Gamers have been engrossed with the pill-popping, air-leaping and time-slowing Max Payne since 2001, putting a pistol into the cop’s hand and watching him slaughter waves of helpless drug dealers and killers, all whilst flying across the room like a scene from The Matrix. That was in 2001, and a second title was released in 2003 featuring more of the same. However, it’s been almost ten years since we took control of Mr Payne. Where has he gone? Well, to Brazil it turns out, and nine years later he still delivers the bloody goods as well as back then, only with more finesse and style. Welcome back Max Payne. It’s been too long.
Firstly, I want to note that this is not a review; it is merely a collection of thoughts and opinions I have gathered on the game in the two weeks I’ve currently owned it. I was contemplating writing a review but I decided against it due to time constraints and the like. Still, I wanted to get something written about this fantastic game and here it is.
For some, the single-player portion of Max Payne 3 is what is going to offer the most enjoyment and longevity, not the game’s wealthy multiplayer offerings. It’s not without good reason either as the SP is absolutely fantastic; it’s a healthy length, features incredible set-pieces and brilliant voice acting and narration from a returning James McCaffrey in the lead role. There’s a lot to like here, and you will like it.
- Make no mistake of it – Max Payne 3 is different to the first two games. I don’t just mean in setting and personality, but the scale of the world around you and the obvious technical improvements since then. That being said, having Max migrate to a situation like this is not out of the realm of possibility and it feels natural enough to be accepted. Max spends the entire game either drinking alcohol like it’s running out of supply or shooting down hundreds of gun-toting enemies. He’s a broken man, shattered by the events of his past that dictate his present and as such, the predicament he finds himself in this time around is just another step along the journey of despair. His wife and family are dead, senselessly murdered, and what else does he have to live for other than murdering those that deserve it?
- Despite being widely different in terms of story-telling and scale, Max Payne 3 still maintains several aspects that feel reminiscent of the old games. For a start, James McCaffrey’s voice work. It wouldn’t have been the same to have Max voiced by anybody else as McCaffrey’s gruff, familiar voice keeps a sense of continuity running through the series that is much needed to make it feel part of a franchise rather than just a game with Max Payne written on the cover. His voice adds more to the story and the downward spiral that Max, and you as the controlling gamer, progresses down as the game continues, as well as lending the required amount of humour to Max’s internal narration and one-liners towards the other characters. There would be no Max Payne without Max Payne, and McCaffrey is Max Payne in every way possible.
- It’s not just the voice work that keeps a sense of continuity running either; Max’s extraordinary, inhuman abilities to dodge bullets, leap across rooms and slow time are every bit as satisfying as back then, perhaps even more so. The gunplay and the character movements are magnificent, if a little tricky to get accustomed to, and with newer technology available, they’ve been made to feel ‘meatier’ and more useful. With the added inclusion of a cover system and a more-fascinating-than-it-should-be ‘bullet cam’ (whereby you can slow down your bullets, zoom in on them and watch as they penetrate your unlucky foe’s flesh), the game has also more style than its predecessors. Killing people is not just satisfying, it’s addictive.
- Also, be aware that the game does not have regenerative health. After all, Max Payne uses pills to mysteriously heal any wound and regenerating health would render them obsolete and take away from a large concept of the game. The game is made a little bit harder for it, as you can’t always just fly into a room and bullet-time your enemies like you would want to; you have to take the more cautious approach and be aware of your health, painkiller supply and chances of scraping by without being put down by a stray bullet. For a game that makes ‘shoot-dodging’ so addictive, it loves to make it difficult for you to do so when you most want to.
- Max Payne 3 is not just a repeated cycle of ‘Max drinks booze, shoots up rooms of enemies’ – it’s much more than that below the surface. Yes, the set pieces are amazing and the gunplay is overwhelmingly satisfying but it’s the process of watching Max’s character become so broken and damaged that is the strongest point about the game. Most games tend to focus on the action and the gameplay to keep the player compelled to continue playing, whilst Max Payne 3 puts equal focus on the gameplay and the character development to keep the story as believable and strong as it needs to be. Video-games are absolutely capable of being more than just creations for you to enact mindless violence upon people that exist only in your TV screen. When done correctly, they can offer story-telling unrivaled by none, with you in the driver’s seat feeling everything the protagonist feels and experiencing the story as it unfolds.
- Of course, Max Payne 3 also has a strong roster of collectibles to entice you to come back after completion, such as golden weapons for your multiplayer character and ‘clues’ that offer back-story to the world you’re in. I usually have a strong dislike for hidden items and collectibles in games as they often feel ridiculous to the game they’re in. For example, GTA4 and those stupid pigeons that I will be wishing death upon until my final day, or Crackdown and its heinously irritating yet addictive green orbs that were scattered across the entire environment. With MP3, the collectibles aren’t just stupid inanimate objects for you to seek out like they are the lost treasures of an ancient king – they offer a story that exists just outside of the main plot and incentives for those who love to show off their flashy golden guns in multiplayer. You can always ignore them, but you won’t want to.
