Max Payne 3

Platforms: PC, PS3, X360
Release Date: May 15, 2012 (PS3, X360) June 1, 2012 (PC)
Genre: Action, Third Person Shooter
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Games
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PressPlay Score 10 Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3 is a gritty, story-focused, action-packed masterpiece, highlighting everything that made the series great while moving toward what feels like an extension of Remedy’s original vision.


Max Payne is back, baby!

Would you like to dive out of a second story window shooting Brazilian terrorists in the face, while watching slow-motion cutaways of enemies’ skin being seared from their skulls by bullets? If you answered yes to that question then Max Payne 3 is the game for you! How many gigabytes of your PC’s hard drive would you dedicate to such an experience? 1,000? 500? Well what if I told you that you could have Max’s thrilling new saga for a compact install of just 35 gigabytes? What’s that- still a huge install? Well suck it up, because that’s how much space Rockstar‘s latest chapter in the franchise will be inhabiting on your PC and there’s nothing you can do about it! All joking aside, Max Payne 3 is a gritty, story-focused, action-packed masterpiece, highlighting everything that made the series great while moving forward towards what feels like an extension of Remedy‘s original vision.

Max Payne’s latest adventure picks up a good deal later than his last outing, and Max has dropped his lifestyle of renegade violence in favor of a quieter life, acting as a rich Brazilian family’s personal bodyguard. It turns out however, that he’s not quite as good at wanton  murder and destruction when there’s somebody to protect, because the VIP he’s guarding gets nabbed in the first five minutes of the game. This begins a sprawling story of Max and his police academy friend Raul Passos searching all over Brazil to find the woman they were supposed to protect. The story in this game, progressing from MacGuffin to MacGuffin with the kind of scenery-chewing gusto that wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay film, benefits from well-realized characters and an interesting backdrop, if perhaps not the brainiest script.

Despite on turning its back on themes of the previous games, we still get some Classic Max.

Fans may remember waging a one-man war against pretty much every mobster in New York in the first game. Max Payne 3 conspicuously leaves out any reference to our hero’s previous murder rampage, as well as just about every character from the second game. Much of the more out-there humor from Max Payne 2 has been curbed as well, though episodes of “Captain Baseball Bat Boy” can be seen, this time in their full animated glory, on televisions throughout the game. I can only assume that baggage from the other titles was kept hidden away because Rockstar is taking the series in its own direction, but as a fan it’s a bit strange to see such elephants in the room go unaddressed. This doesn’t hinder the story the game is trying to tell however, and newcomers should be relieved to know that it stands almost completely on its own.

As Max shoots his way through São Paolo, his gunplay is much more grounded. Gone is the magic trenchcoat from the first games, holding every gun Max was able to pick up, in favor of only two sidearms and a primary weapon. What’s unique about Max Payne 3′s handling of weapon inventory is he can only carry as much as he can hold in his hands… literally. Though able to holster his two sidearms, any primary gun Max grabs has to be held in his off hand, forcing him to drop the larger weapon if switching to dual pistols. This adds a fresh take on shooter gameplay, giving players a choice between the rapid-fire maneuverability of dual cannons or carrying a reliable, high-caliber two-handed weapon.

This looks shocking now, but after a prolonged gunfight it's extremely satisfying.

The series’ signature Bullet Time and “Shoot Dodge” systems make a return as well, this time adding “Last Man Standing.” This new feature kicks in when Max loses all his health, and slows time as he’s falling to the ground to get revenge on whoever shot him. If he shoots his attacker before dying, he is given a second wind. Also returning are the final ‘kill cams’ for downing the last enemy in a room, allowing Max to dump all of his bullets in a slow motion cutaway that can actually be pretty brutal. Bullets will literally explode out of the back of an enemy’s head, and combined with the game’s new physics systems, it can look shockingly realistic.

Physics and animations were a big talking point for Rockstar leading up to this game’s release, and all the hard work definitely doesn’t go to waste here. Every move Max makes has a kind of weight that’s never really been seen in a video game. The studio took great care to make sure Max’s feet realistically step and twist so that it doesn’t feel like he’s floating around as he runs. When jumping or diving, Max will also intelligently try to break his fall no matter what position he’s contorted in, and when he’s laying on the ground after a dive he can move 360 degrees to shoot enemies all around him. These things may sound trivial on paper, but when you see them in action on screen it’s truly a sight to behold. The physics engine also makes the enemies react to every shot in the exact point of impact, often more realistically than gamers are used to seeing. For example, soldiers who are shot in the knee will crumple to the ground and cower or try to crawl away to regain their strength, and ones shot in the chest can be knocked off their feet, making shooting specific body parts an engaging puzzle. In a smart move, the game shows a Call of Duty-like X over the crosshairs only when an enemy is killed, because the animations are so realistic that many times it’s hard to tell who went down in a larger firefight.

