The Max Payne series set the benchmark for stylish action in third person shooters. Over the years, countless other games have incorporated bullet time into gameplay, but only a few have succeeded in whipping up the delicious, kinetic action Remedy’s franchise was known for. Over the nine years since Max Payne 2’s release, technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, so naturally expectations have risen exponentially.

Even then, Rockstar stepped up to the mantle and accepted these challenges. Their goal was to wow players in 2012 the same way Max Payne did in 2003 – a rather lofty ambition since we’ve experienced games like Gears of War and Uncharted since then. And guess what, they’ve pulled it off.

Max Payne 3 is more of a reboot than a reinvention. The game has been made accessible to the modern day gamer from a gameplay and technical standpoint, but at the same time, Rockstar hasn’t forgotten the series’ roots, keeping certain aspects of gameplay firmly grounded in old school gameplay. Ultimately, whether you’re a fan of the franchise or have never even played a Max Payne game in your life, Max Payne 3 is a must-play because it is one hell of an action-packed roller coaster ride.

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero

Like Rocksteady did with Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rockstar has taken great pains to give gamers an insight to Max Payne and the stuff that goes on between his ears. He’s a trooper at heart who’s been through a lot in his life, but like a modern day superhero of sorts, he never gives up. You can stab him, burn him, shoot him or even beat him up, but you just can’t keep him down. It’s this “never say die” attitude that makes you want to root for Max all the way to the very end.

Unlike younger hot shots like Nathan Drake and Marcus Fenix, he isn’t in the best of shape, and thanks to his drug and alcohol addiction, his liver is at exploding point. But that doesn’t stop him from throwing himself in front of a bullet or even a grenade for that matter. It’s this die hard mentality that gets him hired as a bodyguard for one of Brazil’s most affluent families.

Of course, all isn’t what it seems, and Max soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that will take him all the way from the glitz and glamour to Brazil’s seedy underbelly. Through his journey, he’ll form alliances, make powerful enemies, and of course, shoot the population of an entire country in the face. The Max Payne games have always offered players a twisted narrative, and Max Payne 3 is no different. In fact, I’d say it’s the darkest of the lot and some of the stuff that goes down in this game is rather disturbing. Max’s internal monologues are back as well, and while they’re cheesy as ever, they have a certain tinge of dry, sarcastic humor that I found most amusing.

Home run

Home run

Bleak plot aside, you’ve bought this game for its solid gameplay, and in that respect, Max Payne 3 does not disappoint. Unlike the older games, this one features a cover system, but Rockstar don’t really want you to play the game like a conventional cover-based shooter. In fact, a huge mistake I made through the first level was treating it like one and I did not enjoy it. I soon realized that cover was nothing but a temporary safe place for Max, where he could maybe reload his weapons, pop some painkillers and survey the surrounding threat. The rest of the time, the game wants you to live dangerously by creating your very own John Woo movie, which obviously can’t be done by just sitting behind cover and shooting people. No guts, no glory.
To help you choreograph your very own set pieces, you have the game’s ShootDodge mechanic that allows you to fling Max all over the place, during which the game slows down, giving you the chance to pull off some head/body shots with much style. And thanks to the Euphoria physics engine, this looks insanely realistic. When he’s about to land, Max will actually extend one of his hands to break his fall and even when he does hit the floor, it’s not smooth or elegant; it’s hard and sloppy followed by a rather heavy thump because that’s how a 200-plus pound man would land in real life.

Besides ShootDodge, you can just slow time down and gain a slight tactical advantage over the enemy. Plus, riddling a bunch of guys with bullets while glass shatters and wood splinters around them is just plain cool. If you suck at shooters, the game even has a very efficient auto-aim system that gets the job done. However, it becomes a bit of a pain to aim at gas cylinders when there are multiple enemies around. When you’re on the verge of death, the game will automatically slow down (if you have at least one painkiller bottle on you) and if you manage to kill the guy that delivered the fatal shot, you’ll get one last lease on life.

Boom! Headshot

Boom! Headshot

And die you will a lot because, even on normal, the game is pretty challenging. The game encourages you to live dangerously, but it punishes you for being too reckless. It’s imperative to stock up on painkillers because Max’s health will not magically regenerate behind cover. You’ll also have to time your slow mo jumps well because if you don’t have the proper angle, you may find yourself on the receiving end of hot lead. There are times though when the game just feels plain cheap. For example, you clear out a room of people, barely surviving with nothing but a few rounds of ammunition and a sliver of health. You let your guard down momentarily, and suddenly another bunch of guards enter from a random door, killing you immediately. Did they not feel like helping their brethren while I was shooting their brains out, or were they a bit tied up with their crossword puzzles?

As I mentioned before, I really like Max’s positive “shoot first, ask questions later” energy, but does he really have to confront an army armed to the teeth with just a pistol? Instead of allowing players to chose their own paths, Rockstar takes control away from you, funneling you through a cut-scene, only to throw you into the deep end without a paddle, or in this case, without any ammo. Moments like these tend to crop up more often than not during the third act of the game, which I personally felt was quite weak. Why? Because Rockstar unfortunately chose to take the “let’s throw thousands of enemies at the player” approach just to make the end seem more challenging. It sucked the fun out of the game for me, making it nothing but a mechanical grind.