- Despite being another excellent Rockstar game and offering fantastic story-telling and gameplay, Max Payne 3 does feel somewhat linear compared to other R* titles. It’s not necessarily a problem, as having Max drive around a massive New York City undertaking objectives when he likes and driving cars into pedestrians would’ve been massively different to what we’d expect, but it’s still recognisable. It doesn’t help that R* are well known for their open world games, such as Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto, and MP3 just feels slightly claustrophobic at times.
I know, I can hear you saying “It doesn’t need multiplayer”, or “it’s tacked-on and pointless”. That being said, it’s still a very decent offering that’s satisfying and enjoyable despite a myriad of issues that irritate you beyond belief.
- Max Payne 3’s addictive gameplay comes into its own in multiplayer, when you’re fighting against other players using the same inhuman moves and time-slowing capabilities rather than NPC characters who know nothing more than ‘shoot, hide, shoot, hide’. I know you’re already saying “bullet-time in multiplayer?” to yourself. Don’t fear, because R* seem to have found a decent enough strategy for making it work. When you activate ‘shoot-dodge’, aka the leaping through the air move, only those in your view will be affected by the time change. Bullet-time is also only available as one of the game’s ‘killstreaks’, which means that everybody can’t immediately trigger it and get an easy kill at every moment. Even then, it gives the enemy just as much of an advantage in killing you as it does for you killing them. The concept of bullet-time has always been very tricky to master with multiplayer, where everybody needs to be on an equal playing field, but R* have done the impossible and made it work.
- You have your obligatory selection of deathmatch variants here, but also two unique modes that offer more than any other: Payne Killer and Gang Wars. In the former, one player becomes Max Payne and the other Passos (the sidekick) and any player that eliminates either of the two takes that role afterwards. Think of it like the widely-known Juggernaut mode. Gang Wars, however, is the most interesting of them all; there are five stages to each match that are decided upon the results of the previous stage. For example, stage one may be a capture the flag type, stage two might be a VIP variant and vice versa. Also, the match plays out with somewhat of a story running behind it. For example, you sometimes have news-readers talking about how two warring gangs have erupted in violence on the streets, with you playing the part of said gangs. The matches last long and you shouldn’t expect to have them finished in ten minutes, but Gang Wars easily offers the most of the modes on offer.
- Max Payne 3 also features the inclusion of ‘crews’ – player-made gangs that can play together, earn XP boosts for doing so and have their own tags to be featured in-game. It’s also said that crews formed here will carry over to Grand Theft Auto 5 when that releases, which makes them sound like something R* intends to expand upon rather than abandon. The idea doesn’t particularly interest me a lot given my preference to play alone rather than in clans, but I can see what it offers to others and it’s a good idea for the most part.
- Whilst the multiplayer is wide and interesting, there aren’t a lot of maps to play on. There are seven in total, with another available as a pre-order incentive (don’t worry though, I can never seem to get a match on it anyway). It doesn’t sound like a small number but it is after a while of playing it, especially since some seem to be repeated over and over again. The ones that are there aren’t too bad but it takes more than just looking pretty to keep you interested in it when you’ve played it more times than you can count. Obviously there will be plenty of DLC packs in the coming months to remedy this issue if it’s one that troubles you as much as it does me.
- It takes a long time to rank up in this game. A long time, and those who have gotten higher up faster than you have the advantage, with their powerful bursts (killstreaks) and weapons that are bigger than they are. There isn’t a strong sense of balance going on here which is extremely unfortunate for the new players who are likely to get mowed down without a second to defend themselves. The way I see it, ranking up should obviously offer its rewards for continued play but it shouldn’t allow people to become more powerful and dominant than those below them. MP3 enables this and it’s not good.
- Max Payne 3 also has a wide choice of bugs and glitches to contend with. For example, on numerous occasions I’ve encountered players who are unable to die or kill others. Their health will simply go down to zero and then replenish instantly. Also, I’ve often been unable to get into a match, requiring me to exit the multiplayer and re-enter to get it working again. Other times I’ve been shooting at a player only for my gun to inexplicably freeze up, resulting in an undeserved death courtesy of the game. I have no doubt that most of these will be erased in future updates but they’re still incredibly frustrating to deal with in the mean-time.
- If there’s one thing that Max Payne 3 highlights, it’s that throwing grenades in a third-person game isn’t a pleasurable experience. In fact, in MP3, it’s bloody terrible. Sometimes the character will throw the grenade, other times he will just stand there with it in his hand and promptly get killed because of his hesitation. When you do successfully throw a grenade, very rarely will it arrive at the intended destination. A lot of the time, the grenade will be aimed through a window and instead be rolled along the ground, resulting in a frantic dash for survival to escape inevitable calamity. I’ve heard that R* are looking into ways to improve grenade usage which gives me hope for something less horrendous but inevitably far from perfect.
If this post didn’t indicate it enough, Max Payne 3 is a well-executed, wonderful game. It doesn’t just give you the tools that make a good game but it also features story-telling that reminds us what games are truly capable of. As well as that, and a flawed but fun multiplayer, the overall sense of style and polish is overwhelming. Max Payne 3 is not just a game with the Max Payne name on the front – it’s part of the franchise, and it’s a franchise that has been away for far too long. Rockstar has brought it back, bigger and more bad-ass than ever before.