The opening line to the amazing 2001 Max Payne, set the tone and style of this game series from the outset.
There was a high expectation of something wonderful from Rockstar, with this game following their successes with the GTA and Red Dead third-person shooter franchises. Even without the Remedy Entertainment group’s involvement, people were hopeful of a canon sequel to their beloved series.
So, the first of many questions. Does it retain the tone?
That is answered within the first few minutes of the opening act. The dulcet strings cut in with the trademark Max Payne music, and a decidedly older and more bitter Max is introduced to us. As the previews and teasers had already revealed, he has left behind his days of law enforcement following the events of Max Payne 2, and has moved into the world of private security.
The cut scenes are punctuated with snippets of dialogue and Max’s inner monologue popping up on the screen, giving it a bit more of the graphic novel feel, which, given the full motion cut scenes as opposed to the storyboard style of the previous two titles, is a welcome addition. The tried and true storyboard style is still there as a sort of “last time on Max Payne” intro when you come back to the game mid-chapter, so it’s not been abandoned totally. And as usual, Max’s inner monologue is peppered with the same self-deprecating and satirical statements that made him such a fan favourite anti-hero.
“a killer. Some rent a clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys….you buy yourself a product and you get what you paid for.”
So, Rockstar have stayed true to the style of the game, but what about the gameplay?
Again, most of the core mechanics remain from the series. You still have your bullet time and the shoot-dodge moves, that defined the first games, but this time round they have included the ever fashionable cover mechanic.
Let me make this clear from the outset. If you try to play through this game without the cover on anything above the Normal setting, be prepared for a lot of retries. At first it feels unnatural in the Max Payne world, but don’t worry, that will pass. Once you understand that the advances in enemy AI have made large scale encounters much more difficult to just bullet-time and shoot-dodge your way out, you will understand why they included it.
Max is slightly more fragile in this sequel, and he is still popping those pills to keep his damage level down, but with an interesting new mechanic. Take too much damage whilst having pills in your inventory gives you a one-clip slow-motion chance to take down your attacker, allowing you to use the pills and continue the fight, so sometimes it’s the choice between lowering your damage threshold, or holding on to the pills in case one of the AI gets a lucky shot.
For the battles where you are fighting less than five enemies, the old Max Payne feel is still there. Once you start taking on larger, more organised groups, the ability to take cover and whittle down the competition or size them up before taking them on in bullet-time becomes as essential as any of your other skills. It also takes a lot of cues from Red Dead, with the “grinds”. Use ability A an X amount of times. kill enemy B with weapon Y. This permeates the singleplayer and the multiplayer, with achievement/trophy rewards for the singleplayer and experience rewards for the multiplayer, but I’ll touch on that shortly.
In true Max Payne style, there are a lot of weapons available to you. At any time you can carry two one-handed weapons, a two-handed weapon which is dropped at will or when you attempt to dual wield said one-handed guns. One of the cosmetic changes that gives the game a slightly more grounded feel, is the fact that when you are using your one-handed weapon, you carry your two-handed in your off-hand rather than it floating 10 inches off your back like most games that have preceded it.
To go back to the style for a moment, I have to mention the bullet cam or final kill cam. The final kill cam, is not just stylistic, but has a major purpose: it gives you an indicator as to the flow of the action. Activated only when you kill the final enemy in an area, it confirms your clearance of that section, and gives you the option to slow time and fire the rest of your clip into the crumpling body of the poor sap who happened to be last on your hit list. It’s optional to slow it down, or to use more bullets, and although it looks good, (and it does look good), when playing on more difficult levels it only serves to waste those vital bullets and slow down the pace of the game.
That being said, the game gives you the ability to skip cut scenes, but unfortunately due to the size of the levels it tends to reply “still loading” for at least the first few minutes of each cut scene, which are quite frequent throughout this game.
The small gripes aside, this is a fantastic, enjoyable and highly stylised singleplayer game that fits in perfectly well in the evolution of Max.
Thankfully, they decided to use the storyboard style instead of cutscenes when playing through the Score Attack and “New York Minute” modes, with the former being available to you from the outset, and the latter unlocked once you’ve completed the game. Additionally, both of these modes add experience to your multiplayer character and to your Rockstar Social Club Crew, so even when you don’t feel like socialising, you can still level up your online character.
“Here I was about to execute this poor bastard, like some dime store angel of death, and I realised they were correct. I wouldn’t know right from wrong if one of them was helping the poor and the other was banging my sister…”
So, can Max Payne handle his multiplayer?
Rockstar have obviously looked at the core model for GTA’s and Read Dead Redemption’s multiplayer and decided “if it aint broke…”. Unlike their last two games, this is pure multiplayer. There is no open world or free-roam, but the thir- person action elements from the two, have been transported into Max Payne wholesale.
What amazes me most, is the fact that they have successfully integrated both bullet time and shoot-dodge into the game successfully. Now notice, I said successfully, and not flawlessly, as there are still some gripes about bullet time in multiplayer. The main drawback is it can slow down time for those around you, and even those you are fighting against, but when it works it changes the dynamic of combat, changing the open shooting match of Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch or even Gang Wars into a beautiful ballet of bullets and swan dives that will have you squealing with delight into your microphone.
on the down side, there is a lot of aggravation involved in the multiplayer. the Mini-30 has become a community marmite gun. Its loved and hated for the same reasons. Its range and accuracy is astounding, and when upgraded it is a devastatingly overpowered gun. It’s not surprising then that a lot of people revert back to their build that includes the “I WIN” gun, which I have to admit, I have also done on occasion.
That brings us to the upgrades. Not only do you have your character level and grinds as mentioned previously, but you also have weapon levels. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rules about levelling up your weapons, but it seems likely it’s linked to kills and accuracy with the given weapon. Once you start levelling your weapons, you can add mods, which is very similar to MW3 or BF3 weapon modifications. Sights, muzzles, magazine upgrades are all there and ready to be added to your weapon loadout.
The loadout itself, is identical to the singleplayer with one exception: you also have a burst. These bursts are special powers that range from the standard bullet time, Big Dog which gives you and/or your teammates additional health, Sneaky which allows you to disguise yourself as an enemy team member, or even Intuition which allows to see enemies approximate locations on your minimap. Each burst has three levels, each unlocked as you level up your character, with increasing durations or better effects the higher the level. For example, Paranoia level 1 Makes the enemy “paranoid” as they see their own teammates as enemies, level 2 targets one enemy player as killable by their own team and applies a bounty on them, and level 3 puts a bounty on all enemy players and fully activates friendly fire on their team. Each of these bursts, can make or break a game, and a good crew, will field a team with a variety of team buffing bursts to improve their chances.
Aside from the standard Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch modes, which are staples in all multiplayer titles, there are two new modes Max Payne 3. Payne Killer sees you fight in a deathmatch style, with the first killer and victim becoming Payne and Passos, trying to survive against the remaining players for the longest time. Kill Payne or Passos and you become them, making the game a very entertaining fight to get the most kills as Payne or Passos while trying to hold onto the character from the other players.
Gang Wars sees two teams take on varied objectives, such as turf wars where you have to hold certain areas to score, or sabotage where you have to plant a bomb at a key location. These objectives allow you to score points which boost your chances of winning the final big showdown to see who wins control of a given area.
Overall, even with the few niggles and bugs that plague both the singleplayer and multiplayer of Max Payne 3, it’s hard to fault them for an otherwise highly polished and well-crafted game. If you play third-person shooters, this game will not disappoint.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC Release Date: 25/05/2012
Disclosure: The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.