Review: Max Payne 3

Despite Mark Wahlberg’s best efforts, I still consider myself a Max Payne fan. Many would think over ten years after the first PlayStation 2 classic, Max Payne wouldn’t be able to offer anything more than the same monotone monologues, blood covered snow, and gritty characters. Yet, Max Payne 3 magnificently shrugs off every preconceived notion, proving an aged protagonist can still breathe new life into an old franchise.

The basics are pretty much the same as the previous titles, but more polished than dress shoes before Sunday morning service (or some other cheesy Max Payne one-liner). Multiple enemies are taken on at a time, ducking behind cover and vaulting out in bullet time to make quick work of those in your way. New to Max Payne are impressive vehicular sequences where heavy duty firepower is used to take out threats — and even knock missiles right out of the sky. Transitions in and out of bullet time are all but seamless and the shooting mechanics are superb.

The coolest additions to the game are Last Man Standing and bullet cam manipulation. If Max Payne has a bottle of uppers on hand, and he takes an otherwise lethal shot, the player gets one last chance to kill his enemy before either time or bullets run out. Not having to worry about doping up during a firefight makes gameplay much less cumbersome. Bullet cam manipulation allows the player to slow down the cinematic of the last kill in the room, pumping an already dead enemy full of lead. It’s an awesome addition to the already enjoyable gameplay. Bullet time might be trademarked by Warner Bros., but it’s owned by Max Payne.

The sound is great, mixing dynamic effects with a limited yet diverse score from noise-rock band HEALTH. The sound effects when warping in and out of bullet time significantly improves the time distortion experience (as in the first two entries). The game boasts some impressive voice acting as well. Those loyal to FX’s long running hit show Rescue Me will recognize James McCaffrey lending his voice to the titular character. Payne’s raspy voice and squinty eyes unmistakably belong to McCaffrey, who also voiced the character in both of the previous entries. McCaffrey does a superb job of delivering dry but funny one-liners like “I had a hole in my second favorite drinking arm.”

Max Payne 3 is visually pleasing as well. Shooting different textures and surfaces doesn’t display the generic bullet hole. Wood splinters, glass shatters, metal dents. Most importantly, flesh tears: leading to some of the most realistic entry and exit wounds in a game to date. Size up for a higher caliber round and the exit wounds will be proportionately larger than the entry wounds. The game is violent, but not without the focus on bigger demons looming over Payne. In scene after scene, he kills himself with even more disregard than the men he executes on the job. Max Payne, being an alcoholic painkiller addict, makes for mind numbing in-game cinematics.

The art direction is brilliant (though not surprising from RockStar). During Payne’s more significant binges, the blurriness of the cutscenes intensify. All of this is accomplished in a variety of levels, ranging from snowy Jersey flashbacks to uppity yacht parties gone bloodbath, and from speedboat pursuits to Brazilian streets turned warzone. There are hardly one or two levels that seem redundant, making Max Payne 3 enjoyable throughout.

There are also subtler details that make the game even more fun. Dilly-dally and cause Max to enter his token noire-style narratives about things like the dangers of procrastination. Shell casings eject chaotically in live time firefights, but float with grace in bullet time. Watch a dead soldier’s portable TV. Find pianos and practice Max Payne’s theme song throughout the game. While seemingly subtle, these nuances bring a richness to the game that can’t be beat.

Playing the game once isn’t enough. Every area in the game will have at least a couple of environmental aids that go unused and unnoticed until after the battle is won. There’s a golden gun mode that rewards the player for assembling hidden items by arming them with a higher ammo capacity. Among the three typical difficulties, there’s also hardcore and old school modes to play through. Then there are grinds. Grinds allow the player to rack up a variety of kills, completing bronze, silver, and gold level challenges. Finish with those and there’s also New York Minute mode (regular and hardcore). The player is faced with time trials of memorable in-game firefights. These modes are obviously more for those who wish to experience… wait for it… max pain.  

Not only is there a rich single player mode, but a surprisingly entertaining multiplayer as well. The concept is the same. Shoot and kill for bullet time, then use it to stay alive. Join groups with your friends and actually earn bonus points for playing together. Loyal gamers are rewarded by tiered access to different kinds of multiplayer modes. While not the best multiplayer out there, it’s definitely one of the best third person shooter multiplayers.

Closing Comments:

Skeptics and hardcore fans alike should agree that Max Payne 3 is the best so far in the series. While it doesn’t have any revolutionary new additions, it’s classic shooting bliss. Story-wise, it even brings about the most closure Max Payne could ever have. It’s a great addition to anyone’s collection and one of the best Rockstar releases yet. Simply put, Max Payne 3 is plain old awesome.