The various churning gears in Max Payne 3 result in one of the best action games to ever be released. Filled with action that has a glint of realism to it while channeling the spirit of classic Hong Kong cinema, Max Payne 3 is an action game that knows what its strengths are and simply plays those up in such a way that they never falter during the single-player campaign. From the acting to how the combat feels and how thought out the multiplayer modes are its almost unreal how good Max Payne 3 is since it delivers on all fronts.
+ Gun combat feels amazing in how the weapons react and how easy aiming is.
+ Graphics have loads of detail and small touches which make the world actually feel tangible.
+ The narrative may not have a GTA amount of depth to it, but Max’s dialog and the tone of the game is perfect for a Max Payne adventure.
+ The acting in the game is perfect as it feels completely natural and James McCaffrey is once again amazing as Max Payne.
+ Multiplayer modes bring some traditional goodness while instilling a mindset in gamers that isn’t CoD: Favela Edition.
- Certain action segments may be too much for some people in how suddenly outlandish they can be.
- The special camera effects used during cutscenes can be a bit much at times.
When something is taken from someone that can sometimes result in the person being broken to the point where they have no reason to live. How is someone supposed to move on in their life when something they’ve cherished has been taken away from them, perhaps in an unjust way? With Max Payne 3 gamers found themselves in a rare situation in which their feelings echoed those of the protagonist, this time a grizzled ex-cop with a penchant for hard liquor. Now none of us may have had our families taken away from us by organized crime, but the changes Rockstar decided to employ may be tantamount to a loved one being killed - at least in the way that some gamers like to over dramatize.
How could gamers move on with Max Payne knowing that Remedy, the original developers, and Sam Lake, the original writer, were no longer attached to a Max Payne project? How could gamers enjoy a Max Payne game that saw Max uprooted from his dark snow laden New York trappings in favor for the more tropical and slightly grungy city that is Sao Paolo, Brazil? Even more, how could gamers expect Rockstar to do something different in the 3rd person shooting genre, which at this point also brings a certain amount of emotional baggage to it as the genre hasn’t seen much in the way of innovation over the last decade? Well, at the end of the day Max Payne 3 once again teaches two simple things: never doubt Rockstar when it comes to crafting a video game and that it’s ok for a series to be altered ever so slightly since it can give us pure gold.
Max Payne 3 is one of those games that right from the moment I booted it up I knew I was in for something special. No, I’m not just easily swayed by seeing the Rockstar logo pop up on screen as I knew from the moment I started controlling the slightly aged Max that the game was going to bring the goods and oh boy does the game some thrilling moments during the course of the single-player campaign. Yes, there are some glaring differences between Max Payne 3 and the old Max Payne games but Rockstar hasn’t changed the fundamentals or presentation of the game so much that it’s complete sacrilege like seeing Mario donning a New Era baseball cap instead of his iconic plumber’s hat. The new additions in Max Payne 3 definitely bring their own set of rules, pluses and minuses, but in the end the entire package is simply a cohesive action noir ride that is one of the best offerings in the genre.
What got me pumped up the most while playing Max Payne 3 is that the action has true weight to it instead of feeling floaty or like I was playing with toys. Now to some out there my comment concerning the “weighty” feel of Max Payne 3 may have folks having flashbacks to some of the clunky moments of Rockstar’s past games such as GTAIV or even Red Dead Redemption which both suffered from moments where it felt like the main character was walking in molasses. But with Max Payne 3 it didn’t feel as if Max had suddenly become a geriatric as he instead felt like a real person in a world that was that equally had as much depth to it.
The weight of Max Payne’s combat is achieved in several ways which in my eyes makes it an action masterpiece, the most obvious of which is the Bullet Time mechanic. At this stage in the life cycle of video games we’ve seen more than enough games do slow-motion mechanics with little or no differences between each other besides having different names and recharge abilities. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Rockstar did tweak Bullet Time in Max Payne 3 which results in the game becoming a complete bullet ballet that is so damn good at times that it would likely receive the nod of approval from John Woo – a man who made a career out of showing men dance around with guns and create an unseemly amount of carnage.
