It seems with many of my personal favourite characters the amount of fun I have watching, reading about or playing as them is inversely proportionate to the misery or pain it seems to cause them. Two of my favourites, Wolverine and Batman, spring to mind as two such characters. Rockstar absolutely excel at this dichotomy with John Marston of Red Dead Redemption and Niko Bellic of Grand Theft Auto IV summing it up nicely, and with this in mind it is fair to say Max Payne has a terrible time in this game. Miserable, painful, gruesome and often soul destroying. All the better for us then, eh!?
Max Payne 3 is a game that does not shy away from the brutal – some moments in the game are genuinely disturbing. However, unlike many films and games, it never feels like violence for the sake of it. Every increasingly desperate scene Max finds himself in flows into the next with ease and never feels jarring or opportunist. Each wince-inducing kill cam feels justified by the unrelentingly harsh and engrossing plot.
As is Rockstar’s calling card, the central figure is a man who is in the middle of something he doesn’t quite understand, or even want to understand. He starts with a relatively simple task to protect a family of ultra rich Brazillian socialites, businessmen and politicians. Max, once a New York City cop, takes this task in his stride. But this welcome simplicity does not stick for long. Max Payne’s world turns from hopeless and depressing to chaotic and, yet still, depressing in the blink of an eye. Just when you, and Max, think the last piece is in place another card is played and the chaos begins again. The twisting, turning and entirely believable plot ramps up to a point where you feel personally compelled to, not only complete just another game, but to live the ending of a thrilling journey. Max Payne 3 has all the hallmarks of Dan Houser – the prolific writer of Rockstar’s generation defining works. This time teaming with his partner on Grand Theft Auto IV, Rupert Humphries and Red Dead Redemption co-writer Michael Unsworth.
At it’s best Max Payne 3 makes you feel what Max himself feels. The voice acting from the entire cast is stellar but, it is of course the main man that takes centre stage here once again. James McCaffrey plays Max to a tee once again. He conveys the desperation, the anger, the betrayal and the confusion Max is subjected to with an effortlessness that contributes to the captivating whole that this game offers. The often long but equally engaging cut scenes that tell this grim story of Max Payne’s Brazillian excursion flow with a beautiful cinematic feel straight into the action without missing a beat. Aside from one or two very minor bugs you find the cut scenes become the action without you even noticing the join. And this is indicative of, perhaps, the most impressive aspect of the game; the production values.
The once comic book feel of the Max Payne franchise has been replaced with a far more forward thinking and exciting style. The production comes to life with stylish screen breaks, harsh lighting effects and seamless subtitling to highlight important pieces of dialogue. In fact it has to be said the production values of this game are superior to any other in recent memory and rivals or indeed surpasses those often found in TV and Film. The only game that rivals it in this aspect is Uncharted 3. As a game Max Payne 3 is a largely simple idea. Boiled down it could be argued it is scarcely more than a series of rooms that need to be cleared of enemies. But when melded with the compelling story, the emotive voice acting and the convincingly constructed levels this game transcends being just another shooter. It becomes, truly, an experience. One good example of this is in evidence when, as is often the case with many games, you occasionally find yourself looking for a door to go through, a button to press or anything you have missed to help move the game forward. But unlike most games this familiar aspect of video games never once feels frustrating. Searching around a level feels organic, you feel like you ARE Max Payne. The attention to detail of the animation, the extra pieces of dialogue that seem to adapt to what you are doing and the meticulously designed environments create a game that ensures you rarely feel lost, bored or frustrated. Despite the clear leaning toward the cinematic that Rockstar strive for at all times this game still stands out as a fantastic game – not merely a game trying to be a film – simply a fantastic game with visceral and intuitive game play.
On the face of it said game play is very simple. Enter room, kill bad guys, leave. But the trademark Shootdodge and Bullet-Time aspects of the franchise as well as the unrelentingly graphic, player controlled, kill-cam’s make each shot fired feel memorable and exciting. The realistic animation in this game is another huge element that brings it to life in eye popping fashion. Max Payne twists and turns himself as much as the plot firing shots in all directions, diving around rooms, lying on his back, jumping out of boats and trains, swinging off of hanging machinery and never stopping his stream of bullets. Max Payne takes down his enemies in true, cinematic fashion. It could rarely be said that a bullet to the head looks beautiful but this game makes that possible! The game encourages you to move around the environment but offers liberal use of cover if you need it. However don’t expect the AI to allow that to happen for too long. You’ll need your wits about you. Even on Medium this game offers a sometimes crushingly difficult challenge. Another element to the game is the Last Man Standing cam which is designed to give you one last chance at survival. Often it works without problem – provided you have at least one Painkiller in reserve, you get shot, time slows down, you find your killer and get a small window of opportunity to exact revenge and cheat death. But on more than a few occasions this mechanic becomes pointless due to camera placement or the animation placing Max in an awkward position rendering this last chance merely a very slow inevitable prelude to another death. And it has to be said death is in abundance, the learning curve in this game is pretty steep to start out with. One shot kills, a very discreet way of displaying Max’s health (which, as will be welcomed by many, is non-regenerating) and very intelligent enemies mean you will play some sections numerous times. But this is by no means a bad thing. The level design is such that playing the same section over and again is never a chore, which is just as well considering the check points are very few and far between. It also serves to make the arcade modes very enticing, as playing this game again and again is something I am relishing.
For a similar reason I have to also highly recommend the addicting multiplayer element of Max Payne 3. The expert gun play in the game translates perfectly to the various modes of multi person battle. The maps, taken from the main game, are fantastic arenas of war and full of places to hide, sneak and flank your opposition. That it sticks to the Call of Duty model of multiplayer with personalised load outs, perks and levelling etc belies the unique fun that it provides. The undeniable individuality of the title feels made for multiplayer. Shootdodge and Bullet-Time both fit in to multiplayer, surprisingly enough, to add real excitement and drama to each battle. Max Payne 3 is by far Rockstar’s most fully realised and entertaining multiplayer package.
In fact Max Payne 3 at times threatens to eclipse any of the mammoth feats Rockstar has accomplished this generation. I came into Max Payne 3 hoping for something to give me a Rockstar fix until Grand Theft Auto V appears. But that now could not be more different as I find myself addicted to the various ways in which I can enter a room, kill bad guys and leave.