A grand legacy
We can't really talk about Max Payne 3 without first of all revisiting Max 1 and 2. The Max Payne games were the original bullet time noir based gritty third person shooter than didn't require cover mechanics and allowed shoot-dodging and sweet bullet cam effects, wrapped around a film noir story that was full of betrayal, twists and psychological trauma, with some amazing voice acting and some unforgettable dialogue lines.
"Its fear that gives men wings..."
Flash forwards many years later and it's the turn of Rockstar to bring Max Payne out of retirement...and what a job they've done of it. Max Payne 3 is worthy of the legacy that is Max in more ways than one.
Max is no longer a cop in 3, he's quit the force, he's moved out of the US to elsewhere and he spends his time body-guarding rich kids and drinking, popping pills. He's the Max we know and love from the previous games only brought to life in a really brutal manner and through visceral story-driven cut-scenes that are Rockstar's greatest yet. We are not going to mention much about the story or locations the game takes place in, we don't want to spoil a single moment of that extensive storytelling and experience.
Take a dash of Max Payne 1 and 2, throw in some cover based mechanics from previous shooters and keep everything nigh-on the same as the previous games in terms of shoot-dodging and bullet time. Have a limited inventory for guns, providing Max with the option to dual wield certain combinations of weapons, such as a pistol in one hand and an uzi in the other and you have the perfect recipe for a faithful recreation of a beloved franchise, right there.
The control system for the game has you ducking into cover, leaping out dramatically in bullet-time slow motion as Max arcs from one place to the next. It all comes intuitively and as a Max Payne vet it was like putting on a pair of red shoes and learning to dance the blues again, it came as naturally as humming the theme song. It is extremely satisfying and Rockstar do plenty to make you work for your kills even on the lowest difficulty for the game. If you let it, Max Payne 3 will kick your ass repeatedly.
They also switch the game up with some refreshing scripted action sequences that put the control of Max's gun in your hand, so you are immersed in that movie moment and can make a definite outcome for the fight ahead. Add to this the fact that you can also look down the scope of some of the guns in first person, and you pretty much have one of the best third person action shooters on the market so far ready for some tender loving mayhem.
It is pretty amazing how tactically you can make Max Payne 3's fights as you look for opportunities to thin the enemy numbers down, cause enough collateral damage to make them think twice about rushing you head on and keep yourself from being turned into a bullet sponge by even the weakest enemy. Knowing when to use bullet time, when to shoot-dodge and when to remain tucked behind cover are important tactics to learn, since running and gunning will often lead Max into more trouble than he can handle.
Movement, Aiming, shooting and moment to moment gameplay are handled with a fine eye to precision fun and the combat is brutally superb. It's the kind of game that you can replay due to the sheer visceral nature of it and just how well it all hangs together, not to forget that there are collectible golden gun parts to find and challenges to beat that give you bragging rights as well as other things.
You can press a button to slow down the bullet camera as well, so you can get a good look at your devastating shot in slow motion.
The game uses checkpoints to save and they are pretty well designed, there's not too much you have to do if you die at certain points in the game, there are however a few moments where the checkpoints could have been more frequent, since there were times where we had to replay a fight over and over again until we got it right. Frustrating but fun.
Max Payne 3 is a nice looking game, it's also a noir-style gritty game with a dour palette at times and this fits the theme perfectly (be warned there are some epileptic crazy sequences when text pops up over the cinematic scenes as Max narrates). The level of detail on everything is truly superb and the models for Max and everyone else are insanely detailed. Max's whole look also changes as the game progresses, rather like Batman in Arkham Asylum or City - the more Max's story goes towards the darker side of things, the more Max looks beaten up and grizzled. The lighting engine performs admirably and there are no frame rate issues whatsoever even if things get insane during some of the later levels.
Bullet cams and slow motion effects are beautifully done in this engine and Rockstar have brought their A-game to Max Payne for sure.
Euphoria is back and tweaked to near-perfection. It is once again tied into the physics system of the game and provides the most tactile feedback in a shooter yet. Max actually smashes into obstacles and they look as though they hurt. Slide backwards, shoot-dodging away from an enemy and hit a table in the way, Max conforms to the hit and reacts to it just like you would expect a real body to. If he carries on over the table and ends up down a flight of stairs, you can feel every bone wracking crunch as he thumps down.
