Is Max Payne 3 a video game or a feature film? Sure, Rockstar Games’ latest gem has all of the requisites of an action/adventure title: the rugged hero, guns and oodles of brutal, gratuitous violence. But for all intents and purposes, it has the veneer of a Michael Mann-directed crime flick with all the beautifully choreographed action of a Michael Bay product. Think Heat meets Bad Boys 2 and you’ve got yourself one heck of a game to play through.
Max Payne 3 (“MP3”) is, of course, the third game in the movie-spawning franchise (there’s some irony here that the game does a much better job theatrically than the Mark Wahlberg flick). It’s been 10 years since Max Payne 2 hit consoles and this game is appropriately set about a decade after the story of its predecessor. Our titular character is more cynical and world-weary than ever. You can probably tell by the game’s cover that he’s traded the dull and bleak backdrop of New York City for a more tropical location: São Paulo, Brazil. But Max isn’t vacationing; he’s on protection detail for a rich family that is the target of kidnappers.
Even though MP3 thinks story first, game second, gamers new to the franchise need to know nothing more about Max Payne than the fact that he is a self-destructing former detective who has an infinite tolerance for alcohol and robot-like accuracy when it comes to hitting a target with a gun (or two).
Most important is that, underneath the new slick settings, MP3 stays true to the franchise’s core gameplay. This means fun, fast-paced third-person shooting with its alluring shtick of Bullet Time. Newcomers will be in awe of this slow-motion feature, which allows Max to aim in real time while all his enemies move at a fraction of his pace. The game largely consists of endless swarms of armed thugs that Max will have to take out one by one. But Bullet Time must be used sparingly, as its meter only fills up as you take on new levels and kill bad guys.
Since Max is all about the guns, how robust is his arsenal? Weapon selection is definitely not the game’s strong suit; in most cases any gun with get the job done (excluding a few sequences where sniping is essential). Some of the weapons you’d think would be a bit precise (like the flashlight gun and the laser scope) turn out to spray wildly at times.
It’s also worth noting that the game is decidedly linear, unlike many titles in Rockstar’s suite of popular sandbox games. The narrative puts Max in some beautifully rendered environments, but there’s very little exploring outside of the current objective at hand (save the achievement-generating collection of golden gun parts). Depending on your appetite for exploration, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Again, the game’s story is a nicely polished affair and you’ll want to blaze through the bad guys so that you can see what happens next.
The mayhem only pauses for story-advancing cut-scenes, which, due to their frequency and variable length, may test a gamer’s patience. Some scenes will be seconds while others could be several minutes in length. It’s a curious choice as the game frequently takes away control from the gamer (some of these scenes can’t be skipped). Many will appreciate beauty of these scenes and the unfolding of this slightly complex story while others will be twiddling their thumbs waiting for the action to start back up again. This is nothing new; the first games employed a similar narrative strategy, though MP3 trades its predecessor’s comic book panel style cut-scenes for the aforementioned cinematic approach. And due to the preponderance of these slick vignettes, the Xbox 360 version spans two discs to accommodate the extra storage required.
Max Payne is also rated “M” for mature for a reason. The amount of bloodshed in this is of Rambo proportions. To further glorify the gore, the game triggers a Bullet Cam when you shoot the last enemy in the room. This means that you see the bullet travel from the barrel of your gun straight to its destination. Once it gets there, it rips through flesh, spraying blood everywhere. You can even slow this view down and pump more bullets into your foe in sadistic fashion.
Depending on your choice of difficulty setting, the game won’t take terribly long to make your way through (8-12 hours for a hardcore gamer and slightly longer for a guy with kids like me). The campaign does find some replay value in unlocking difficulty modes and the fun “New York Minute” mode, which puts a countdown on the time Max has to complete each board (you get more time for killing guys). There’s also a series of “grunts,” awards for killing bad guys in certain areas of their bodies or killing with certain guys or even using Bullet Time.
On the multiplayer side, MP3 is also a ton of gory fun. It reminds me of the arcade style of the SOCOM series, another third person shooter that has fun multiplayer combat. However, little nuances like Bullet time make this much more of a specialized experience.
The multiplayer mode has a lot of customization options, allowing the gamer to increase rank with experience and customize their player. It also allows you to jump into a slew of different rooms, from Team Deathmatch (just what it sounds like) or Gang Wars, which is more of an objective-style match using elements from the campaign mode. The objectives change as the outcome to each match is won.
Max Payne 3 is not to be played; it’s to be experienced. Rockstar took the core elements of this franchise and enhanced them for this generation of consoles. On top of that, they created a cinema-style production that is captivating for both its storytelling as well as its fun, albeit gory gameplay. This game is a must-play for newcomers and Payne-fans alike.