Review: Max Payne 3 (PS3)
Title: Max Payne 3
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (13.6 GB)
Release Date: May 15, 2012 (US) / May 18, 2012 (EU, AU)
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Max Payne 3 is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
9 years. That’s how long fans have had to wait since Max Payne’s last adventure. Since we last met up with him, he’s left New York, gone to Sao Paulo, and taken a job as a body guard for a rich and powerful family. Max Payne may have put on a few years and a few pounds, but he’s still the same slow motion jumping and bullet shooting ex-cop we all know and love. Developed by Rockstar Vancouver, Max Payne 3 is a triumphant return to the Max Payne franchise. Even with a new developer working on the series, fans need not worry. Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game that oozes with personality, an awesome story, and a surprisingly fun multiplayer mode.
At its core, Max Payne 3 is a solid 3rd person shooter. Unlike previous entries in the series, Max has learned the ability to take cover behind objects, which allows him to be protected from enemy fire. The addition of a cover system shakes things up a bit, and hardened Max Payne veterans may find the change in gameplay jarring. This new system rewards players who stick to cover rather than those who expose themselves out in the open. That’s not to say that you still can’t use Max’s trademark bullet-time; you’re still able to slow down time and line up head shots. The bullet-time gauge is filled when players take cover, balancing out the reward of pulling off an awesome slow motion headshot with playing it safe behind the nearest barrier.
Like other 3rd person shooters in the genre, Max’s weapon loadout is limited. At any time, Max can carry two handheld weapons and a single bigger weapon. If the player chooses to dual-wield the handheld weapons, Max drops the bigger weapon in order to free up his second hand. It’s a nice little touch that adds to the realism of Max Payne. He’s a human being with only so many hands to carry things, and it’s nice to see a game pay attention to that.
Bullet-time is still as satisfying as ever. With a quick click of the right stick, Max goes into a slow motion mode where it becomes extremely easy to line up headshots and kill enemies in extremely gruesome ways. In addition to using this from behind cover, Max has the ability to do a bullet-time jump. He can leap out from behind cover and still shoot in slow motion, but he only has until he hits the ground before the effect wears off. It’s an ability that makes you feel like a trained bodyguard, and this skill provides some awesome scripted scenes in the game. Max’s slow motion jumping mechanic is great, and it reacts to the surroundings around you, but this can easily become troublesome. If you so much as brush an environmental object in mid jump, Max will instantly snap out of his slow motion and fall straight to the ground. It makes sense when Max collides with a brick wall, but when I brush over a tiny milk crate, it becomes very annoying.
Gunplay feels very solid, which is a nice improvement from past Rockstar games. Max’s reticule is extremely small; it’s practically the size of a tiny dot. The reticule size makes you feel extremely accurate with your shots, almost as if you were actually a trained body guard. With the extreme accuracy, you have no one but yourself to blame if you miss a shot. Rockstar uses the reticule in some subtle ways. They tint it slightly red to let you know when it’s hovering over an enemy, and it becomes a hollow circle if your last shot on an enemy kills them. It’s clues like this that give you the edge in gunfights, and if you choose to ignore them, you’ll end up dead on the pavement.
Unlike other 3rd person shooters, Max Payne 3 implements a more realistic health system. Rather than hiding behind a concrete barrier until you magically heal, Max must take pain killers in order to heal himself. If Max is about to die while he still has some pills left, he enters a slow motion “last stand” mode where he gets the opportunity to kill the person who shot him. If he is successful, Max is able to take the pill and continue, albeit from a more vulnerable position on the floor. Max can only obtain more pill bottles by finding them in the environment, and they’re not just strewn about in random places. Each pill bottle is strategically placed to make sense in the world. Some might be in medicine cabinets, while others may be hidden underneath desks. This health system ties great into the narrative, and it’s one more subtle touch that puts Max Payne 3′s story and presentation a notch above most other games.
The standard campaign will last anywhere from about 10-12 hours, and it feels like the perfect amount. Just as you start to tire with gunfights, the excellent story throws a huge twist at you, driving you to play more. There are five difficulty levels for the campaign (ranging from easy to old school), allowing for players of all skill levels to enjoy Max’s adventure. In addition to the campaign, there are two other modes: Score Attack and New York Minute. Score Attack plays just like it sounds, play through levels trying to earn the highest score possible. In New York Minute, the game places a timer above Max’s head, giving you only a short time to complete the game. Every time Max kills an enemy, he’s awarded with more time. This frantic sense of pressure makes this mode in Max Payne a blast, albeit a frustrating one, to play.
What makes the gameplay so fun and satisfying is that it always feeds back into the story. Every bullet, every enemy, and every situation has a meaningful impact on the progression of the story. You won’t ever find yourself running through a straight corridor killing random enemies; Max Payne 3 takes you on a journey where you can always know your goal and why you’re headed there. Unlike a lot of third person shooters where the gameplay feels padded in order to increase the length, Max Payne 3 delivers just the right amount of gunplay in between each cutscene of story.
The visuals and the story of Max Payne 3 go hand in hand. Max has traveled to the sun-soaked country of Brazil in an attempt to escape New York and the past that haunts him. Through cutscenes, plot twists, and character development, Max Payne 3 is an awesome story that will be sure to hook you to see the very end.