If Max hits a wall, you'll see him slam against it. He takes a few moments to recover, he gets winded, in short, the animation here isn't canned and it's not scripted. It's a true iteration of Euphoria and it makes skeletal animation heaven for the game. It doesn't just go for Max and his gruelling physical reactions either, it works in terms of gun handling and aiming. If Max is actively holding a bigger weapon in one hand whilst he shoots with his other, he will do just that and reload by tucking the gun under his arm.
If you are running him one way and shooting at a bad guy that's behind him, Max will pivot and draw a bead on the guy as you continue to run to cover. In short, it's nothing short of amazing and probably some of the best animation to come from a game to date.
If you get up close and personal there's a real sense of power to the move, Max can shove the guy away and then put the business end of his gun to good use. It all looks realistic too and works so well.
Finally all this animation goes for the bad guys as well, so they use the weapons like Max, they get into cover like Max and if they are killed they don't have a canned animation. They crumple based on the bullet, where they're hit, the weapon's force and numerous factors. Again, this is truly fantastic to watch in action.
Max Payne 3 has a robust physics engine that delivers great explosions, devastating force and some superb cover degradation. In short it does everything it needs to and ties in with the animation system to provide even more solid visceral action combat.
Max Payne 3 has good solid AI. They know how to use cover, they know when to run and they know how to hurl a well placed grenade. They will get curious if you remain in cover, try to flank you and at times they'll be stupid enough to come and check around that corner where you're hiding, just so you can give them a taste of shotgun up close and personal.
There are no real issues with it, so that's about all we can say on the matter.
A good solid sound system runs through the game, the audio is top notch and it's expected from Rockstar. So no complaints here either. The guns sound great and the various environmental sound effects are superbly done.
Ahhh, the music for the game is great. Once you hear that old Max Payne theme kick in, all the memories come flooding back and you're shoot-dodging with the best of them. It doesn't get much better than that. It is a nostalgia trip - music by Health, whom we have never heard of but they're pretty good!
Max's voice actor is spot on, the grizzled noir tones of Max Payne come flooding out without a second thought and the rest of the cast do a fantastic job of bringing this story to life.
The writing is noir, it's sharp and it is gritty. It takes you on a rollercoaster ride where some of the reveals are telegraphed a little bit too much, but it is immensely satisfying to see the whole thing play out. There are no duff lines and some really outstanding script that drives the narrative to a great conclusion.
We could do a whole review just on the MP aspect of the game, but we can say that this is right on par with the innovative Red Dead multiplayer and combines the same attention to detail as the single player. It plays really well, it is great for vets or for new players and there's a real feeling of luck involved with many of the firefights.
MP 3 is basically just as intense online as it is in single player, with bullet-time working via Line of Sight and catching anyone in that radius as well as offering tactical combat for the players via the use of bursts, which reminds us of Uncharted 2 etc. A further comparison to Uncharted 3 comes when you look at Gang Wars, which is basically the factions from the single player fighting it out through story based, constantly evolving scenarios.
It is excellent and you have to try it out yourself to really get the feel of it. Dynamic changes to the story happen based on the outcome of each round, it really freshens up multiplayer and makes things far more cinematic and fun.
Payne Killer lets you play as Max or his buddy Raul, kill either of those and you assume the identity, every player is going to be gunning for you and it's a hell of a lot of fun to try out.
There's also Deathmatch...
The Bursts offer a lot of tactical opportunity, with such Bursts as trigger happy that gives you a massive arsenal and Sneaky, that tricks the opposition into thinking a teammate of yours is on their side.
Crews form a vital part of the game and you can join them for extra XP, other rewards and Crews also carry over across other Rockstar titles such as GTA V.
In a nutshell, MP 3 multiplayer is fun, frenetic and a whole lot of value when combined with the single player game style story and narration for the Gang Wars mode. There are customisation features and levelling up, all of the things that we've come to expect from a multiplayer game...all tied in with Rockstars attention to detail.
Matches are mostly lag free and the matchmaking is solid.
The Late Goodbye...
Max Payne 3 stands out as a great shooter and a worthy successor to the franchise, proving once again that Rockstar are the best at taking their ideas forwards in terms of solid single player mechanics and interesting multiplayer ones too. It is a game that any Max Payne fan needs to play and own. Be warned, it comes on 2 discs.