It has been nine long years since we last left the Max Payne series, the thrilling cinematic franchise with a dark and twisting story. Max Payne invented one of the most imitated and never again perfected shooter mechanics, bullet time. When other series did it, it just didn’t feel right. Well move over Generic shooter two hundred and twenty billion, daddy is home and he’s going to show you what fun and challenge mean again.
Max Payne 3 was probably my most anticipated title for the first half of this year, the return of one of the most innovative story telling experiences ever. With the iconic voice over of James McCaffrey reprising his role as Max, I couldn’t help but quiver a little bit. Through the ever powerful narration we are shown what Max is doing after so many years, he is still traumatized by the events of the first two games. Max is still addicted to pain killers and drowning his sorrows in a lonely New York bar. Through events almost beyond Max’s control he is forced to leave the city, these are revealed later in the game so I won’t spoil them here.
We see Max in Brazil, here he works as a bodyguard for a rich and powerful family. This gives him an excuse to well, continue to drink his sorrows away. Max has not been okay since the loss of his wife and daughter way back in the first game. Constantly referring to himself as a drunken failure even when he finds himself in situations beyond his control, Max as always is a tragic character. Through his work as a bodyguard we get to see Max dragged into events so much bigger then himself, we get to see his struggle with addiction and his unbreakable will to right the wrongs he believes he has committed. It’s honestly the most engaged I’ve felt by a shooter in a very long time.
Art style and presentation along with wonderful audio have always been staples of Max Payne and this has not changed. The game visually in one word is: breathtaking. I’ve been blown away by beautiful games before, but so far Max Payne 3 is the best I’ve seen. Character models are beautifully rendered and almost life like in their movements. Enemy models can repeat at time or simply be palate swapped, but when you are filling the streets with as many bodies as Max is this is forgivable. The first two Max Payne titles were famous for using graphic novel cut scenes, giving a very interesting comic book feel to those original titles. Many will speculate that this was due to the technical limitations at the time, which is probably true, so now in this day and age Rockstar Games has proven they know how to update this style. Some cut scenes are pre rendered but as events happen throughout them, they split into comic book style panels with some images freezing to a static shot from the scene. I think this was probably the best way of keeping that iconic feel but updating it for the modern era. Over top of this inspired yet loyal new direction is James McCaffrey’s wonderful and still chilling narration as our protagonist Max Payne. Overall voice acting is strong and believable; if you combine that with this new art direction and a score that is not immediately memorable but suits the mood and evens on screen and you have one hell of a beautiful game.
So, after reading the above description I imagine you’re ready to stop reading and go buy Max Payne 3 right? Seriously you’re still here? Fine then lets talk about the meat and potatoes baby, how does the game play hold up after being gone for so very long? In short Max Payne 3 hates you and it feels so good. Seriously in this age of regenerating health (I like it and all but it’s so overdone), kid gloves and hand holding, Max Payne says fuck that and punches you in the face. Max Payne 3 introduces a cover system, an entirely new concept to the series, now I know what you’re thinking: “But Eric can’t I just hide and take pot shot to survive difficult portions of the game?” Suddenly, Max bursts into your room and kicks you in the balls (or box, we don’t discriminate here at Broken Joysticks). No you can’t do that, the enemy A.I gets more aggressive the longer you stay in cover and will blow you away with increasing accuracy as you try to pop out and shoot them. You are Max Payne, in this game you run and gun dropping weapons as the clips empty. You’ll shoot-dodge and blow enemies away with your secondary weapon, then you roll into cover to reload (perhaps pop a pain killer) and do it all over again. You are the ultimate action thriller, ex-cop, bad ass.
Now the game brings forth some interesting mechanics because health does not regenerate you will scour levels for pain killers. stocking up on and using them when appropriate. Welcome back medpacks my old friends, I’ve missed you. A really great use of this mechanic is if you have at a pain killer on you and take a fatal blow you are given a few seconds of bullet time to kill the scumbag responsible, if you succeed welcome back to almost full health, on your feet ready to dive back in there. Max has an arsenal at his disposal, from Assault rifles, the occasional LMGs or .50 caliber sniper rifle to the iconic 9mm handguns, to a magnum or an Uzi, Max has it all. You can only carry one larger weapon (assault rifle, shotgun, sniper) and 2 smaller weapons (magnum, 9mm, Uzi) of the smaller weapons you can duel wield any combination of them however, you can only do this by dropping your larger weapon. It’s all controlled through a very fluent and simple weapon wheel with four slots, three guns. The top slot is your duel wield option which automatically drops your larger weapon.
