I’m going to start this review with a simple sentence: Rockstar does not know how to make a bad game. They’ve really proved themselves on the storytelling side with Red Dead Redemption, and while Max Payne 3 doesn’t have as strong a narrative or as interesting characters as Red Dead Redemption, past fans of the series will feel right at home with the constant action found in Max Payne 3.
Max Payne is a troubled man. His family is dead, gangs are constantly on his trail, and the past he’s trying to leave behind is constantly catching up with him. To “get away” from the pain, he resorts to uncontrolled drinking and taking pain killers, both of which leave him senselessly drunk. The story in Max Payne 3 follows Max as he takes up a security job in Sao Paulo, Brazil to protect a rich family and their interests. However, when the wife of the man he’s protecting is kidnapped, things go completely out of control.
The story in Max Payne 3 is pretty good. There are plenty of twists and turns just when you think you finally understand what’s going on and then something else is thrown into the mix. Throughout the game, you’ll see Max go through a transformation as a character, hence the shaving of the head. What’s really interesting about the story though is how Rockstar managed to tell the backstory at the same time as the main story plays out. You’ll go back and forth between Max’s characters seeing him before he takes up the job in Sao Paulo and the events leading up to his current crisis. Loading screens are masked by cutscenes, which is a great idea by Rockstar and one that I hope carries over to other games. As soon as the cutscene is over, it seamlessly transitions back into gameplay.
The one major issue I had with the story of Max Payne 3 was the characters. None of them are really all that fleshed out, aside from your security partner, Passos. Basically every major enemy character in the game is just placed there to give you someone to kill, aside from the crimes they’ve committed. If you find this writing to be a bit choppy, it’s simply because it’s very hard to explain the story without spoiling anything major; every part of the story is intertwined in some way or another. Even so, the gameplay that carries the story along will leave you very satisfied when the credits roll.
Max Payne 3 doesn’t do anything entirely different to stand out in the third person shooter genre. However, it does hold true to the trailers description of having the accuracy of the first person shooter and an animation system unrivaled by most games in the genre. The only game that comes close to Max Payne 3 in the animation department is the Uncharted series. The superb animation system in place, via the Euphoria dynamic animation engine, gives the game a sense of realism that other games simply don’t have, further immersing you in the experience.
One disappointing aspect of the game for me was Bullet Time, surprisingly. Yes, at first it’s like “holy hell, I just jumped down about five series of rafters and took out 8 guys with headshots”, but after the first few times you use it, you realize it’s just another slow motion gimmick–which plenty of other shooters already have. Luckily, the difficulty level of the AI, even on Normal, will almost require you to use Bullet Time effectively to survive. Another issue is the lack of variety in the gameplay. At some points, the game seems to want you to be stealthy, even giving you a suppressed weapon to take out your foes, but as soon as you even look up from cover to aim at an enemy, every enemy in the room knows exactly where you are, which got quite annoying and may even be the reason why the difficulty level of the game seems so high. These little complaints however are far outweighed by the superb animation system and precision shooting.
I’m almost surprised at the visuals in Max Payne 3. At some points, the game looks fantastic with the ridiculously detailed favelas, and a great lighting system. But, other environments are show up looking very bland and boring. Once the gun fight starts though, you won’t recognize the environment you were just in, especially the office environments, which there are a lot of. When the guns start firing, papers start flying and whatever cover your behind will be gone within seconds, forcing you to move. The particle effects are quite the spectacle as well. Shooting an enemy with bullet protection will send sparks flying when a bullet is deflected. If an enemy is standing near a glass window, when shot, will be sent crashing through the window falling to whatever ground lies below. Gore is also shown in all its glorious detail. When using Bullet Time, you can slow down time even further to watch the bullet travel through the enemy, seeing blood splatter everywhere. It’s the little details the make Max Payne 3 a graphical pleasure.
The soundtrack and voice acting, as expected from Rockstar, is top notch. The soundtrack fits in perfectly with the South American setting and has those beats that just get you pumped up for the action that’s to come. The behind the scenes commentary from Max is great to listen to during gameplay. You basically get an insight to his thoughts about the situation and some of his backstory, while playing the game. If you’ve played Bastion, it’s somewhat similar to that.
Many fans were worried about the multiplayer component of the game, fearing that it would just be one of those after thoughts. Luckily for you, it’s not. There’s hundreds of things to unlock, plenty of different game modes to play and is overall just adding another layer of content without feeling tacked on. You have your standard game modes, such as Team Deathmatch, but there’s also a mode called Gang Wars, which has you playing 5 round games with different objectives to complete each round. These objectives can range from planting bombs to having a bounty placed on the top player from the last round. Bullet Time is also available in the multiplayer modes and when used, anyone in your field of view enters Bullet Time as well (including your teammates). Surprisingly enough, it actually works pretty well without feeling too cheap.
Max Payne 3 is easily one of this year’s top releases, and as I said when I started this review, Rockstar doesn’t know how to make a bad game. Some longtime fans of the series may feel that the brighter environments and more action, less noir style is too big of a change. I recommend you embrace the change and play Max Payne 3. It’s one of the best third person shooters this generation in my opinion and should not be passed up by any fan of Rockstar Games.
(Xbox 360 review copy provided by Rockstar Games for review, thanks from Only SP!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Gameplay – 9.0
Graphics – 8.5
Sound – 9.0
Control – 10
Replay Value – 8.5
Overall – 9.0/10