Impaired by constant alcohol and painkiller abuse, Max sees the world around him in a different way. Certain phrases and people will stick out in his mind, while other things blur and recede into the background. This sense of shifting focus is reflected in every cutscene. Screen tears and color flashes will happen throughout the game, simulating the constant shifting brain activity going on inside of Max’s head. Lines of dialog will flash up on the screen when a character is introduced, something significant is said, or when someone makes a very poignant statement. Max Payne 3′s cinematics are stylized from top to bottom. What comes across as very jarring and unnecessary at first will slowly become second nature, just like someone who is impaired by substances. It’s a very well done style, but it can and will turn a good portion of players off.
Character models are extremely well detailed and brought to life. The animation and look of each character is a marked improvement over many past Rockstar games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. The facial animation fails to live up to the extremely high standard set by LA Noire, and it’s a disappointment that the same technology wasn’t used here.
Max Payne 3 is a brutal and visceral game. Every shot that Max fires feels like a real bullet: it has a trajectory and a specific impact point. If Max shoots a player in the leg, the corpse will have a bullet hole in the leg. Enemies stumble and react based on where you shoot them. This is one of the first games where I truly feel like every shot, every impact, and every kill is directly influenced by me. Nothing is more satisfying than aiming for the left eye socket, pulling the trigger, and seeing the bullet fly to the exact point of where I aimed. Watching it in slow motion is even more gratifying.
The kill-cam is one of the more unique features of Max Payne 3. Every time Max kills the last enemy in the room, the game slows down, and the camera zooms in on Max. Max fires the bullet in slow motion, and the camera tracks the bullet from the barrel of the gun to the enemy. As the player, you can slow down time even further by holding the X button, allowing you to watch the slow and painful death of your opponent. Not only that, but you have the option to keep tapping the fire button to shoot your enemy many more times, spewing blood in many directions. It’s one of the more brutal aspects of the game, and it never gets old.
The voice acting is absolutely top notch. James McCaffery reprises his roll as Max Payne, and he does a phenomenal job. Every other character in the game is extremely well thought out, and the voice acting represents this. You’re able to tell the subtle differences in accents and speech patterns of the different characters in the game. Every character who has any Brazilian or South American heritage has a voice actor with an accent that sounds genuine and authentic. Characters rapidly switch back and forth between English and Portuguese, making each and every NPC feel like a living and breathing person. Much of the game is centered around the language barrier between Max and the Portuguese speaking natives of Brazil. Rockstar doesn’t do the player any favors by translating the lines of dialogue or adding English subtitles to read. You can only understand what Max understands, and this makes the player feel like Max Payne.
Max Payne 3′s crowd scenes stand out in particular. At any point when Max is wandering through a crowd, many different conversations can be heard, and each can be heard distinctly. It’s not just a “wall of sound” that many other developers put in their games; Rockstar truly crafts a scene and makes it feel like the people around you are really alive. Whether it be a bar in New York or a club in Sao Paulo, the atmospheric audio in Max Payne 3 is a huge step above many other games in the industry.
The most apparent and best part of the audio in the game has to be Max’s internal monologues. At any point, Max will chime in with his own thoughts, speaking either directly to himself or to the situation at hand. If the player starts wandering around and not progressing, Max will make a comment about how he doesn’t have the time to waste. If Max stumbles across a pill bottle for health, he makes a comment about how it’s important or relevant to his situation. All of the small narrative touches that Max speaks furthers the illusion that you are Max Payne.
When the multiplayer mode for Max Payne 3 was announced, some people were very skeptical. Even with the successes of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption’s multiplayer modes, people felt like the bullet time aspects of Max Payne 3 would not carry over successfully to a multiplayer mode.
I can safely tell you that the multiplayer mode is quite the surprise, and a blast to play.
It’s worth mentioning that bullet-time is treated differently in multiplayer. Rather than you slowing down time for yourself, activating it slows down your opponents for a set amount of time. The player also has the choice of equipping a different power-up, such as spotting out enemy locations, rather than using bullet time.
The game comes with the standard modes found in most shooters: deathmatch and team deathmatch. Max Payne 3 also comes with two unique modes: Payne Killer and Gang Wars. Payne Killer is a twist on a marked man mode, where eight players compete to become Max Payne and Raul Passos. The first two players to get kills in the game respawn as these characters, and it’s up to the other 6 players to team up and kill them. As Max and Raul, you have significant advantages over your opponents: you have more powerful guns, you are fully stocked with your time gauge, and you have more pills to start off with. This makes the two on six gameplay feel balanced, even if the numbers are not. The player also gets more points per kill as Max or Raul, giving every player motivation to become one of the two marked men. It’s a race to get to the high score, and it’s an exhilarating mode.
Gang Wars is a cool mode that tries to bridge gameplay and story. Two teams of eight compete in multiple rounds consisting of different objectives. Whether it’s assassinating a specific target, diffusing an explosive, or controlling an area, each round won gives that team a specific advantage in the final round, which is an all-out team deathmatch. It’s a cool concept, even if it’s not truly unique. It feels very reminiscent of Killzone 3′s Warzone and Operations mode. It is, however, an awesome addition to Max Payne 3′s multiplayer, and it’s something that’ll keep you playing for a while. With constant DLC rolling out for the game, Rockstar has shown that it will be supporting this game at least for the next few months.
Overall, Max Payne 3 is by far my favorite Rockstar game to date. Yes, it’s shorter than Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, but it feels more refined and focused. It has a fantastic single player campaign, with a surprisingly addictive multiplayer mode. No game is without faults however. The higher difficulties can feel cheap and brutal, and the visual style can be overbearing and annoying at times. In this case though, Max Payne 3 rises above any faults it may have to truly stand among the great games of this generation. Whether you’re a fan of the series, or just checking out the game for the first time, Max Payne 3 is an excellent experience that everyone should try.
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