It was a Wednesday evening. Cold, wet, windy, like you ever get any other kind in Glasgow. I’d picked up my controller, the hard black plastic nestling in the palm of my hands, my fingers curled around the triggers. I had my latest assignment, another addition to a line of gritty noir shooters. Now it was just a matter of making it through the night….
Sorry, don’t know what came over me. Where was I? Oh right, Max Payne 3, the latest addition to the bullet-time-wielding-cop-on-the-edge series. This time around Max’s latest outing isn’t being handled by creators Remedy Studios and instead by Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption developers Rockstar. So with an impressive pedigree behind the third instalment, there’s a lot of promise to be fulfilled here.
Max Payne 3 finds our titular ex-cop in São Paulo, Brazil, providing security for a wealthy businessman and his wife. Max, now much older than in previous games, is busy either watching his charges or attempting to drink himself into an early grave. When the businessman’s wife is kidnapped, Max embarks on a bullet ridden, blood filled quest to get her back, encountering conspiracy and intrigue at every turn.
The actual story in Max Payne 3 is actually pretty well laid out. There’s more than a couple of twists and turns and there’s even enough info laid out early on that smart players will be able to make a few educated guesses about where events are going to lead. But the tone just feels horribly over the top. I need to be straight with you – that grizzled noir narration present in every private eye and detective story? I find it utterly ridiculous. It’s always overdone and it is here in force (as it was in the previous games).
Every checkpoint, item pickup–hell, even opening a door is punctuated with some gritty one liner. It’s not just pickups; every cutscene is an exercise in incredibly hammy narration that Raymond Chandler would be ashamed to know exists. It seems like the intent was to immerse the player in the noir-ish setting that the series is famed for–but every single time it caused me to burst out laughing. In fact, the times when Max is talking to other people is when he comes across as most relatable; and the fact that his manner is, frankly, so different in those situations makes the narration even more jarring and ridiculous.
The basic gameplay mechanics are largely unchanged from 1 & 2. The bullet time feature is still there, allowing you to dive through the air in slow motion, picking off your targets and recreating your favorite John Woo scene. In fact, all of the mechanics are practically identical–meaning in terms of gameplay, there’s not much new here. There are some particularly excellent set pieces (most of which involve taking out large groups of enemies in slow motion), but when compared to other Rockstar titles like GTAIV or Red Dead Redemption the whole thing just feels a little humdrum and safe. Almost all combat involves hiding behind chest-high wall, popping out to shoot at bad guys, using the shoot dodge slow motion to take out multiple bad guys and repeating.
Also, and this is a problem that probably only exists on the console versions, all loading times are hidden behind cutscenes. So on an initial playthrough you won’t see any loading screens; but if you try and skip any of those cutscenes you’ll be presented with a “still loading” message and slowly realise that the game has loading times to rival Dead Rising 2.
That’s not saying Max Payne 3 is completely unsalvageable – there’s a really enjoyable game here. For starters, it’s fantastic looking. The graphics are some of the best I’ve seen on the 360; and while the gameplay is repetitive, it is a lot of fun. Also, the use of the Euphoria engine first used in GTAIV and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed means that enemies and Max react to the physics in the environment and even to where they’ve been shot. There’s also a ton of replay value with an Arcade scoring mode, and a time based New York Minute mode that gives you 60 seconds to complete the game, and adds time as you kill enemies.
There’s a multiplayer mode available containing the usual deathmatch and CTF variants, along with gang wars that bring their own objective-based gameplay and, most interestingly, a Payne Killer mode. In this mode, two players play as Max and his friend Passos while EVERYONE else in the game is trying to kill them. Max and Passos get special abilities and weapons to even up the odds, and when one of the horde manages to take them out, they become the character they killed–leading to some very fragile and fleeting alliances.
Max Payne 3 is by no means perfect; there are a lot of flaws that feel the result of a lack of polish, rather than any deficit in the game. Rockstar is renowned for making some of the best open world titles ever made–but they seem to have hit a hurdle with a more linear experience. It doesn’t help that the tone feels so over the top and stressed where RDR and GTAIV felt so natural. The game is definitely worth picking up, but it’s maybe not worth a long term commitment.
Max Payne 3 is available now on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.