The exact tools and abilities I had while I controlled Max whilst in Bullet Time weren’t radically different as I could still dive forward, backward, or to the side when I needed it and wanted to either perform a stylish kill or get the jump on the enemy. Where Bullet Time exceeds past what has been offered in the past is how it looks and feels. Once I engaged Bullet Time I of course saw Max and his enemies slow to a near crawl for an extended period of time, but seeing every bullet rendered in the environment, the lighting change slightly and special moments occur like an object blowing up or seeing an enemy shake and fall as I riddled his body with bullets is where Rockstar achieves the new standard of detail in action video games.
Shooting a group of enemies in Bullet Time is only a part of what makes Max Payne 3 a stellar, if not THE STELLAR, action game of 2012 as it also needs to be mentioned how Max actually controls. As I said earlier there’s a weighty feeling to how Max moves during sections but it’s realistic and makes sense that a man with a shot liver who’s in his late 40s wouldn’t exactly have the same spring in his step as that of the young adventurer Nathan Drake.
Besides Max have an appropriate sense of speed and general movement, the showstopper in a sense is the free aim control the game offers. Loosely based on what we’ve seen from other 3rd person action games over the last six years, Max Payne 3 presents a control system which allows for complete targeting control no matter what the situation is – even if Max is diving or prone on the ground. It may not sound that special, but Max Payne 3 achieves some of the most fluid control I’ve felt in an action game to the point where whatever targeting errors occurred were only due to errors caused by myself and not that of the game.
The success of the free aim in Max Payne 3 is achieved because it allows such a sense of freedom in where I could place my shots and allowed me to in a way totally envelop myself in the role of Max. It may be silly to say this, but while playing the game I had such an intense feeling that it felt as if every tap of the controller I made was actually pulling the trigger on Max’s guns – the game feels that tight and fluid.
Doing things like nailing a headshot in Max Payne 3 can be easy thanks to the free aim mechanics but at the same time it’s not something that can be abused to the point where it ruins the game. There’s still a high skill level that can be achieved while playing Max Payne 3 so doing consecutive headshots isn’t something that can be achieved right off the bat unless you’re a gaming prodigy or simply have too much time on your hands. There’s also a high challenge level which makes each scenario feel like it truly matters and has a consequence to it instead of feeling like a burden of sorts due to repetitive battles that have little to no differences. Enemies aren’t bullet sponges as they can be taken out easily with a few well-placed shots and thankfully don’t require more than 1 shot to the head to put out of commission. The lack of ultra HP on the enemies combined with their intelligence, enemies will actually flank Max or advance if they’re wearing special gear, gives the game a unique personality since none of the gangs or corrupt cops I battled felt like they were merely given different skins but acted the same.
What really pleased me the most about Max Payne 3 is that it felt as if Rockstar actually took the care to craft each battle in the game so it felt like it was ripped out of a movie whether it be “A Better Tomorrow”, “Collateral”, “Leon: The Professional”, or the legendary “Hard Boiled”. I know that comparing Max Payne 3 to legendary movies in the action genre may be setting hype levels too high, but there’s something special in each battle I endured in Max Payne 3 instead of partaking in throw-away scenarios that were obvious lead-ins to the big showstoppers or were obviously included to pad the length of the game. From shooting up mobsters in a cemetery to causing hell in the streets of Sao Paulo, Max Payne 3 achieves a very stylized feeling that doesn’t throw player control out the window in order to provide something cool. Unlike other games in the genre, Max Payne 3 allowed me to in a way be the choreographer of the battle as I could either stay back and try to pick off enemies through cover and Bullet Time usage, or I could go in old-school by dual-wielding, dodging all over the place, and opting whether or not to drop a car on top of someone or blow up a nearby gas tanker to really make a statement.
Playing a key part in conveying the true danger of the battles were of course the visuals. Once again utilizing the RAGE engine, Max Payne 3 features some stunning visual work as each character and location feels like it was picked out a real place, even if it’s a shady strip club located in the heart of a gang laden favela. From the dirt lined streets to the posh nightclubs, Max Payne 3 is simply riddled with details that never once falter. It’s common for a video game to have a few weak points here and there on the visual front, but Max Payne 3 maintains a high level of quality throughout as all the characters loom implacably good and small details like seeing scruff marks on the leather gun holster Max is wearing simply solidify the world as a real place as opposed to one created out of polygons.
