Review: Max Payne 3 (PS3)

Beautiful is hardly an adjective I’ll use to describe a game where the main core of action involves the protagonist replacing the brains of enemies with a bullet, but this. This game is beautiful in more ways than one.

Max Payne 3, of course, is the third game in the Max Payne series of action-packed cinematic third-person shooters. We follow Max Payne as he is left to age in the Brazilian sun working as private security for Rodrigo Branco and the Branco family, part of Sao Pãulo’s wealthy upper-class. As with everything around Max Payne, it won’t be long until someone gets into trouble.

See, Max hasn’t really gotten over the incidents from the first two games, so he’s having a bit of a drinking and pill-popping problem. Of course, Rodrigo’s trophy wife gets abducted by thugs in balaclavas right under Max Payne’s nose, and it is up to him to step up and go knee deep in the game’s thrilling adventure.

The original Max Payne pioneered the cinematic action game, telling the gritty story through the use of graphic novel style panels to hand it that gritty New York feel. Max Payne 3 takes a step up from that, and presents another gritty story not only in fully-animated cinematic cutscenes but through cutscenes that flow seamlessly from cutscene to game. Whatever weapon Max is holding and wherever he is stained with blood will be carried over into the cutscene, making it even more of a cinematic experience than most movies in theatres.

Loading screens are non-existent, except when you reload your last autosave. Periods of loading appear naturally in the form of a cutscene, which adds to the seamlessness of the game while allowing you to catch your breath as you enter the next checkpoint. You’ll know when you are back in control of Max when the health meter shows up, or when people start shooting at you.

Story aside, Max Payne 3 is still all about the action, most of the time involving you taking out groups of angry gang members or militias. You are bestowed upon the Max Payne staples, namely Bullet Time and Shootdodge. Both causes time to slow down and take the time to aim your shots, and Shootdodge having the added bonus of dodging without eating into the Bullet Time meter. Bullet Time is also triggered during certain points of the game where Max Payne jumps into a scene where the player has a chance to take out as many enemies as possible.

There are varying amounts of difficulty along two aspects in the game. The overall difficulty based on your health and painkiller spawns and the degree of assistance with aiming, with Free Aim being the original staple of the series. Even on the game’s average difficulty, the enemies can take quite a beating, sometimes still standing with blood spurting out of their neck you just shot, making them essentially walking blood bags. Oh, yes. There is plenty of blood, enough to paint the walls with.

Max Payne 3 adds Rockstar’s signature cover system into the series, though “campers” will be flushed out by the competent enemy AI who are brave enough to go around you to take you out and stop wasting their time. Max is also capable of meleeing enemies and dealing them the final shot via the player’s control. Taking out the last of the batch of enemies will trigger the Final Bullet Cam, and that’s when you know you are safe to move on.

Your single-player arsenal will have your standard two pistols or submachine guns and other two-handed weapons you pick up from fallen enemies. You can also choose to dual-wield your single-handed weapons, dropping your two-handed weapon in the process. Max cannot use grenades or throw them back at enemies a la Uncharted, but he is able to shoot them before they fly their arc at towards the player.

Chapters unfold in locations ranging from a soccer stadium to the office building of Rodrigo Branco and in New Jersey, when we explore Max’s past. To me, it is the little details I appreciate in a game such as this. To know that Rockstar Games took the time add every bit of detail they could to make the game feel more lived-in. The destructive side of me was seriously delighted to see glass being shot and shattering around a local area before the entire pane of glass falls from gunfire. Wood panels and cement barriers are all susceptible to damage by gunfire. Light fixtures can be blown and propane gas tanks spin around spewing flames before it explodes.

There were certain technical issues I had with the game, something a game this big was bound to have, as much as the developers would want to avoid them. These issues range from cutscene freezes to audio lag, and even sudden loss of audio. These appear to be minor cosmetic issues, nothing a game patch can’t fix. The game usually picks itself up like an actor who almost trips on stage would, although the one-time total loss of audio made the game unplayable.

The story mode should cover about 25 hours of gameplay and you go back and dive into harder difficulties playing the game with Free Aim, exploring the level collecting all the golden gun parts and when you’re done with that, there’s always online multiplayer. Newly inducted gang members are actually put through a training regime playing with other rookies, with only Deathmatch unlocked at the start until players make 50 kills. This helps to even out the playing field amongst newbies and more experienced players by making sure players are tuned to the notion of shooting others in slow motion. After 50 kills, Payne Killer (a capture-the-flag style shooter) and Gang Wars (a series of events against two teams ranging from turf-capturing and bomb-planting) are unlocked.

The fun really starts when you reach Rank 4 and unlock the ability to customise your loadout with your pick of weapons, protective gear and projectiles, more of which are unlocked or available for purchase as you earn XP. Players also have access to Bursts. Bursts are special gameplay modifiers such as health boosts (Big Dog), player-team confusion (Paranoia) and, of course, Bullet Time, probably the greatest aspect of multiplayer on Max Payne 3.

Both Bullet Time and Shootdodge are present in online multiplayer modes and I thought the way it was implemented was ingenious. The person who triggers the temporal slowdown will affect other players who are in the person’s line-of-sight by slowing down their shooting and reaction times, allowing for some very slick, last-chance shootouts. Other features include Vendettas, for bonus XP when you take out your targeted goon who’s been shooting you dead several times over; and Crews, which also earns you extra XP for representing said crew in taking out enemies.

Multiplayer lobbies appear to matchmake players across an even playing field and players have no choice of teams. The random team assignments allow for varied play and an even contest so no one team is always far superior than the other. I didn’t experience any form of lag when matchmaking or when having fun in the online arenas playing at different times of the day when Max Payne 3 was released everywhere else.

Max Payne 3 is a seriously glued-seat, on-your-toes action shooter game that carries on its legacy of exceptional storytelling spiralling around Max Payne’s tormented little life. The game’s aim settings will meet the needs of hardcore action shooting fans while nannying those inexperienced in the genre. It’s bloody good fun.

Graphics 10
The level of detail is the game is astonishing, the environments well-designed and the Bullet Time effects are as jaw-dropping like it was first introduced in the original game.
Sound 8.0
Some minor quirks were encountered with the audio in-game, but Max Payne’s thought-bubble quips are just as enjoyable as ever.
Gameplay 8.0
Varying amounts of difficulty help the players go along. Helpful tutorials walk newcomers into the game.
Lasting Appeal 8.0
Several multiplayer modes fixed to three main event types to unlock and there’s plenty of hidden clues to find, golden gun parts to collect and modifier perks to unlock in story mode.
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Max Payne 3 is a cinematic action shooter game developed by Rockstar Games for PlayStation 3, as well as the Xbox 360 and Windows PC. Ran the story to completion on Medium difficulty with Soft Aim and tested Easy difficulty on Free Aim. Pause the game from time to time. You’ll love it.