Max Payne has been through a lot and has seen some things that no one should. To get some control of the pain he has experienced, he turns to alcohol and pills, but that only pushes him further and further out of control. Knowing that the path he is heading down can only lead to self-destruction, he wants to make a change and move on from the past. He has no reason to…until an old friend shows up at a Hoboken bar Max frequents giving him an opportunity to start over and put the past behind him.
The story of Max Payne 3 primarily takes place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Max and his old police academy buddy, Raul Passos, are working security for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco. While escorting Branco’s wife and sister to a nightclub, things get a bit out of hand and both get kidnapped. It’s now Max’s job to hunt down those that abducted them and to find them, all while still fighting off his personal demons.
The story is one that seems straightforward, but there are a good amount of twists to it that had me second guessing some things. But the thing that stood out to me was the presentation and the pacing of the game. When I first booted it up, I was treated with watching Max move in to his new place, do some unpacking and then go out and buy some booze and then get hammered. All of this was accompanied by some of the wittiest, smart, razor-sharp dialogue I have ever heard in a game. To help make the dialogue what it is, the voice acting had to be top notch. James McCaffrey, the voice of Max, returns and delivers perfectly. I got a good sense of the pain the anti-hero is going through and his struggles as he fights his way through Sao Paulo trying to retrieve the hostages.
There was one thing about the presentation that had me shaking my head at at first, and that was the use of (and you have to see it for this to make sense) image mirroring and split screen. Let me try to explain this: if you have ever watched the show 24, you will remember that a lot of times they would split the screen to show what was happening in different scenes. That’s the split screen, and it helps the story flow pretty nicely. The image mirroring is an aesthetic effect that I think represents Max’s crash from not being able to drink while trying to find the missing girls.
The pacing of the game is dramatically different than that of the past entries in the series. And by pacing of the game, I don’t mean the pace of the story I mean the pace of Max’s movement. Rockstar did a stellar job in making it seem like Max has aged and that all the drinking and pill popping has taken its toll on him. While he can still roll around and kick a lot of ass, he does it at a slower pace, and I got that feeling when coming out of a roll or a bullet-dodge. Max just feels old and tired when controlling him. The gameplay stays true to the Max Payne games in that, at its heart, it’s a third-person shooter. It can be played differently by using bullet time and shootdodge, but that would make the game a good bit more difficult than it already is due to the new reliance on cover-based mechanics.
If you are not familiar with bullet time or shootdodge, let me catch you up. To the side of your damage meter (in the bottom right corner of the screen) is another meter that fills up as you dispatch your enemies. Once you have even a little amount, you can click down on the right stick (bullet time) or tap the right bumper (shootdodge) to slow down time and take down the bad guys. I typically used bullet time when there were a lot of enemies coming at me (and that was often) and I used shootdodge to get from cover to cover safely as shootdodge has Max jumping backwards, sideways, or forwards in slow motion while shooting. These maneuvers help out greatly because this game is tough. I found myself constantly being rushed by a lot of angry people trying to kill me.
One of the coolest things about this game is the final kill camera. Once I dwindled the enemy numbers to just one and took that final shot at him, the camera slows down and follows the bullet into that unfortunate baddie. But if that isn’t satisfying enough, you can manually slow the camera down more by holding the A button and continue to pump rounds into him by holding down the right trigger (the normal fire button). This makes for some pretty gruesome death scenes, because Rockstar took a page from the Red Dead Redemption book and brought back those nasty looking bullet wounds. There was a time when I used the final kill camera and shot a gentleman right through his eye, and all that remained was that ugly looking bullet hole. I was watching a friend play, and every time he was in the final kill camera, he would empty an entire clip into the bad guy. I felt genuinely bad for the guy saying, “He’s dead already man! You shot him in the face 900 times!” By the time his gun dry fired, the enemies face looked like Swiss cheese.