Max’s character model may not feature skin that looks like the real thing or a slight throb to every vein that’s sticking out of his head, but as a whole the game is still stellar to look at. I wouldn’t say that Max Payne 3 is one of the most technically impressive games ever created as it doesn’t quite reach the high tier reached by Uncharted 3. But with that said the amount of work that went on into creating each level of the game and how realistic the favela stage and even the nightclub segment is obvious since the game has a tone more akin to a major Hollywood movie in its production value as opposed to being a video game with a few simple rooms filled with stuff that makes no sense at all.
There’s absolutely no question as to whether Max Payne 3 brings the goods when it comes to presenting a level of stylized action but the question that remained – even as I played is whether the game would live up to the narrative lineage of its predecessors. Rockstar has a knack for creating unique worlds and memorable characters but whether or not that would translate to the noir setting and overly jaded persona of Max Payne was something that I honestly doubted. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to realize that yes, no matter what the game or setting is Rockstar knows how to craft characters and can easily tackle any type of genre – even if it involves a former cop battling personal demons.
The story of the game is rather straightforward in a few areas, save for the twist in the last act, but the dialog and the slight elements of social commentary in the game really make it stand out and have that traditional witty and rather biting Rockstar feel to it. There are a few elements in the story which feel as if they’re pushing the boundaries by becoming a more artful Michael Bay film, but at the end of the day the world of Max Payne 3 and Max himself are still grounded in reality and don’t feel like they’re too implausible – save for a few action sequences that are so damn cool it really doesn’t matter if no one could successfully perform such actions in real life.
Still featuring the same overly cynical monologues that the series is known for, Max Payne 3 really nails Max as a character but more importantly it doesn’t forget about the secondary characters such as Passos, Max’s colleague, and the various high-level businessmen and gang lords that reside in the game. The monologues of Max still have that notorious bit and cynicism to them which this time cover a wider range of topics ranging from Max’s own drunken nature and the incredibly rich and questionable people he’s been hired to protect. The performance by James McCaffrey as Max once again reaches an amazing note as it’s a nuanced performance that doesn’t settle for one direct tone but instead once again shows Max as a complex and ultimately likeable character. Max’s rapport with Passos is in particular a highlight for the game as Passos is an equally thought out character and it was nice to see the relationship between the two not go in the typical buddy cop route but instead delve into a rather dark place.
I don’t know why it was so surprising to me, but the transition of core action in Max Payne 3 from the single-player to the multiplayer mode is probably one of the better games to do such a thing. Most of the time a 3rd person action game will do a decent job of providing multiplayer action, but in Max Payne 3 it really seems like a seamless experience as opposed to one that’s fragmented and feels like a totally different product. Still retaining the Bullet Time action and dodge mechanics, Max Payne 3 delivers what felt to me to be like the first stylized multiplayer action game to be released this generation.
Not only does the multiplayer mode feature the same stunning Rockstar production values, but the way the gun mechanics and controls have been created resulted in an experience that didn’t feel like an obvious game but more like I was partaking in a gun battle ripped out of Hard Boiled or another high-profile Hong Kong action film. Comprising of modes such as team deathmatch, Max Payne 3 also delivers a more tailored and in some ways more tension filled experience with Gang Wars. A team based match, Gang Wars features two teams vying for supremacy as different tasks are issued – all of which are based on what’s’ happening in the actual battle in order to create a multiplayer mode with a thinly veiled narrative.
There have been team based multiplayer modes in the past which have had a mission based structure to them, but Max Payne 3 does a better job at making everything feel focused as the battles aren’t won out of mere luck or who has the better ability/weapon load-out. Even with the all too familiar design trope of special abilities being thrown into the mix that allow greater feats of prowess or in some cases would mess with the other team, Max Payne 3 offers a fairly balanced multiplayer mode in which skill, patience, and teamwork will result in victory as opposed to mindless running and gunning.
The overall package of elements in Max Payne 3 such as the graphics, game design, voice acting, and music all go together in such a perfect way that it once again shows that no matter what goes on and how many millions of dollars are spent that Rockstar Games knows how to produce a video game that exceeds our expectations. Unlike other developers, Rockstar Games really pays attention to every possible element in their projects and that’s what makes them so special as it’s like we’re receiving something akin to a limited edition Sideshow Collectibles statue except it’s a video game.
With only a few small issues, Max Payne 3 is easily one of the best 3rd person action games to be released this generation as it’s stylish yet has a simply astounding amount of details which flesh out the experience and make it feel that much more alive. Simply put, Max Payne 3 is now the gold standard for which future 3rd person shooters should be judged by.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.