Max Payne 3 - Review


When i think about all the great games that defined my childhood and left a permanent impression on me to this day, it's impossible for me not to mention the original Max Payne from 2001 AND its sequel Max Payne 2 from 2003. Aside from featuring a fantastic and incredibly dark film noir story, it introduced "Bullet Time", which set the foundation for all future slow-motion effects in video gaming.

Now in 2012 the long awaited and countlessly delayed third part Max Payne 3 got released by Rockstar Studios. Question is if Max's old-school game mechanics are enough to compete with the third-person-shooters of this generation?



Story


Max Payne 3's story takes place about 8 years after the events of Max Payne 2.
Addicted to Painkillers, hiding from the New Jersey Mafia, and still having problems coping with the past, Max works as a bodyguard along with partner Raul Passos for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco and his family in São Paulo. During a party held in Rodrigo’s penthouse, he and his wife Fabiana are captured by local Sao Paolo gang, the Comando Sombra, during the party, until Max averted their plans and saved both husband and wife. It doesn't take long till the gang would succeed in capturing Fabiana a couple days later in a nightclub. Now, it's up to Max to rescue Fabiana. But little does Max know that there's much more to this simple kidnapping than he thought...

With Max Payne 3 being the first entry in the franchise that's not been developed by Remedy Entertainment but instead Rockstar Studios, it's obvious right from the start that there are changes coming up.

The previous Max Payne games were first class detective film noir stories that both shared the same gritty comic panel narrative style that fans know in love. Simply judging from the game's boxart you can say that there's quite some shift in terms of tone in Max Payne 3.

Obviously oriented on movies like "Man on Fire" and "Die Hard", Max's newest adventure turns out to be more of an action movie story than a film noir story.
This is primarily caused by the game's new setting in Brazil and the pretty straightforward action-oriented story. Aside from the main plot that involves the rescue of Rodrigo Branco's wife, the twists and turns the story takes are far not intense enough to compete with the previous installments' conspiracies.
Max Payne 3 does not entirely take place in the present. Actually the story starts at the end with Max having a big flashback telling how he got there. Additionally, THOSE flashbacks also include flashbacks. This narrative structure is something very new to the Max Payne franchise and is admittedly quite interesting due to the fact that it puts you into different setting and times that you can play through, while at the same time getting more and more clues about Max's backstory.

Although Max Payne 3 tells an undoubtedly solid action story, one cannot shake off the feel that this third entry feels like the black sheep in the franchise...at least storywise. As already mentioned, the complex motivations of the characters from the previous games this time slightly take a backseat to the action.
That doesn't mean that the game isn't full of belivable characters that Rockstar is known for, but in terms of writing there should have been a bit more creativity and more of the film noir style that we fans loved.

While Max Payne 1 & 2 both very heavily focused not only on Max's current mission but also on him coping with the past. Max's past problems (especially the death of his family) are quickly swept aside for the main story. Gone are the nightmare-dream-levels from the predecessors. Only at short moments the death of his family is mentioned, but overall there's as good as no connection between Max Payne 3 and the events from the previous installments. Therefore, great knowledge (or even any knowledge) about the previous games in the franchise is not required for getting Max Payne 3's story.

But my biggest complaint, is Max's character development through the game...because there is none. Each game in the franchise put Max through a different case that in some way always involved his past problems and his inner struggles. It always taught him a lesson (MP1 --> revenge for his family and redemption, MP2 --> new found love with Mona Sax). But in Max Payne 3 all of his main motivations remain kind of shallow, especially when it comes to chapters in which you are just gunning down dozens of brazilian policemen. Except for "rescuing his boss's wife" being his job, there's little reason for Max to keep on going.
At the end, Max is still the bitter and cynical bastard that you started with. Even though the bad guys got what they deserved and you completed your mission, it seems like Max as a character learned nothing from this new adventure. And THAT really bugs me, because it waters down one of the most interesting and complex characters in video games out there. 


Max Payne 3 will kick your ass in Free-Aim-Mode!

Gameplay

There's not really much to say about Max Payne 3's game mechanics. Just like in the previous games, the gameplay is very straightforward and simple: Shoot the bad guys with your guns, you can use bullet time, use painkillers to heal yourself. That's pretty much it.

With Rockstar being so true to the core gameplay mechanics of the previous games, this is both great for fans of the franchise but also tends to be an issue for the game itself. It's no big surprise that many gamers might find the game to quickly get repetetive and boring.
Max Payne 3 is one of those games that are only fun depending on HOW you play it. Of course you can play the game by constantly hiding behind a crate and shoot like your typical cover-based-third-person-shooter nowadays, but this is not the way the game is intended to be played.
Using the bullet time feature that allows you to dodge bullets and shoot by jumping aside in slow-motion is the main feature of the game that absolutely NEEDS to be taken adventage of.
Additionally, the fact that your health does NOT regenerate without using health packs/painkillers, adds more tension and excitement to the game.

It's great to see a game play by old rules that worked so well. But Rockstar Studios also included modern video-game-elements to keep the newest Max Payne adventure up-to-date.
Apart from the usual third-person-gunplay that Max Payne is known for, you will encounter a whole lot of setpiece moments that either put you in a turret-style section, like shooting out of a vehicle, or in a situation that forces you to shoot in bullet-time while being in the most ridiculously awesome moves/situations, like hanging from a helicopter.

Enemy A.I. has been drastically improved. Enemies are really smart: dodging your shots if not accurate enough, using cover efficiently, trying to flank you or spreading their groups to corner you.
Each enemy type reacts differently and has different approaches on killing you, while the enemies get progressively harder to kill as you play through the main story.
Plus, fighting in wide open environments or in small office rooms makes a huge difference in how you tackle each situation. It all comes down to Max Payne 3 featuring the most complex and intense Max Payne gameplay experience in the franchise.