Like I stated before, the way I play this game is by using cover. I found that just running out and trying to shoot my way through doesn’t really work all that well, because I am way too twitchy to just use bullet time. In addition, Max doesn’t really run; he jogs at a brisk pace. So if I did use bullet time to try and clear all the enemies out, if I missed some (and I did) I would be exposed and would take a lot of damage. Luckily the pain pills are back and help keep you going. Another thing that helped me quite a bit was, when my damage meter filled all the way up and I had a bottle of pills, I got a chance to take revenge on the guy who put me down. The camera again slows down and zooms in on the guy who shot me allowing me to take him out. If I do so before the game resumes, I’m back in the fight, but down one painkiller.
As I was playing the game and taking note of some things, I noticed that Max can hold three weapons at a time. He can hold a pistol in one or both hands (or an SMG) and a rifle of some sort. The cool thing here is that if you are using a handgun and possess a rifle, Max will hold the rifle in one hand while using the handgun, because there is no strap. He can’t put it on his back. If you are using two handguns, he keeps the rifle under his arm. If you are using the rifle, his handguns go into his shoulder holsters. So there is no wondering where Max puts and pulls his guns from. If you do decide to take on a gun in each hand though, Max will drop his rifle and lay down fire in style.
While the gameplay is fun and kept at a good pace, there was something that just didn’t make sense to me: there is no quick change for weapons. Instead, there is a weapon wheel that you can bring up by holding the left bumper and then choosing a gun by using the right stick. I understand why this was done, because cover is used a lot in the game, and you can change weapons safely. There were a lot of times that I wanted to change weapons while out of cover and under fire but couldn’t. Not only is there no quick weapon change, but bringing up the wheel doesn’t stop or slow down the action.
Besides a great single player experience, Max Payne 3 has an amazing multiplayer aspect to it. There are your typical deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, but there are also a couple of other modes that are pretty fun to play. Payne Killer starts in a standoff between 2 players. The person who kills the other becomes Max Payne and the one who got killed becomes Passos. Then, those 2 players must work together to kill as many gang members as possible to earn points and stay alive. Any player playing as a gang member and kills either Max or Passos will become whichever they kill. Its kind of like tag but with guns.
The mode that really shines is Gang Wars, which is a narrative-driven team mode where the outcome of each match will determine the story and game types for 5 consecutive rounds. Those game types include Warfare in which gangs battle for supremacy (resembles team deathmatch). Showdown which is also like team deathmatch, but the gangs’ strength is dependent on the previous rounds. Survivor is a Showdown style game mode but each team has a limited amount of lives. Last Stand has each gang member with only one life. Takedown has players assassinating the designated target. Short Fuse has one gang arming bombs while the other tries to prevent that from happening. Delivery has both teams collecting and dropping off items at designated drop points. Grab is similar to Delivery, but in this mode both gangs fight over capturing 2 bags and delivering them at a drop point. Turf Grab has you doing just that: taking over areas on the map. Total Turf has the gangs fighting for control of multiple territories. Siege has one gang fighting to hold on to 3 territories, one after the other. And Passage has one gang fleeing for their lives while the other gang hunts them down.
You can customize your loadout once you hit level 4. You have a nice amount of weapons and perks (called bursts) to choose from and use. Weapons you use need to be unlocked and then purchased from money you looted from dead gang members in previous rounds. Bursts give you special abilities that help give you, and in some cases your whole team, a specific advantage. Each Burst has 3 levels, which are dependent on how much adrenaline you have. Bursts can be activated by clicking the right stick. Once you have picked the loadout that bests suits you, you might want to check the weight. While you might think it’s a loadout that will cause a lot of damage and get you a lot of kills, it could hold you back. If it is too heavy, it will slow down your movement and health and stamina recovery. Create your loadout wisely.
The one thing I had a problem with in regards to the multiplayer is the way I was forced to play deathmatch and only deathmatch (team included) until I got 50 kills. After I did that, the rest of the MP modes unlocked. I understand that this might be needed for some players to get acquainted with the MP, but I hate being forced to do certain things before being able to enjoy the full experience.
Rockstar is quickly becoming one of my favorite developers. I have always been fond of the GTA series and absolutely loved Red Dead Redemption, and now I have found my new addiction in Max Payne 3. The story and presentation rival that of a summer blockbuster. Throw in some smart dialogue, fantastic gameplay and addicting multiplayer, and Rockstar has hit the ball out of the park again.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.