Now of course, with the press of a button you can shoot-doge leaping in the direction that you were pushing the left stick and blowing away all who you can before hitting the ground. As with previous titles in the series shoot-doges initiate bullet time making you feel incredible. You can also initiate bullet time on your own via pressing the right stick in an instance where you don’t need to leap but you really want to blow that annoying guys head off.
So that’s it Max Payne 3 perfect 10, the game has revitalized a wonderful series and I can’t wait for Max Payne 4. I’m so glad Max is back. So why are you guys still here? You’re really going to make me talk about it? Alright…Max Payne 3 has multiplayer, it’s not a bad experience, in fact it has some really interesting ideas that could really work if they just had all the pieces together.
Max Payne 3’s multiplayer is in a word generic. It offers a few interesting mechanics but other then that it just feels very standard. When you first boot up the multiplayer you are greeted with a few different types of death match. You are arbitrarily locked out of other modes until you reach fifty kills. Now that’s easy enough to obtain however if you keep getting assists prepare to be in for a long wait. As someone who enjoys objective based game play I was felt penalized for contributing to my team and getting assists. However, in a short time I unlocked the other game modes, which consist off an interesting take on king of the hill called Payne Killer. In Payne Killer as Max you team up with your buddy Passos and defend the hill to gain points. It’s interesting because Max and Passos can be cycled out rather quickly if they are killed, but it just couldn’t hold my attention. The other mode was Gang War (oh and more variations on death match, basically changing to hardcore rules or larger lobbies), Gang War has you fighting for ever changing objectives, each map has it’s own story. Basically it’s Killzone’s Warzone mode. Which was interesting but Killzone 3 is still on my shelf if I want to play it I will.
Now I can’t expect Max Payne 3 to innovate everything, the standard fare is there because it’s expected. It just felt like there should have been something more. Now all that being said there are some positives. Creating your own unique character was interesting. Not quite as customizable as Uncharted 3 but a very good start. The game system also encourages the looting of enemy player’s corpses, you can find pain killers which can be used to instantly heal you or in some cases give you a last stand opportunity to kill an enemy to stand back up much like in the single player campaign. What was probably the most depressing about this was when I was desperately looting bodies for pain killers and noticed my health regenerating. Really? You encourage me to get these items giving me bonus xp, introduce an interesting mechanic, resurrect a medpack style system and then give me regenerating health? What was the point? I really felt they messed up a great opportunity here. I’m not saying regenerating health can’t be a positive thing, but you used the single player campaign to teach me it wasn’t valid within Max Payne 3.
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Finally the real nail in the coffin for me is the lack of a sign in second player function. either as a guest or on another PSN/Xbox Live account. If a developer has multiplayer this feature should be addressed, listen split screen is not always something from the past. Sometimes it’s great to sit in the same room with a friend and play the game with them, perhaps even a roommate. However, many modern games have forgotten this, I should be able to play with three friends who come over on the same television just like the old days. It would allow my roommate and I to play together without him going to another room. Many developers and publishers will make excuses saying it’s difficult or the resources don’t exist. That is a blatant lie first party titles like the Halo series and Uncharted 3 use this feature to great extent. Third party developers have also done this, see Netherrealm Studios of Mortal Kombat fame. Any time that this feature is not available I consider it lazy development. Some gamers may not see the appeal of split screen but it exists, it can be done and no excuses should be made for excluding it.
I’m sorry Max Payne 3 if you want to be my go to multiplayer experience you’re going to have to figure out exactly what type of shooter you want to be, you’re going to have to offer me more variety in modes and an ability to play with friends who come over. For now it’s back to Uncharted 3.
The final “multiplayer” modes are Score Attack and New York Minute, which are surprisingly addictive. It’s really there for leader boards, but it’s surprisingly fun honing your murder skills to rack up chain kills or extra time. I actually had more fun with this then the multiplayer itself.
Keep in mind Max Payne 3 is still a great game, despite these few but large complaints it’s almost perfect. Before I played the multiplayer I wanted to give this game a perfect ten. Now readers who have followed my comments know I despise giving high scores unless they are truly earned. Hence my comments about the industry sometimes using a seven to ten rating scale. For me an average game is a five, and I wanted to give Max Payne 3 a ten. Yes, dear readers it’s that good. If you’re and old fan or new to the series pick this one up, the single player alone is worth the price tag.