Max Payne 3 - 9/10
"I needed a real drink to get away from the electronic music and the robotic people"
It was never going to be easy. Max Payne has been away for years now and the industry has changed a lot since then. An action shooter with obvious tips of the hat to hard-boiled action cinema, crime noir and Norse mythology may have worked a decade ago, it would be hard to tell if the same approach would work in this current day. It could be cheesy, or retreaded old ground that had since long been covered.
But luckily Rockstar was aware of the challenge in inheriting Max Payne from Remedy studios. This isn't quite the same maniacal, gun toting detective we remember. Rather it is a brutal, dark revenge drama in the same sense as Man on Fire while at the same time, still an unmistakably Max Payne adventure. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
"I was a dumb American where dumb Americans were less popular than the clap"
We rejoin Max in the beginning of the game in a dark place, aged, tired and a depressive alcoholic pill taker still hurting from the loss he has been through in his life. Lured to Brazil by old friend Raul Passos, Max is now a bodyguard to the decadently rich Branco family. Max, once again voiced brilliantly by James McCaffrey, is forced to rely on his gunplay whilst being pushed to the edge of reason when things quickly go bad from the offset. It's a dark and incredibly grim tale as one should expect from Max Payne, with Rockstar also able to weave in the wry social commentary it's well known for. Max spends enough time hanging with the glitzy, glamourous world of the obscenly rich and the poor, down trodden favelas to show the ugliness under the surfaces of both. As someone who was quick to judge on the early screenshots of a bald Max in sunny Brazil, I was more than happy to eat my words at the strength and quality of it's story.
"I'd been stuck in the past so long I'd forgotten what year it was"
What really shines in Max Payne 3 is the gunplay. As Max Payne's first entry to the current generation, the shooting is more stylish and bloody than ever, in large part thanks to the Euphoria physics engine. The physics make combat in Max Payne 3 simply jaw dropping. Bullets strike enemies with such ferocity that blood spirals in the air with enemies reacting to where they've been hit. It rarely makes any combat scenario feel alike. It's all about forward motion in this game, while other third person shooter would have you focusing on using conservative cover. Max Payne 3 demands you dive in slow motion with gusto or activating bullet time by pressing on the right stick. Max can use cover in certain areas, but I found that depending on it too much will often get you swarmed by enemies. Besides, why hide behind cover when you can literally stylishly dive in slow motion mid air blasting any fools near you? In another nod to modern third person shooters, an auto aim option is also included by default, but take my advice and turn it off. Not only does it add to the challenge, but it also allows you to see the environmental damage you see in the game, making each gun fight seem more 'movie-esque'.
While you feel deadly, Max Payne 3's difficulty is distinctly old school, even on the Normal difficulty setting. Max still relies on popping painkillers to regenerate health but he's still completely fragile. A number of shots can easily put you down unless you're careful, which makes each moment feel gripping. It makes for an interesting risk/reward system that's isn't too dissimilar from Vanquish, perhaps my favourite third person shooter this generation.
"When had I ever needed to invite trouble in? It always found me, no matter where I hid."
For all it's polish, there are some issues I had with Max Payne 3. The sudden shifts from gameplay into cutscenes can at times feel imposing, particularly in quick succession, and some scenarios are occassionaly frustrating. You can battle through a horde of enemies only to die before a lone gunman and be asked to replay the entire lengthy scenario of the game. There's also the same issue that's been true of all Max Payne games, in that there's not much else to do other than move from one room to the next shooting bad guys. In it's defence, Rockstar have allievated this somewhat with the physics engine almost promising something different each time as well as the introduction of set pieces using bullet time and on rail shooting events. A chase and shoot sequence on a harbour towards the end of the first disc was particularly thrilling and you can't help but be caught in the immediacy of the moment.
"I ain’t slippin’ man – I’m slipped."
Multiplayer doesn't only bring the high octane action of the single player into an online arena with much success, but like with Red Dead Redemption, the multiplayer also has a robust player progression system. There are a ton of unlockable weapons, attachments, equipment, perks and customisable gear to unlock. The deathmatch modes are frantic and fun, but it's the Gang Wars mode which puts 16 players in 4 random objective based rounds of play on massive maps that can keep you engaged. However it does have the same issue that RDR had, in that high level players have access to a better arsenal which you don't have. Allowing someone to use the frankly, ridiculously overpowered RPG in deathmatch scenarios is a joke, and it just spoils the fun.
"I had a hole in my second favourite drinking arm"
Ultimately, none of the story beats or polish takes away from the fact that Max Payne 3 is very much a refinement of an old formula, and if you're looking for something revelatory, this isn't it. But what is amazing is that the trademark production values and sublime attention to detail takes the series in a compelling direction. Factor in some engaging story telling, brilliant dialogue with the voice work to back it up and Rockstar's most technically impressive game to date on top of one of the most satisfying shooters to date and you have something which stands above most if not all other offerings of it's kind.