Max Payne has always been an interesting series. To date, it’s still one of the only neo-noir titles to grace gaming, and it pioneered the “bullet-time” phenomenon, which previously was synonymous with The Matrix.
With the third iteration in the series, Rockstar (who have developed their first Max Payne game) has ditched the gritty New York scenery for a more lush tropical setting. But the real question is: does it pay off to have such a stark departure?
While the visuals may be different, the tone of the game is still very much Max Payne. The intro is pretty much a testament to how excellent the direction in this game can be, as Max reminisces about his family, and his trials and tribulations in a hotel room, drowning himself in bottle upon bottle of booze. The scene is straight out of a David Lynch film, in that it constantly shifts perspectives in a grimdark fashion, giving you the immediate sense that not all is well in Payne’s life.
Through the magic of voice over (which I’m generally not fond of, as it can tend to lead to lazy storytelling), you’ll learn about how Max feels about everyone around him — as you can expect, he doesn’t really like anyone, and tends to judge people at every turn. But despite how awesome some of these surreal scenes can be, while Max Payne 3 quickly attempts to dazzle you with the hallucinatory sequences seen in the game’s intro, but they pretty much fade away in the second half of the game.
One of my favorite things about the Max Payne series is how amazing the story is, and how personal Max’s story is. In the first game you feel connected to Max’s family, and in the second, his girlfriend/love interest. In the third iteration, the entire point of the game is that Max has hit rock bottom.
While it’s enthralling at first, Max is a far cry from the sympathetic character he was in the first two games. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that: it’s just that the general noir tone and personal relationships help set the perfect tone for the first two games.
Max is pretty much on his own in this one (even if he has a companion along the way, mentally he is on his own), and depending on your preferences, it may make for the weakest game emotionally in the series. As far as the story goes, there are crosses and double-crosses, but it’s to the point of extreme predictability.
Anyone who hasn’t seen films like Man on Fire or Traffic may be surprised at the comings and goings of the criminal underworld, but if you watch lots of crime dramas, you won’t really be subject to any surprises. While the noir tone is sacrificed in favor of bright South American locales and bright filters, the general result is a much more visually impressive game.
But what would these new fancy locales be without some fancy new moves to complement them? Max still has his ol’ signature “slo-mo” bullet-time ability, as well as his classic shoot-dodge maneuver. You can also turn off assisted aiming in both single player and multiplayer (yes!) to make for a smoother, more classic experience.
Our old friend also has another ability up his sleeve: last man standing. This is kind of like the recover mechanic found in Gears of War, but it requires you to fatally wound your would-be killer right before you die. If you succeed, you pop one of your health pills and live to fight another die.
Difficulty wise, I’m pleased to say that Max Payne 3 pretty much does everything right. The difficulty ramps up fairly evenly as you progress through the game and learn how to utilize all of Max’s nuances, but it isn’t without it’s fair share of cheap sections.
Just like Uncharted 2, Max Payne 3 will occasionally throw a ton of enemies at you in a seemingly impossible situation, to the point of frustration. Enemies will just appear out of nowhere and blow your face off, occasionally seeing you back quite a ways away from your latest checkpoint. Considering how long and drawn out some firefights are, I’ve found myself losing around ten minutes of progress sometimes.
Arcade Mode is available for your perusal after you finish the game’s levels. The series favorite mode New York Minute returns, as well as a standard Score Attack mode. Think of these modes like Call of Duty‘s Spec Ops missions: they’re more action oriented versions of previous levels that allow you to max out your highest possible run.
While Score Attack mode is pretty much what you’d expect, and only truly fun when you’re comparing yourself against other people on your friend’s list, New York Minute is still just as fun as ever.
Multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag, and many people will be quick to ignore it. Thankfully, the varying difficulty levels of the campaign and Arcade mode should keep you busy longer than your average third person shooter.
You’ll find all of your standard Deathmatch modes here (including a Juggernaut mode), but Gang Wars is probably the highlight of the multiplayer experience. Through this mode, you’ll have to re-enact various scenarios from the campaign.
You can set up your own “crew” (which will evidently have some effect on GTAV), and put hits out on rival crews. Here’s hoping for some Zombie DLC, a la Red Dead Redemption. It’s not a genre-bending mechanic, but it’s still above and beyond when it comes to your typical multiplayer experience.
All in all Max Payne 3 doesn’t transcend the third person shooting genre, but it’s a damn fine game, and a solid entry in the Max Payne series. If you’re not the biggest fan of third person shooters, it won’t do anything to sway you, but the highs most definitely weigh out the lows in Max’s latest adventure.
This review was based on a retail copy of Max Payne 3 for the Xbox 360.