The trademark bullet-time mechanic also received some updates. Next to various enhancments in the animation-department, jumping against an obstacle or wall will end your bullet-time. Also the new "last stand" mechanic gives you the chance to shoot the enemy that killed you in bullet-time as you fall to the ground. If you manage to kill that enemy during your fall, you can avoid death.

For some, those changes are not enough to justify the games linear gameplay.
But just like games like Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Halo, or Gears of War, that basically recycle the same gameplay over and over again, Max Payne 3 is a game that updates a little (for example better damage-models and better animation) but focuses more on what fans WANT and LOVE from Max Payne.

To close this section properly, Max Payne 3's gameplay is probably the biggest aspect that underlines why this game is mostly targeted towards fans of the franchise.
It doesn't reinvent the third-person-shooter genre but it also doesn't have to. It does exactly what Max Payne fans want from the gameplay. Nothing more and nothing less.


Multiplayer

For the first time in the franchise, Max Payne also has a multiplayer.
With this, the franchise also jumps onto the bandwagon that seemingly EVERY game needs a multiplayer-component. To be fair, there are exceptional games like Uncharted that presented a suprisingly solid and fun online-competetive AND cooperative gameplay. But then there are also the bad examples like the tacked on multiplayer of games like Dead Space 2, that are just so obviously games meant to be a single player experience.

With Max Payne 3 there are expectedly some team-based game modes that put you against the enemy team. Game modes like "Gang Wars" that give each team a different objective over the course of the match, stick out but not by a whole lot.
Like the Uncharted multiplayer you can activate perks to give you an advantage over the enemy. The real innovation here is the clever implementation of bullet time. Other games like "F.E.A.R.2" for example flatout excluded the possibility to slow down time in multiplayer. In Max Payne 3 bullet time can be triggered by locking onto an enemy for a specific time and keeping him in your aiming sight while jumping.
It works quite well and makes for chaotic but pretty fun matches, but among the "been there done that"-game modes, the multiplayer may be a nice addition but remains mediocre and forgettable compared to the "big boys" in the online-gaming business.

A cooperative single player experience would have been pretty awesome though.


Bullet-Time is back in full glory and has even been improved.

Graphics

Typical for Rockstar Studios, Max Payne 3's graphics are top notch. Environments are created in great detail (especially the favela) and character models as well as animations look extremely real.

Nowadays, it's pretty hard for games to shock the player with extreme violence. Violent games get released left and right in this generation. And even though Max Payne 3 is basically a standard third-person-shooter, the damage models and bullet penetration feature a level of detail that it makes it hard not to stare at it like you'd be staring at a car accident: Limbs get ripped off by explosions, each modeled bullet can rip off pieces of enemies' faces, bullets cause three-dimensional wounds, etc.

It all comes down to Max Payne 3 being probably the most gruesome game developed by Rockstar Studios to date (yes, even by Rockstar standards).

But among all the praise there are still some artistic missteps.
Instead of showing the cutscenes through comicbook panels like in Max Payne 1 & 2, this time Rockstar Studios decided to go with traditional motion captured in-game cutscenes.
Of course this would be totally legit in this day and age, but the cutscenes are accentuated by weird, trippy digital distortion effects and random words from the current dialogue that pop up on screen.
Those effects are honestly overdone and annoy quite a bit, even if they are just present in the cutscenes.
The digital distortion effects obviously are a big part of Max Payne's redesigned style and are probably supposed to underline the atmosphere of a drunk wreck of a man trapped in today's electronic times.

Although i appreciate the creativity, i found this style unappropriate for a Max Payne game and hope for a change in future installments.
 

Sound

Voice acting throughout the entire experience is perfect. Both, the dialogue (not the plot) and voice acting turn out great with Max's iconic monologues and cynical attitude. Foreign accents and languages are delivered very believable. Although the Portuguese dialogue-parts are not translated in the subtitles to supposedly underline Max's confusion considering the language, it would have been nice to at least have the option.

Gun sounds are superb and have the punch they need, along with accurate sound-slow-down-timing when activating bullet time.

The score is near flawless. It further pursues the motive of Max in an electronic world with plenty of disco beats (thankfully mostly during party levels) but also adapts to each level with appropriate tracks (like metallic-drum music in favela levels). Of course the well-known Max Payne theme is also present.
Overall, it's a great score but i could use less of the electronic beats and more of the traditional Max Payne cello score from the previous games. But that's just a personal nitpick.


Damage and wounds on enemies are disturbingly detailed.

The Verdict

All in all, Max Payne 3 is a solid entry in the franchise. Regarding the simplicity of the old game mechanics, Rockstar Studio still managed to improve and develop them with high production values and finesse, to make for a great action experience.

For fans, seeing Max return after such a long time and in fabulous HD is a treat all by itself. Yet still, Max's new look and style might alienate some. With this new installment going for a new digital-distortion-man-on-fire style and narrative structure it doesn't completely feel like it belongs to the Max Payne trilogy. Following a far simpler action movie plot that treats Max like he's just another shallow actionhero rather than a film noir plot with character development and complexity, sure wasn't the best move.

It's a solid story and game, but considering the long time Max Payne 3 was in the making, i just wished that Rockstar Studios would have put at least as much effort in the plot as they did in the game mechanics, graphics and voice acting. (And NO! the mediocre multiplayer doesn't make up for that.)

I would only suggest Max Payne 3 for fans of the franchise who undoubtedly will enjoy every second of it. For non-fans or gamers affraid of the game's tedium, it is a perfect rental.

This sure isn't the last we've heard from Max. Here's hoping the developers don't stop improving the gameplay and go back to the franchise's roots regarding the story.



Final Verdict: 8 out of 10

Status: Great!

 

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