Game Review: ‘Max Payne 3’ for XBox 360

This past twelve months has been marked by the return of long awaited franchises. Whether critical and commercial flops like Duke Nukem Forever or sensations like Diablo III, nostalgia has played a big role in gaming recently. Also returning after a eight and a half year hiatus is Max Payne 3. Despite a terrible movie, the franchise has returned to PC and consoles with one of the most surprisingly violent games so far in 2012.

Gameplay

Max Payne 3 can best be described as an evolution of the series. Instead of just spouting off a sequel with refined graphics and new locales, there is an evolution to the gameplay of this third person shooter. In the early Payne games, Max’s actions revolved around ducking out from behind corners and going into his signature bullet time dives. While bullet time still exists, it isn’t the main focus as it once was. Most firefights play out in a coverbased shooter format now. Bullet time becomes a more varied and tactical resource than the main repetitive component it was in Max Payne and Max Payne 2.

The game also has specific set pieces revolving around bullet time like when Max dives off a roof or grabs on to a chain and gets pulled into the air, allowing him to clear out a room full of enemies in the extended BT sequence.

Melee has been improved in Max Payne 3. When up close, Max can grab and enemy and pull off a violent kill shot instead of a generic pistol whip animation that is seen in most other third person shooters. Also improved are the bullet cams. In the second Max Payne, the only time the bullet cam engaged was with a sniper rifle. Now, these go into effect as Max kills off the final enemy in an area. Players can slow down the shot by holding a button and even unload further ammunition into them, which is a great feeling after clearing out a room that has taken multiple attempts to complete.

The game also features a new Last Man Standing mode where when Max is carrying painkillers, the game’s signature health regenerator, and receives a fatal shot, Max is automatically put into bullet time. There, Max must shoot and kill the enemy who hit him with the fatal shot. If successful, Max will survive the fight and take a health bonus. This is a fantastic feature as the game can often score fast headshots when a player is not expecting it. This feature gives players a chance to carry on and not get aggravated by a “cheap” gameplay mechanic.

The game features both a story mode (see below) and an Arcade Mode. The Arcade Mode has two variations with a Score Attack mode and the New York Minute mode. These modes take place in levels players have already beaten. Score Attack revolves around players earning points for landing specific kinds of shots, kills and multipliers. New York Minute starts the player off with a ticking clock starting with one minute. Kills and headshots add extra time as players try to complete the level before the counter ends. Both are fun variations on gameplay and require different strategies, changing how a player must approach a level than they did in story mode.

The multiplayer is an interesting approach to the Max Payne 3 gameplay. While it can be played solely as a generic third person cover based shooter deathmatch, it adds isolated bullet time. Since everyone in a game hitting bullet time would slow the entire map down, Rockstar attempted something different and puts a bubble around a person entering bullet time. It positively affects them, and any teammates while in team deathmatch, and negatively impacts those around them. It takes some getting used to at first as knowing the proper time to activate bullet time becomes as important as properly aiming and moving while in it.

Story and Presentation

Max Payne’s story has gone from one of tragedy to romance and now one of redemption. After dealing with the backlash of the events of his first two titles and an encounter on the streets of Hoboken, NJ (which satisfyingly contains cannon fodder that resembles members of the Jersey Shore), Max takes a security job down in Brazil. There, as they always do for Max, things go wrong and in a big way. Layered with political conspiracy, family drama and a civil gang war, Max has no shortage of people looking to take him out. In the process, Max might have earned himself a place as one of the greatest mass murders of all time right behind Nathan Drake in Uncharted.

Much as the way the gameplay of Max Payne 3 has evolved, so has the presentation. Max Payne and its sequel were told using graphic novel style artwork with voiceover. Now, everything is animated in engine which leads to streamlined storytelling experiences. There are only breaks for loading in between chapters. The gameplay seamlessly transitions between cut scenes to the players being back in control. There are lots of effects put into place like visual twitches and select dialogue being written out momentarily on screen. It feels like the next logical progression in the video game graphic novel that is Max Payne.

Graphics and Sound

Max Payne 3 is definitely the best looking of the series by leaps and bounds. With years of improvement from within the Rockstar Studios between the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption games, these techniques have been placed into Max Payne with incredible character models that both look, move and feel real. In addition to much higher res character models, the game’s physics make characters move more realistically too. When Max dives towards a wall, you see him react as he makes contact with that wall. His body bends in more realistic ways as he collides with it.

Max Payne 3 also features some of the most grizzly death animation yet in the series. Between the bullet cam and Max’s own deaths, players see exactly where shots land and just how brutal the impact is. Remember when the T-1000 took a shot to the face in Terminator 2 and the liquid metal sprayed out and made a dent in his face? Imagine that with blood red where Max’s eye should be. The death animations, including the quicktime melee kills, will quickly elicit shout out loud and cringe-worthy moments for all players.

Max Payne couldn’t have been Max Payne without the signature voice of James McCaffrey. Without his return to give Max’s signature inner monologue, the game wouldn’t have had the same satisfying feel as previous titles. There is a gritty sadness to his delivery which matches so well to the events of Max’s life that it wouldn’t feel right to have anyone else taking on his role.

Overall

Max Payne 3 is everything you’d expect from Rockstar with the return of this beloved character. They story gives a legitimate reason for the mayhem that unfolds and the gameplay delivers it in a satisfying package. The gameplay has evolved with the times and doesn’t let Max Payne 3 feel like just a sequel to an 11 year old franchise. It feels like a game that has been built all over again from the ground up while taking inspiration from its predecessors.

Many games have tried copying bullet time since Max Payne and while certain instances have led to a cool cinematic effect, no game has been able to capture the gameplay revolution that it created the same as when Rockstar does it. Instead of jusy copying what they did in the past, they have refined it and added new components to it to make Max Payne 3 a stand out game that both new and old fans alike should flock to.

XBox 360 (Also on PlayStation 3 and PC)

Developer: Rockstar (Various Studios)

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Price: $59.99

Score: 8.0

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