Max Payne 3 is a modernized take on the action noir series this time developed by Rockstar that gift wraps a story of a broken man and delivers it in a present dripping with style. The pedigree that Rockstar holds takes the best parts of their previous IPs and combines them into a cinematic action story that presents the Max Payne story in a modern way. Max remains the same, a fallen man in a different world. This time he finds himself drinking his sorrow away in Brazil, acting as a hired gun for a wealthy local family. Pills and alcohol still plague him, and remain to be the catalyst for the storytelling throughout Max Payne 3. It is a gritty transformation from Remedy’s previous work, but Rockstar has made Max Payne into a solid action game that is driven by a compelling story that I couldn’t put down.
The game definitely has the Rockstar feeling to it; the characters, the dialogue, and the gameplay all resemble the best parts of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. You could argue that Max Payne 3 is the video game incarnation of Man on Fire. Dialogue appearing on screen stylistically as characters spoke, hard still cuts and harsh lighting are all present throughout the game. It speaks volumes to the cinematography, and is really what drove me through the game so quickly.
The style choices demonstrate Rockstar's design ability.
Outside of the cinematic sequences the in game presentation has changed as well. Taking a minimal approach to the UI, Max’s health is represented by a human outline that fills with blood any time he takes damage. Your ammo count, painkillers, and bullet time are all neatly stored in the corner and that is it, allowing you to take in everything that Max Payne 3 throws at your eyeballs. It is actually quite nice to be free from distraction, as the onscreen action and environments require your dedicated attention.
Max Payne has always been about slow motion shooting, coined as ‘Bullet Time’. This has been held as a constant throughout the series and is a defining feature of Max Payne 3 that sets it apart from many other third person shooters. Tactical is the best way to describe it as I found myself using bullet time in many different situations. Max is squishy in MP3, so rarely did I go into a room guns a’ blazin’ and hop into bullet time immediately. People adhering to the habits of the previous iterations will find that Max dies really quickly if left out of cover for too long. Thankfully a cover system has been implemented for the first time that gives a sense of realism to the action in Max Payne 3. Sure, you have to dump bullets into the enemies, but what shooter doesn’t have this as a trope? Playing on anything but easy difficulty will force you to approach every room and set piece carefully. This allows for a dissection of the situation, where you can pick off thugs one by one using bullet time to aid in your aiming.
It feels really good to shoot dudes in Max Payne 3.
Max Payne 3 also comes with a couple interesting gameplay decisions that added to the overall flavor of the experience. When Max hits his maximum damage limit, but has painkillers in his inventory he will go into what I like to describe as a ‘last stand’ where time slows down and the camera focuses on the enemy who downed you. You’re given a short amount of time to take out that specific enemy, and if successful Max will magically get off the ground. If you run out of time, or empty the clip without murdering your nemesis then you get punished with a game over screen and have to continue from the last checkpoint. Another interesting design choice comes into play when Max kills off the last enemy in a room. Once again, Bullet Time automatically turns on and the player is treated to a cinematic view of the last bullet going through the skull of the man you just shot. You’re given the option to hold the trigger and continue to blast away in slow motion, using your remaining bullets to turn your foe into a bloody pulp. These are not game changing, but they give an extra shot of style (and fun) into Max Payne 3 that doesn’t happen very often.
Because Rockstar focuses so much on presentation, it is easy to ignore some of the problems that Max Payne 3 had. Weird difficulty spikes and minor glitches didn’t hamper my time with the game one bit. The pacing must be rewarded because I honestly could not put the game down. The tactical gunplay, heated set pieces, and the stylized storytelling demonstrate how Rockstar has successfully modernized Max Payne. Telling a story is difficult to do in a shooter, but Max Payne 3 had me on the edge of my seat at every turn. Go out and play this game now, because it is one of the best this year.