Epic moments like this will switch seamlessly from gameplay to cutscene and back again.

A strong comic book style has been one of the most enduring features of the series’ presentation, and in Max Payne 3 this graphic novel-esque marriage of story and gameplay is truly realized. Instead of static screens with text boxes and narration from Max, players are treated to an always-on approach, where Max is constantly narrating as text and other effects flicker onto the screen in a kind of belligerent, fading way that reflects his own mental state. Cutscenes are handled with the screen-splitting effect to evoke the comic book feel, but using video all rendered in real-time, allowing us to see whatever wounds Max incurred in the last battle or the guns he picked up. The transition from gameplay to cutscene and back again is a smooth one, as there are literally no load times throughout the game. This makes the game feel like an action movie that’s constantly driving forward, and keeps a “carrot on a string” approach throughout, as there is never a clear point to stop playing. Being a former detective, Max still searches for clues throughout the world, which offer optional exposition about missions at hand.

The game’s soundtrack, performed by Los Angeles rock band HEALTH, fits perfectly into the tone of the game, despite some bold steps being taken from the film noir feel of the first games’ soundtracks. Series veteran James McCaffrey turns in another great performance as the titular character, this time sporting more grizzled pessimism than heavy-handed poetry, and the rest of the voice cast is pitch-perfect in typical Rockstar fashion. Highlighting the ‘fish out of water’ theme of the story, there is no attempt to subtitle the non-English speaking characters, leaving players just as disoriented as our hero.

Much of Max Payne 3 feels like a 70's buddy cop movie, and the story benefits from it.

The campaign in Max Payne 3, more 70′s buddy cop movie than lone wolf vigilante flick, is surprisingly emotionally draining throughout its eight or so hours. Several major twists, exhaustive scenery changes and huge set pieces ensure that this story experience won’t soon be forgotten. Arcade modes unlocked after completing missions of the campaign ensure replay value for score-oriented players, and there are collectibles scattered throughout each mission for completionists.

Also in the package is a surprisingly full-featured multiplayer mode. While the expected Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are included, there are a few exciting Max-specific gametypes called “Payne Killer” and “Gang Wars.” Payne Killer is a juggernaut style mode where two players are Max and Passos, fighting against the world. Gang Wars is a constantly shifting objective-based mode that actually adds a sort of story to the action and fits nicely into the canon of the Payne universe.

Crazy moments like this tend to happen a lot in the multiplayer modes...

As for the basic combat, there is an extremely wide range of skills at play. Players can earn money as they level up, buying new weapons and unlocks, while also choosing “Bursts,” which replace Max’s bullet time with an optional perk. Players can loot each other to get much-needed supplies or adrenaline for their Burst meters, and there can even be a round of Counter Strike-esque betting before matches. A system for exacting revenge on players dominating one another adds a fresh bit of excitement, essentially wagering that the dominated player will kill his foe the next time they encounter each other. The multiplayer really feels like Rockstar put a lot of thought and love into all the details, and it seems like it could have some legs in the extremely competitive online shooter space.

It would have been so easy for Rockstar to play it safe and make another viking-themed New York shootfest, but as they have proved time and again, playing it safe just isn’t in their nature. Max’s new adventure changes so many aspects of what players have come to expect that series veterans will feel like newcomers in this new experience, though at its core this is still Max Payne and every change feels like an evolution. Lined throughout the gameplay and thematic overhauls of Max Payne 3 is an underlying respect and devotion to everything that made the original games great, and it’s nice to know how much Rockstar really cares about the series’ new direction. Despite bringing down your network to download the 35 gigabyte file through Steam, Max Payne 3 is an unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss.

PressPlay Score 10 Max Payne 3


Nick Hawryluk is the senior producer, director and editor of Press Play the Webseries. He also runs and contributes articles to the Press Play website. 

*This review was conducted on the PC version of the game. 

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