It’s weird to think of where I would be or what I would doing if it wasn’t for Rockstar Games. Perhaps one of the most important game developers (and my heroes) out there, I was probably one of the few who was beyond excited when Max Payne 3 was announced way back in mid-2009. Many people questioned why Rockstar would bring back a character that wasn’t necessarily wanted back. In usual Rockstar fashion, they didn’t care what anybody thought. They had a story to tell and a man to raise from the dead. Although the game was hit with many delays, it’s finally here. Was it worth the three year wait?
When you look back on the history of Max Payne, he was the original seed to a genre of cinematic shooters. Rockstar’s dark and gritty style of writing was mixed rather fluently in a way we had not ever seen before. We saw a man lose everything he had, ready to take vengeance on a world that owed him everything. The story played out like a classic noir cop drama. His use of metaphors and similes spoken to the player through an iconic voice set the tone for the whole series. You could relate to him. You cared what had happened to him, and you didn’t just want to see him get revenge. You wanted to help him. It was this style of writing that immersed you in the eventual gun blazing action that kept you going for two games. Six years pass. We hear there will be a third chapter. Three more years pass and we get to see it for ourselves.
The single player campaign is one that doesn’t let up for a second in Max Payne 3. We start off seeing Max in a haze that is fueled by painkiller and alcohol abuse. He’s still just as broken all these years later. A good friend of his, Raul Passos, offers him a security job in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thinking this could maybe be a good change of scenery, he accepts the offer. Now that Max and Passos are protecting the incredibly rich Branco family, he finds himself constantly getting into more trouble in a foreign land than he ever did back home. Still, Max has it well here. All the booze he can drink, all the pills he can take, surrounded by people who don’t care about his habits. It isn’t until Rodrigo Blanco’s wife Fabiana gets kidnapped that Max gets tangled in the dark underground world of Sao Paulo and it’s haunting scenery.
Max Payne 3 features many levels of difficulty and different styles of aiming systems to choose from. I played through the campaign on the medium setting with “Soft Lock” turned on. There’s also Free Aim as well as Hard Lock. Free Aim means every shot will be up to you to aim properly. Soft Aim guides the reticle towards enemies but also lets you free aim with a half-squeeze similar to Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. Hard Lock will just lock right onto the player. For somebody looking for a mixed level of difficulty (I still died PLENTY of times) while being able to enjoy the story, I definitely recommend playing on my settings.
This game is also one of the first to integrate everything seamlessly. There are only loading times between levels. Besides that, every cutscene evolves right into the player taking control. All cutscenes are in real time. This means the four guys you shot in the face will be laying exactly where they were throughout each cutscene in that area. Nothing changes and it really keeps you immersed in this story-driven world.
There are countless weapons in the game ranging from your basic pistols (my favorite) to SMGs to Uzis to Assault Rifles, Grenade Launchers and more. Max is able to carry up to three weapons at one time. You can use one sidearm or the other, one primary two hand such as an Assault Rifle, or dual wield any combination of sidearms. You can do a pistol and a sawed off shot gun at the same time if you really wanted to. The main focus of the series has always been bullet time, and it’s back in a way that has never been done before. You click the RS to go into bullet time. From here, everything turns into almost a Boondock Saints-like symphony of a shootout. In this mode, you’ll notice every single bullet is individually modeled. Activating bullet time in a room filled with enemies will always look like a thing of beauty. One will maybe fire a shotgun while another fires his machine gun. You’ll see every scatter shot from that shotgun heading towards you while the machine gun’s shoot in a straight line as you dodge and dive firing back. The game is meant to keep you immersed as much as possible and using the Natural Motion Euphoria engine, it has never been done better. If you dive and hit an object such as a wall, you’ll bounce off of it and fall as opposed to just sliding down it as if there was nothing there. Max will brace for impact when this happens. He’ll also do this if you jump over obstacles. The coolest part of this engine is no matter what, you’re always able to shoot at a full 360 degrees. Be it laying on your back after diving backwards with two pistols over a table or getting yourself back on your feet from said dive, you’ll always be able to fire back at the very smart artificial intelligence, keeping them at bay.
