deal here for those who have had their fill from the story campaign, but for anybody who wants to squeeze out every last ounce of content, Max’s world could turn into a real time-sink.
For anyone hoping for a direct rehash of either the style, tone or gameplay of Remedy’s previous Payne games, Max Payne 3 may well disappoint, but a captivating lead performance, mostly tireless gun-battles and a dark gritty world ensure that Rockstar have pieced together a great Max Payne for a new generation.
Max Payne 3 was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on May 15th, 2012.