It’s been over a decade since the first Max Payne game hit the market, and if you played it way back then odds are you still remember it. Not because it was some utterly amazing game, although it was great, but rather because Max Payne was rather unique and memorable with its dark story, noir narrative, comic cut-scenes, and of course the ability to enter bullet time. The game received a sequel about two years later in 2003, but Max Payne fans have been left waiting for more Max ever since. Six years later, we were in luck as Rockstar announced Max Payne 3 in 2009 for a Winter 2009 release date. Obviously, it didn’t hit that Winter 2009 release date. The years 2010 and 2011 also came and went without Max Payne, although in 2011 we did learn that the game actively was still be developed and would hit in early 2012. After plenty of development and a lot of waiting by anxious gamers, Max Payne 3 has finally arrived.
First things first, this is most definitely a Max Payne game. Fans of the series who were complaining and/or concerned about taking Max Payne out of New York City and supposedly doing away with the noir can rest easy; it’s all here. Everything you loved about Max Payne is in here, and everything you probably hated about Max Payne (blood levels) is gone.
Max Payne has taken a job in Sao Paulo, Brazil working private security for the rich Rodrigo Branco and his trophy wife Fabiana, and the rest of the Branco family. Max was recruited for this job by a former colleague at the police academy that he had forgotten about named Paul Passos. Fabiana gets kidnapped and well, let’s just say the dark side of Sao Paulo comes to light as Max Payne becomes involved a big and conspiracy.
That’s the condensed version of the plot, and it really is a good story for a Max Payne game (which have always featured good stories). There is some homage to the previous Max Payne games in level design, and there are a few instances in the game where you’ll play in a flashback that takes place after the events of Max Payne 2 in New York City when Max runs into Passos and is ultimately forced to leave the city. These sections give fans a chance to once again play as “classic” Max Payne; clean shaven and wearing the leather jacket in the dark and dreary New York City.
The few flashback sequences are good for story and the nostalgic gameplay, but it’s in the Sao Paulo setting that Max Payne 3 truly shines. The story is of course a dark conspiracy that’s downright evil, yet something that can easily (and more than likely does) happen everyday, but the setting is really quite beautiful. This is a Max Payne game filled with vibrant colors, sunshine, and some deeply detailed and gorgeous settings. Even Max is more colorful having traded in his black leather jacket for suits, white tank tops, and tropical shirts; not to mention a thick beard and a shaved head. Quite note on the shaved head and beard front, Max Payne is supposed to look like the actor who plays him (James McCaffrey), but every single time I saw bald Max with that thick beard I couldn’t help but see WWE Superstar Triple H. If you ever wanted to know what Triple H would look like with a bald head and a thick beard play Max Payne 3 and your curiosity will be satisfied.
The single player campaign took me a little over eight hours to beat on normal difficulty (8 hours and 18 minutes to be exact), but it’ll vary widely. I really good player could probably get finish in six and a half to seven hours, while slower players (or those searching for collectibles) will probably get 10 or more out of it. Regardless of how long it takes you, there’s a ton of fun packed into this games campaign. Yes, it’s a cover-based third person shooter and when you aren’t popping out of cover to shoot some bad dude in the face, or shoot dodging or entering bullet time, there’s a decent amount of gameplay to break up that repetitiveness. There’s a few times where you’ll be forced to snipe (which is awesome), where you’ll be forced to move quickly (although there is no timer that you can see), and where you’ll be gunning on-rails style from a boat or a bus or a jeep with almost unlimited ammo.
The campaign also varied levels and some really good set pieces; you’ll be shooting your way through nightclubs, office buildings, soccer stadiums, party boats, police stations, slums, warehouses, airport terminals, docks, and burning buildings. The burning building section in particular will immediately have some gamers thinking Uncharted 3, as I did (several times through the game). But not in a bad “oh well they just copied Uncharted 3” way, but rather in a “oh, this is the kind of awesome you’d see in an Uncharted game.”
Gameplay wise, Max Payne 3 controls great for the most part. It’s pretty much the same great shooting as Red Dead Redemption or LA Noire, only with the ability to shoot dodge and enter bullet time. Enemies can be big bullet sponges, which I’m not a fan of, unless you shoot them in the head. For that reason, plus the fact that it is entirely easy to get in a situation where you don’t have a lot of ammo or any pain killers, bullet time and shoot dodge is a life saver. I played my first play-though using Soft Lock, which is sort of an auto-aim but you have to be already looking in the general direction of the enemy. In bullet time, save your ammo and just free aim it by moving the dot to their head and shooting. There are several times where I absolutely would not have survived if I did not shoot dodge my way to some slow one-shot headshots to conserve what little ammo I had.
Speaking of limited ammo and pain killers, prepare to die a lot. I admit that I got carried away and tried to rush through parts, which only led to me dying quickly and getting more and more frustrated. I suspect the average gamer will be the same way. And if you do that, you will die a ton. Trust me. And there’s really nothing worse than seeing three shots of Max with a hole in his head as the game mocks you with a “DEAD” screen. To the younger games who didn’t get to experience the previous Max Payne games, this isn’t a game that is going to hold your hand. There’s no raspberry jelly here to signal for you to hide until your health automatically regenerates.
In order to stay alive in Max Payne, you’ll need to watch the little meter at the bottom of the screen and learn when it take a pain killer, and always keep as many as you can on. Pain killers are how you restore health. Without them, you can go the whole level and your health isn’t going to restore itself. If you get shot when you have a pain killer and the shot should have killed you, you’ll slow down in bullet time for a “last stand” attempt. Shoot the person who shot you and you’ll avoid death, at least for the moment. It’s a nice feature that comes in handy, even though it’s basically the games way of telling you that you had a pain killer but should other wise be dead. This is not a fail safe though. Don’t think you can just breeze by by waiting to let the last stand trigger instead of just taking a pain killer, as there were several times where I was shot but some object blocked my shot at the guy who shot me, resulting in me not being able to shoot the guy and thus dying.