The game is incredibly graphic between the cutscenes and gameplay. Cutscenes feature some very dark moments such as torture while gameplay is a bloody rampage. Every bullet you put into an enemy will result in a bullet hole that will often gush blood upon entry. If you light up an enemy’s face with bullets, there’s going to be pretty much nothing left on it after a while. Even once they’re dead you can keep firing and seeing the carnage yourself. This violent shooting gameplay works brilliantly with two brand new mechanics. The first is when you melee. Each time you melee, it shows Max beating the guy a bit and eventually putting whatever weapon you have within a foot of their face. Max doesn’t pull the trigger in this scenario. You do. This means if there’s an Uzi in your hands and Max points it at the head in these mini cutscenes and you hold down that trigger, his face is becoming blood soup. This mechanic also works with Bullet Cam. Bullet Cam occurs when you shoot to kill the final enemy in a scenario or when you’re about to die. The bullet cam is activated and will follow the killing bullet from your gun to the part of the body of the enemy. Since every bullet is individually modeled, you can even hit the A button to completely slow down the bullet. Not only this, but like the melee, you have full control in this scenario. So just because that one bullet is slowly rocketing towards the enemy doesn’t mean you can’t keep hitting the trigger to fire again and again. This results in a dark symphony of the enemy being tagged with bullet after bullet as blood sprays everywhere with every new entry until your gun clicks empty. It’s satisfying in the most twisted way, but never ever gets old. Last Man Standing is the alternate bullet cam where you must shoot the man who just shot you. If you get him with just one bullet before you hit the ground, you stay alive and are also rewarded with a painkiller (your health packs in the game).
The overall presentation of the game cannot be matched. From the 4000+ animations utilizing Rockstar’s own RAGE engine to the amazing original electronic soundtrack by Los Angeles rockers HEALTH, Rockstar’s trademark of style, sex, and violence come together yet again in a mesmerizing way. One of my subtle, yet favorite parts of the game is whenever you reload. Say you need to reload your pistol or take a painkiller while you have a two handed weapon. Max never drops it or puts it into a mysterious invisible satchel. He holds onto that gun the whole time. You’ll watch him try and hold the rifle with his armpit while reloading the magazine on his pistol. When you dual wield, he drops the two handed weapon. If you’re sprinting and see a rifle coming up, you can hit Y to somersault over it and pick it up while still running in one motion. Something that looks totally badass when you do it in slow motion. The soundtrack and overall audio design is flawless throughout. Every bullet hit sounds devastating. Enemies talk to each other in Portuguese. Another feature I liked is that there are no subtitles. You’re supposed to be Max Payne, a broken man from New Jersey, who has no idea what these people are saying. Unless you speak it, you’re left in just as much confusion as him until they pull a gun on you. HEALTH’s soundtrack from the nightclub sequence to a final battle that hauntingly plays the game’s theme, “Tears,” during a massive firefight is beautiful. One could compare it to Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away” being played as John Marston crosses into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption. Moments like these are what makes Rockstar Games the company they are, only improving with each new title. In addition to the regular campaign is an arcade mode. This mode lets you go back and play each individual chapter trying to beat your friends on Rockstar Social Club. The campaign is actually very long in itself and is definitely one that somebody would want to replay over and over, let alone in arcade mode.
Many were surprised to hear that Rockstar was adding a multiplayer aspect to Max Payne 3 of all games, but you shouldn’t worry. Rockstar has done a hell of a job making a totally addicting experience that will keep many coming back for round after round. Between the leveling up and unlocking of new items to the “bursts” (the game’s version of perks), I couldn’t put it down. The big question on everybody’s mind is how the bullet time would work. Rockstar thought of a clever way that utilizes line of sight. Say you have it (you need to build adrenaline) and use it, the other player will be in bullet time too, you’ll just have the drop on him. Bullet time can be broken by hiding behind cover or getting out of sight. Bullet time can even daisy chain using line of sight in such a way that every player in the game could in theory be in bullet time. It’s not overpowering but it really adds a great original element to the multiplayer. You rank up to level 50 gaining cash and XP. You can also loot dead players for things such as extra health and ammo. You can also change your loadouts after a certain level. A helpful feature that I found is if you hit down on the D Pad, you do a quick 180 degree turn, causing you to quickly stay in a surrounded fight.
The other newest feature is in the introduction of Rockstar’s Social Club “Crews.” A Crew is basically a clan that implements into Rockstar’s Social Club. Being the leader of a crew lets you make a logo using a very advanced logo editor in your computer browser. From here you can recruit people to join your crew. Any time you’re in a lobby with any member of your crew, you will automatically be put on the same team. The coolest feature is crews will eventually carry over day one to Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer.
Overall, Max Payne 3 is probably the best game I’ve played so far this year. Call me a Rockstar fanboy, but you just can’t deny everything about the game. From the lengthy campaign that does things never before seen in games to the addicting multiplayer with planned DLC, this is surely one of the best of the year. While I had minor engine problems sometimes in the campaign such as shooting the ceiling when I was trying to shoot forward, it quickly sorted itself out. If you miss Max Payne 3, you’re missing one of the best games to ever combine cinematic storytelling with fast paced action combat. Ever. Go pick it up immediately.