Rocking a beard...and a hawaiin shirt

Rocking a beard…and a hawaiin shirt

Still, once you get through an enemy wave, it does feel like an accomplishment, especially since the game really slows down for the last kill, allowing you to adjust the speed of your bullet(s) while pressing the A button. During this time, you’re not just a spectator to the action, but can proceed to pump the unfortunate soul with even more lead. Gruesome, but completely awesome! Between all the relentless on-foot action, the game will also funnel players through certain on-rail segments. Now these are new for the Max Payne franchise, but they are pulled off with such flair and polish that they could stand on par with Uncharted 3.
Another aspect of gameplay that’s similar to the Uncharted series is the seamless transitions from cut scene to gameplay, and vice versa. You never feel disjointed or that you’re being yanked out of the experience when a cinematic triggers. The only issue I had with this process was that even if I had an SMG or a shotgun equipped, during the cinematic, Max would always go back to his revolver/pistol and then not automatically switch back to the weapon I had equipped. This was a huge annoyance, especially when a cut scene would end with me being surrounded by multiple enemies, armed with a pistol for which I had no ammo.

That weird issue aside, Max Payne 3’s presentation is top notch. This is without a doubt one of the best looking console games out there right now. Every single aspect of this game shines with the polish you’ve come to expect from a Rockstar game. Level design is spot on and even though the game largely takes place in Brazil, there’s a lot of variety to be found in here. You’ll go from lush high rises to the gritty favelas and even take periodic trips back to Max’s home town, New York. Levels themselves are gorgeously designed with a significant amount of environmental destruction enhancing the kinetic gunfights.

Rain of fire

Rain of fire

Max himself oozes detail and you’ll literally be able to see every cut on his face (during gameplay), count the number of hairs on his beard and watch him deteriorate physically during every gun fight. Special props have to be given out to Rockstar’s animators who have made Max feel so lifelike and real, players will literally be able to feel his pain on the battlefield. I especially like the way he doesn’t magically sling weapons on his body but holds a two handed weapon in one while wielding a pistol/revolver in the other. It just feels so natural. 

I did however find some of the visual effects to be a bit weird like the excessive distorted, jittery effects that are supposed to help us view the world from Max’s eyes. I understand he’s doped up on painkillers and alcohol 24/7 but after a while seeing the screen flicker and gyrate like that can seem a bit disorienting. Also certain words from the dialogue will randomly pop up on-screen for further emphasis and that just looked weird.

Nothing stands in Max's way

Nothing stands in Max's way

Once you get done with the rather lengthy campaign – that roughly clocks in at around 12 hours – you can choose to replay specific levels via the game’s Arcade mode. This essentially puts Max on a timer and grants players points for pulling off kills. At the end of the level, you’ll be graded depending on how many headshots you pulled off, the innovative ways you killed enemies or painkillers used. This data is then automatically uploaded online and can even be checked from Rockstar’s hub, the Social Club. It’s not ground breaking by any means but if you’re the competitive kind, it’s fun to destroy your friends’ time.

If replaying the game again is not your thing, Max Payne 3’s multiplayer has you covered. It’s what you would expect from a competitive shooter with its draw obviously being the ability to slow time down against other players. Slowing time down and other bursts are perks of sorts than can be earned by killing people.  You can use a burst as soon as you earn it or you can let it get to its highest level where your entire team will benefit by it.

Besides the perk system, you can customize your loadouts as well as the way your character looks online. The loadout system is a bit deeper than say Call of Duty because if you end up over cumbering yourself, you won’t be able to regenerate health on the battle field. At the same time, the game allows you to equip your character with Kevlar and helmets that will make him tougher to kill so you have to chose between being well protected or nimble.

Multiplayer is a blast

Multiplayer is a blast

Max Payne’s multiplayer offers players a variety of versus modes like Death Match, Team Death Match, Gang Wars and Payne killer, all of which can be played with soft lock or free aim. While Death Match and Team Death Match are fairly explanatory, Payne Killer and Gang Wars are the real meat of multiplayer. In Payne Killer, two players spawn as Max Payne and his partner Raul Passos respectively. They’ll be stronger, faster and better equipped than the other players in the round who obviously have to bind together to hunt them down. The player who kills either Max or Raul assumes their identity and their perks, and they will in turn be hunted down by everyone else. Gang Wars on the other hand puts two teams through a series of challenges and the one that wins the majority of them, wins the round. These include activities like arming a bomb, delivering a bag or protecting turf from the other team. Both modes are a bit different from the conventional versus offerings and whip up a pleasant respite from the usual run and gun action. 

While I did enjoy whatever limited time I could spend with the game multiplayer, it is not without its faults. Guns feel imbalanced with pistols dishing out more damage than an AK47 at times. The spawn system is kind of screwy and many a times I found myself spawning right behind enemies and vice versa. Even the Matchmaking system felt a bit off because it kept pairing me with Americans with whom we Indians get terrible ping. I’m hoping future patches can iron some of these niggles out.

Pimp my character

Pimp my character

Max Payne 3 is yet another solid title from Rockstar but unfortunately it’s also burdened by certain issues that can turn an otherwise awesome game into something quite frustrating (albeit momentarily). When it works, it’s like a well oiled machine flawlessly churning out some of the best action you’ve seen in a video game, but at times, it stumbles and the screws fall loose revealing some questionable gameplay mechanics. That being said, it still offers players a highly polished action experience that offers plenty of bang for your buck.

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