Whenever I think of Max Payne, I can hear the worldâ€™s smallest violin playing quietly in the background. Senor Payne has certainly been through a lot in the dozen or so years since we first met him. The original game (2001) saw his wife and newborn daughter brutally slaughtered at the hands of a drug cartel, before being framed as a cop killer soon after.
In the sequel, Max finds himself caught up with the Russian mafia, haunted by ghosts of his past, and possibly faced with the loss of yet another loved one as the credits roll. And if that wasnâ€™t bad enough, there was that atrociously forgettable movie starring Marky Mark Wahlberg that a lot of us are still trying to comprehend.
No doubt, Max Payne is a franchise built on concepts of suffering and pain (excuse the play on words) - and things arenâ€™t much better this third time around. Poor old Max has spent the last ten years trying to find happiness at the bottom of a bottle. Our protagonist is now older, even more bitter, and hooked on a dangerous cocktail of painkillers, booze, and nightmarish memories. However a chance opportunity to get away from his haunted past presents itself when a wealthy real estate mogul, Rodrigo Branco, offers the ex-cop a security job.
Max and his violin soundtrack are now in sunny SÃ£o Paulo, Brazil, surrounded by wealthy young socialites, working as a private bodyguard for hire. The job is belittling but it pays the bills and the change in scenery is medicinal in its own right. Maybe things are finally going right for our tortured hero?
Of course not; this is Max Payne, remember? Itâ€™s not long before all hell breaks loose and bullets are flying through the air, along with Max himself, backwards and in slow-motion. For those who played the original games, Rockstar (they developed this one, rather than just publishing it) have done an admirable job in making this third iteration feel right at home. The controls are slick and familiar right from the start and even the graphic novel load screens are present. But there is an extra tier of playability here that modern-day shooters now demand.
Max can now take cover behind objects, a standard feature for third-person shooters in recent years. Although it might not be as smooth (or intuitive) as the likes of Uncharted or Gears of War, the controls work well and certainly help change the gameplay for the better. Now Max can do a shooting run to find cover, reload, and pick out targets before leaping out with that famous bullet-time slow-down to neatly place two shells in a couple of skulls before rolling back into cover again. It doesnâ€™t necessarily slow down the gameplay, but it gives it more breathing space for players to soak in the action unfolding around them.
Gunfights are the main staple of the gameplay in Max Payne 3. But calling them â€˜gunfightsâ€™ is too crude; instead, what youâ€™ll be witnessing here is more fairly described as â€˜gun balletâ€™. Individually selected bullets will grace the air as bloodied bodies artistically crumple to the floor, like a well choreographed film. Imagine if John Woo had a baby with Michael Mann (no, actually donâ€™t do that). Rockstar have pulled out all the stops to make this game as cinematic as possible.
More importantly than looking cool, though, the gunplay is diverse, making every reload and pull of the trigger a joy. On top of Maxâ€™s signature 9mm pistol, youâ€™ll have the pleasure of trying out shotguns, sniper rifles, SMGs, and plenty more. The developers have been quoted as saying that every different gun has a uniquely modeled 3D bullet, ensuring that every weapon behaves differently.
Rockstar have also taken inspiration from their own back catalogue and Max Payne 3 features a compelling storyline told through modern-day noir dialogue. The sharp script is backed up with equally sharp voice acting and although the plentiful cut-scenes may soak up a decent amount of game time; few players will complain that they are boring or intrusive thanks to an immaculate level of polish in each. Through-out youâ€™ll notice the level of detail crammed into nearly every facet of the game. Youâ€™ll find televisions that you can turn on and watch Brazilian adverts and live news reports. Or walk into a huge stadium and explore locker rooms and offices filled with football memorabilia celebrating famous players for made-up teams.
Itâ€™s hard to fault Max Payne 3. Doing so results in tiny nit-picking, like how your weapon strangely defaults to a pistol after a cut-scene, even if you were holding a rifle just seconds before. Or the fact that level designs are surprisingly linear (for a Rockstar game) and that the game forces you to keep moving, allowing little time for you to explore or even take in the gameâ€™s incredibly detailed surroundings. We expect itâ€™s to keep the adrenaline pumping with little respite in the action, but even Max deserves a breather right?
To complicate matters, the game includes hidden clues and collectibles for players to seek out, but will then penalise you with a fail screen because you took an extra 20 seconds looking for them. Itâ€™s almost as if there were two trains of thought when developing the game and they couldnâ€™t decide which one to go with.
Theyâ€™re minor quibbles and only noticeable because everything else in the game shines. Overall, itâ€™s not only a worthy addition to the franchise, it gives Max Payne a whole new lease on life. After playing youâ€™ll immediately want more; which is good because the game includes extra unlockable game challenges and even a multiplayer component.
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