By Yuri "Xcalybr713" Lis
After a nine year hiatus, Max Payne makes a much-anticipated return for the third entry in the series(albeit with Rockstar at the helm instead of Remedy Entertainment). From the outset, the title may seem like just another third-person action game, but dismissing it as such would be a grave mistake.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Max Payne is a third-person cover-based shooter(with an emphasis on the word “cover”). Our anti-hero is an ex-NYPD detective whose wife and daughter were brutally murdered in the first installment, and after a downward spiral of murder and revenge, has decided to leave the United States and head south to drown his sorrows in a gross of scotch and painkillers. We find our protagonist in the sun drenched city of Sao Paulo, Brazil where he has become a hired bodyguard in the employ of Rodrigo Branco(a well-respected Brazilian aristocratic businessman). At a rooftop party for the Brancos'(which is seemingly normal enough), all hell breaks loose and the tycoon’s wife is kidknapped by a group of armed thugs. It would seem that Max just can’t catch a break long enough for some fun in the sun- and this is where the real game begins.
From a presentational standpoint, the environments are stunning to behold with texture, lighting and water effects that rival some of the best that video gaming has to offer. The noire overtone, expertly crafted music, and cutscenes stay consistent to the franchise’s universe. They give the game a look and feel that is unique to the genre. Throughout the game, Max is constantly spouting off sarcastically witty one-liners and morbidly deep self-analysis, which give the player insight into his own mental and emotional demons. Because of the internal play-by-play commentary by Max’s pysche, the player is always constantly immersed in the game world. Come to think of it, there is a reminiscence of the narratative voice-over that is found in Bastion, albeit with a decidely darker tone.
The game’s mechanics are definitely worth noting as well. The frequency of checkpoints can be mildly frustrating at times, even with the inclusion of an autosave system. The player will be forced to repeat certain sections over and over(because you WILL die, and often) as a result. Also, Rockstar elected to retain the same recovery system as the previous entries in the series. This means pill-popping to regain health as Max does NOT heal over time. At first it might takes some getting used to(since most modern games use the hide-and-heal approach), but by doing so, they manage to keep the retro feel of the game intact. Even with these annoyances, I do applaud the team for a few design deciscions that help to keep the normal game frustrations to a minimum. The first would be the slow motion kill cam, which is activated when the last enemy in an area is killed. This completely eliminates instances where all enemies are thought to be dead, only to come out of cover and realize there is still one last sneaky assassin in a corner that sends you to the “Game Over” screen. Another nifty touch is that the aiming reticle on-screen that turns from a (dot) to an (x) when an foe is struck with a kill shot- no more wondering if an enemy is dead only to have them unknowingly rise again. Brillant! I’m not sure why more games don’t follow suit, but I assure you that they should. These may sound like minor improvments, but they make a world of difference in a game of this nature. The key feature, though, that makes Max Payne 3 stand out in a crowded shooter market is the franchise-specific “Bullet Time”. This feature allows the player to slow down time at will in order to create some of the best one-off moments in gaming. Headshots are now so vivid and memorable that you will be bragging about your newfound slow-mo marksmanship. It’s THAT fun.
Max Panye 3 also contains collectibles and, while not usually a fan of such things, the implementation here is actually quite genius. Instead of picking up a set of items for some specific “Collect X Number of Things” achievement, the game makes collection an intregral part of the experience. For each level, gamers are tasked with gathering Golden Gun Parts and Clues. When you find a clue, Max will speak(out loud), giving you a tidbit of insight as to his motivations and those of the people he’s after. Basically, it acts almost as an optional backstory and, very much so, adds to the overall experience. The Golden Gun Parts, however, are tied directly into the gameplay. On any given chapter, there will be 2-3 guns to find and each are broken down into 3 parts. Once the player finds all three pieces to a specific weapon, it will be gold, have 10% damage bonus, and an extended clip- FOR THE REST OF THE GAME. I was actually eager to complete all the golden guns, even if only for offering the best chance for survival. And let’s face it- who doesn’t love gold-plated guns?
The fact -in my mind- is that Max payne 3 seems to be an increasingly better game as you progress from level to level. The three-part story arc is told through flashbacks, which take players to different locales through each of the game’s 14 chapters(it is not short by any means). The narrative culminates in a very interesting and satisfying conclusion, and once you’ve finished the story, you can replay chapters in any order and from any one autosaved checkpoint, which was a welcome surprise.
The multiplayer, while fun, is nothing to write home about. It does provide the chance to stay immersed in the world of Max Payne with some friends, though- just in the case you weren’t quite ready to leave the universe.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Max Payne 3. It puts forth a mature story, tight gameplay, and well-done cutscenes with a fantastic noire-style narration that is told with a witty sarcasm that only Max Payne could deliver. I couldn’t help but be reminded of John McClane in Die Hard while playing, and that’s a GOOD thing. The only real gripes here are the slow start and the so-so checkpoint system, but other than that, if you are a fan of the franchise or a newcomer to the series, almost all gamers owe it to themselves to check this one out.