The checkpoints are generous, but there are times where you’ll be wishing they were maybe a tad more generous. It’s possible to make it past a tough spot, take a pain killer, round a corner and then get shot in the head and die, resulting in you having to do the whole tough spot over again. By the same token, if you clear an area and venture into a new tough spot with no pain killers and little ammo and die, you’ll re-spawn back in that tough spot with no pain killers and little ammo. Thankfully, the game isn’t totally merciless when this happens. Die enough times and it’ll keep spawning you with more (full) ammo and more pain killers. You’ll know when you clear an area of enemies thanks to the addition of the bullet kill cam, which tracks the bullet to the last enemy and you can slow this down to pump as many bullets as you want to waste into the poor guy who was unlucky enough to be killed last in a area. Some nice blood spurts here.
I only have a few faults with my play-through of the single player: Occasionally, but not often, I would briefly get hung up on some small object or coming out of cover. I’ll give the game the benefit of the doubt there and say that was me. But, I can’t give the game the benefit of the doubt on this next one, as its kinda of a big thing for me. I’m reviewing the Playstation 3, and thus have no idea if this has happened for the 360 or the PC, but there were a few times where the voice audio track would cut out during the cut-scenes (which are still graphic novel style, but mixed with motion-comic and in-game footage). That of course isn’t a good thing as you’re missing out on part of the story, but it happened to me at least three times, the last of which was near the end of the game during a fairly long cut-scene. The other issue to go along with that, the game would sometimes hang for a bit during a cut-scene. Thankfully these issues were confined to cut-scenes and not actual gameplay, but still not good.
Now let’s talk re-playability. The single player campaign is great and it’ll warrant a couple of playthroughs. There’s also clues to investigate and golden gun parts to collect, so there’s a lot of extras to find during the course of the campaign. There’s also single player grinds which grant you XP, so you’ll want to play through to keep trying to finish them. Single player wise, the campaign can also be played through two different arcade modes. Both of these are a ton of fun and greatly expand the replay value of the single player campaign as you compete against your friends and the world on leaderboards. These two arcade modes are Score Attack and New York Minute (you have a minute to beat each level, killing enemies adds more time to your clock).
The real surprise though, especially for replay value, comes from the addition of multiplayer to Max Payne. When it was announced that multiplayer was coming to Max Payne 3, gamers did what gamers do best… complain. Another single payer game was going to be ruined by an unnecessary multiplayer component. Boy were they wrong. Not only is the single player great, the multiplayer is also fantastic and should be enough to keep gamers coming back again and again.
To start out, only 8 player modes of Rookie Deathmatch, Rookie Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch are available. You’ll need to level up a little bit and complete a training grind to unlock the rest of the game modes, which includes Payne Killer, Gang Wars, and 16-player versions of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch.
Gang Wars is the big mode that is touted as the heart and soul of the multiplayer. It uses events from the games single player as a jump off point. The mode includes motion-comic and narration by Max Payne as two factions wage war across objective and dynamic team-play. It’s similar too Team Objective in Uncharted 3; two teams of eight compete across rounds and varying game types; team deathmatch, team elimination deathmatch, assassination, deliver and drop, capture the zone, etc. It is a very good mode and a ton of fun to play in a full 16-player session.
My favorite multiplayer mode though isn’t Gang Wars, it’s Payne Killer. This mode is King-of-the-Hill style to a degree. It starts as a regular deathmatch game with everyone against everyone. However, the first person to get a kill becomes Max Payne, and the first person to die becomes Raul Passos. Once there’s a Max, everyone else in the game becomes a team to try and kill Max and Passos. But, if you kill Max Payne, then you become Max Payne. Kill Raul Passos and you become the new Raul Passos. Payne and Passos both have special weapons and abilities, and a bunch of pain killers. Max and Passos earn points by killing their attackers, and the winner of the round is simply the player who has the most points. It’s a really fun mode.
There’s a lot to the multiplayer; there’s a bunch of grinds to complete, there’s outspreads and characters to customize, weapons and gear to purchase. You can use bullet time and shoot dodge in multiplayer as well. Your health does automatically regenerate over time (varies depending on the size of your load-out), but you can also get pain killers to restore it faster. You can loot dead bodies, including your own teammates, and doing so can net you ammo, cash, painkillers, or adrenaline (which you’ll need to use a Burst, a special ability like bullet time).
Overall, it all adds up to make one great package that offers a ton of replay value either solo or online with up-to-15 other people. The only thing that’s missing here is a co-op mode, which frankly I don’t understand why there isn’t one considering several times during the single player campaign you will have Raul Passos at your side. Seems like it would have been fairly easy to design a few side missions for Max, Passos, and maybe one other person to have some co-op fun. Even a simple wave based mode would have been sufficient since I always prefer co-op over competitive anyway. Still, what is here is more than enough, and you really can’t complain when you have a great single player campaign (with two additional fun ways to play it) and a robust and tremendously fun competitive multiplayer to keep coming back to.
This one gets four stars due to the audio and hanging issues in cut-scenes and the lack of co-op, which still means it is a great game and was close to reaching perfect score status. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, go remedy that immediately. Max Payne 3 is a wonderful experience that should not be missed.
Max Payne 3 gets a four out of five: GREAT.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.