The legacy of Max Payne is huge. The original MP invented Bullet Time that was familiar to all action movie fans in early 2000. The game immediately won the hearts of players looking for a movie-like experience and sad, gripping story. It's sequel, Max Payne 2, was also a big hit that took the genre even further and defined how enemies should be killed in slow motion. Now we have Max Payne 3, developed by Rockstar Studios. Can the game live up to the expectations of the fans of the series? And more importantly, is it as fun to play as the previous games were?
The story of Max Payne 3 is meaningless and linear, just like a Hollywood action flick. Our protagonist, Max Payne, has lost his family and is now on the verge of self-destruction with the help of booze and painkillers. With nothing to lose, Max takes on a job as a protection detail for a rich Brazilian family. During a simple night at the town, the wife of the oldest brother in the family gets kidnapped. Max sets out to rescue her, but things quickly go from bad to worst and he finds himself up against the most vile groups of people Latin America has ever seen. The story is split into chapters and some chapters enlighten the backgrounds of Max and the reasons why he's in Brazil now. These 'flashback' chapters really break up the game and serve no other purpose than to lengthen the game and allow the player to shoot more enemies.
The gameplay is similar to the previous games but here's a breakdown for anyone who hasn't played them: the camera follows Max from a third person perspective and you move him around with the keyboard and look around with the mouse. You can trigger Bullet Time which slows the enemies down but not you. With Bullet Time, it's very easy to kill anyone who stands in your way to deliver some booze-driven justice. You can also use Shootdodge, which allows Max to jump in a direction while the enemies movement is slowed down. With the Shootdodge, you can perform some pretty cool looking kills. It has never been so satisfying getting five headshots with five bullets. Killing the last enemy of a certain room/situation triggers a killcam which can be slowed down by pressing a button. These killcams look great but are nowhere near the complexity or brutality of the ones in Sniper Elite V2. Sure you get blood splatters and some pretty serious wounds on your enemy but especially the bullet wounds on exposed skin look ridiculous; they remind me of a volcano erupting. If Max gets wounded, he can easily be patched up by using painkillers that are found all over the place.
The game relies heavily on the use of cover and Bullet Time; if you're out of Bullet Time (which replenishes over time) you're bound to get killed. I used around twenty retries on my playthrough and I played on the easiest difficulty! Not to mention the fact that when you're close to a wall, Max points his gun towards the ceiling resulting in a wasted clip. Luckily, the AI isn't very smart. I witnessed a couple of goons blowing themselves up by throwing a grenade to a wall. The little oddities and AI quirks aside, the firefights in Max Payne 3 are very enjoyable and the equipment to survive through them is plenty; you have your basic pistols, SMGs, assault and sniper rifles and even grenade launchers. One handed weapons can be used in akimbo, which doubles the fun. Unfortunately the pistols are overpowered; few well placed shots are enough to bring any adversary down. The ammunition for all the weapons is very sparse and especially during the biggest firefights you usually run out.
Most of the levels are very small, short and extremely linear, the story is finished in about 12 hours. And since this game tries to be a playable action movie, most of that time is spent watching cut-scenes. There are cut-scenes everywhere; even opening a simple door results in a cut-scene. If I wanted to watch an action movie, I'd watch an action movie. If that's not enough, these cut-scenes can't even be skipped and usually Max switches his weapon during a cut-scene and you end up in the middle of a gunfight with a gun that has no ammo. The levels occasionally have time limit that doesn't show up anywhere. This is very irritating since all levels have hidden collectables (clues and golden gun parts) and you'll be greeted by the infamous 'Failed' message if you take too much time in a level. Taking your time exploring a level also results with Max hinting the player about where to go next. And since there's never any doubt about where to go in the limited levels, this quickly gets on your nerves even though his sound actor is great.
There's also a singleplayer Arcade mode which allows you to replay the levels in two different modes; Score Attack and New York Minute. In Score Attack, you get points for killing enemies and the objective is simply to get the highest score. New York Minute is familiar to anyone who has played the first game; you're tasked with completing a level in one minute and you gain more time by killing enemies. Once you complete a level in New York Minute, the next one is unlocked. Arcade is a great way to play your favorite levels and discover new ways to kill.
The multiplayer aspect of Max Payne 3 uses Rockstar Social Club and has completely automated match-making which is a real letdown. The game has four different game modes; Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Payne Killer and Gang Wars. These modes are split into two categories: Rookie and Hardcore. Rookie limits the amount of players to 8 while Hardcore allows up to 16 players. TDM and DM are self-explanatory. In Payne Killer, two players play as Max and Passos while the other players try to kill them. To ensure that this game mode is fair, the players playing as Max and Passos receive bigger load-out of weapons and special abilities to help them defend themselves. If a player manages to kill either one, he becomes that character. At the heart of Max Payne 3's multiplayer is Gang Wars. Gang Wars is a story-driven multiplayer mode with different objectives. One objective tasks you with collecting a money bag and delivering it to safety for example. The outcome of these objectives determine the way the next round plays. This keeps Gang Wars interesting and forces you to cooperate with your team.
Multiplayer is played in a similar way as the singleplayer with a 3rd person viewpoint. Killing enemies grants you abilities which allow you to use Bullet Time for example. Bullet Time works just like in singleplayer; the movements of your enemies is slowed down allowing you to get easy headshots. There are four different character classes; Soldier, Snitch, Dealer and Lookout. The classes differ in weaponry, health regen times and stamina. The weapons are identical to the ones in singleplayer and there are also grenades that aren't available in the singleplayer experience. More weapons, game modes and other stuff gets unlocked by achieving ranks. The multiplayer works good but it really shows that this game is meant to be played solo and not with other players.
The graphical options in the game are great, you can easily set it up to your own liking. The options also show the amount of VRAM the settings use which is a very handy feature when tweaking the options. The game ran with a constant 60 FPS with no anti-aliasing, even during the biggest firefights. The graphics look pretty good with maxed settings but some textures look a bit too polished and especially the character models look like plastic dolls. This is emphasized by the ridiculous animations where characters wave their hands around while talking or just walking around. Luckily the protagonist is modeled with love and care with amazing attention to every detail, especially Max's face looks stunning. The developers have tried to be artistic with the cut-scenes and added some weird effects on them. When the screen started to flicker and show different colors, I thought my graphics card was failing me. These effects look, in a word, stupid and ultimately gave me a headache.
The game has some very nasty bugs, even when patched (which is done automatically); subtitles are shown but no sound plays, enemies appear right in front of you from thin air, Bullet Time doesn't trigger and many others. There were even a few bigger bugs; at one time during a cut-scene, the screen stopped. Sound kept playing on the background indicating the game was still running. I had no other choice but to use the magical command known to all Windows users: Ctrl-Alt-Del. During one level the shadows got very bugged and even restarting the game didn't help so I was stuck playing a level with flickering, ugly shadows. Alt-Tab caused the game to crash.
I can't say I didn't enjoy playing Max Payne 3. Despite all the technical difficulties and annoying cut-scenes, the firefights are awesome and save the game from total oblivion. The game pays tribute to the original game; there's Baseball Bat Boy, a remake of the legendary restaurant scene and other references. Even if the developers manage to squeeze all the bugs out, it doesn't remove the fact that this game is really just an interactive movie. Action movie fans and anyone who enjoyed the last two games will surely enjoy this one also.