Max Payne 3 is now available on the Xbox 360 and PS3. But is Rockstar’s reboot of this third person slow motion shooter any good? Well the short answer is no, it’s not any good, it’s bloody fantastic! What Rockstar have done with the character Max Payne is truly remarkable. For those of you new to the Max Payne saga, the first game in the series, Max Payne, followed the story of a hardnosed NYPD Deactivate out to avenge the seemingly senseless slaughter of his wife and child. Now while the story line itself might be a bit of a cliché (Death Wish, the Punisher etc) what made fans warm to Max was the grittiness of the character and of course a cool little element called “bullet time”. The introduction of the slow mo diving, dual weapon wielding smart-ass detective was too much and Max Payne became a hit as players jumped through doorway’s blasting away hoodlums with joyous delight. As with any success there was bound to be a follow up and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne hit the shelves on the 14th October 2003, although the game was well received by fans , sales fell short of expected and that was the last we saw of Max, other than the Movie (the less said about that the better). That was until now.
What Rockstar have done is taken a long hard look at the character of Max Payne – what he has been through, how he coped with it, and where he is now. They did this on all fronts, the geographical, physical, and mental. Physically, the years have not been to kind to Max and the pill popping along with years of alcoholism have taken their toll. Max is a little softer round the middle and a little greyer on top then fans will remember. While his attitude and general look on life remains as dark as ever, but is now viewed though the bottom of a whiskey bottle. As you make your way through the game you will be entertained by Max’s thoughts on what going on and some classic one-liners when he comes across a bottle of pills, voiced brilliantly once again by James McCaffrey in this over eighteens title, the story line and depiction of boozing and pill popping are certainly not for younger apes out there.
Players new to the series are brought straight up to speed on all the events that have helped mould Max into the character we see in the opening cut scenes. The game itself has two distinctive stories running through it and it blends them seamlessly. One story tells the tale of the current events Max finds himself in and (some would say more importantly) how this hard ass New Yorker ended up as a bodyguard in Rio. This is all revealed across the fourteen game chapters.
On the single player side, there are a host of game options to keep everyone happy. There is the main single player story mode with veering levels of difficulty. From the casual pick up and play easy mode for the gamer who just wants to be engrossed in an amazing story and have the ability to jump around and shoot people in the face in glorious slow motion. The other is anger management, the hardcore mode for old school fanatics.
The levels or chapters are well thought out and bring players to some interesting locations that they can blow the hell out of. Sprinkled throughout the game are interactive cut scenes and some ‘On Rails’ segments, which add to the feeling that this is more of an interactive movie than a game. Whether it is a playboy’s yacht in the Panama Canal or a snow covered graveyard in New Jersey, fleeing enemy’s in a powerboat or diving through a nightclub window there are plenty of high octane action scenes to keep you interested.
The game play in Max Payne 3 is fluid and fast paced, and in keeping with modern shooters, Max can now take cover behind objects and blind fire. Which is handy when you are dealing with an enemy AI that is as mean and nasty as they come. The enemy’s in Max Payne 3 are not content to just sit back and let you take pot shots at them all day, oh no! They will rush your position, try to flank you and generally make themselves as big a pain in the ass as they can, and they do it really well. Thankfully though you do have a few tricks at your disposal that they do not. Bullet time and a feature called Last Man Standing in particular. Last Man Standing allows you to attempt to recover from an otherwise fatal shot by killing the guy that shot you before you hit the ground, all you need is a bottle of pills, ammo in your gun and a clear line of sight to the git that just shot you. This feature works really well and can literary save your life in a massive gun fight.
The levels themselves are wrapped up neatly behind highly engrossing cut scenes telling the player what is exactly going on along with some interactive cut scenes. Like sliding across a zip line and mowing down bad guys or sliding past a load of snipers on a tea trolley, it really make playing Max Payne feel more like an action movie then a video game.
Hidden throughout the levels are various clues tying in with the Max Payne saga and golden gun parts. Each weapon in the game has a blinged out gangster version waiting to be discovered, not only do these weapons look cool, but by collecting all of these items they unlock some cheats that you can use if you want to turn them on and replay a level of your choice. Unlockable cheats include: unlimited bullet time, get gold medals on every score attack level and One Hit Kill, Finish the game on Hardcore with Free Aim. Beware though, turning on these cheats will disable the stats and achievements.
Running quietly behind in the background are the Grinds. These are your stats, and cover both the single player story and the arcade mode. From fairly straight forward goals like get 2500 kills or spend 50 minutes in shoot dodge to some of the more enjoyable and tougher ones like shoot 100 grenades or Molotov’s out of the air. During the level, you can check which of the grind tasks you have nearly completed from the pause screen, which is handy for all the one hundred percenter’s out there.
The arcade mode is where player can take part in the Score Attack and the New York minute game modes. Score Attack see’s players go through sections of the game chapters and earn points by shooting enemy’s in a verity of ways and get points deducted for getting shot, simple and a hell of a lot of fun. The quicker and fancier you get your kills the better the score so its bullet time, diving, and headshots etc all the way. The scores are then uploaded to the leaderboards so you can compare your skills with that of your friends, crew, and everyone else. Alternatively, if high scores are not your thing then the arcade mode also includes A New York minute, which pits you against the clock, so as you progress through the section your overall time is reduced by the number of enemy’s you take out. As with Score Attack the fancier the kill, the more time you get back and there are leaderboards for this as well. But if you’re a total sadist and really enjoy punishing yourself then the final part of the arcade mode will appeal to you, New York Minute Hardcore, now this little beauty has to be unlocked and that can only be done be completing the New York Minute section. Again – all kills, jumps, dives etc earned in the arcade mode go into your overall stat count in the grinds system. All this give the title value that will keep players shooting on Max Payne 3 long after you finish the campaign.
The graphics in the single player are a pleasure to behold with the environments gorgeously light and rendered thanks to the Rage and Euphoria engines. Whether it is a football stadium in Rio de Janeiro or a back alley in New York the game is a feast for the eyes. However as with all good feasts, there comes a price and the price here is loading times, while hidden behind cut scenes, which is grand for the first play through, if you are planning on playing through the game a few times or going back to an earlier checkpoint they can become quite annoying.
The Multiplayer follows a standard format, play the game earn XP points, earn enough XP points to level up, level up unlock new stuff. Everything in this game needs to be unlocked, you start off with the bare basics and work your way towards the good stuff, game modes, weapons character models etc. Having said that the multiplayer is completely off the charts bonkers (in a good way) and you will easily get totally engrossed. Multiplayer game modes consist of Rookie Team Deathmatch, Rookie Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Payne Killers, Gang Wars and finally Large Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch. Gang wars and larger team modes support up to sixteen players, with Payne Killers and Gang Wars being the two stand out game modes for me.
Payne Killers see you and another player take on the role of Max Payne and your brother in arms Passos, as you fight off the other players. You have better guns then everyone else, longer bullet time then everyone else and can use painkillers. Now while that might sound cool, what’s not so cool, actually quite terrifying , is that every other player on the map can see where you are, so there is nowhere to hide – Why? Because they want to put a bullet in you – Why? Because when they do, they become you (well either Max or Passos, depending what character was nabbed). This is good fun in a high-octane bullet dodging expletive mutter kind of way.
Gangs Wars on the other hand sees two teams of players pitted against each set over five rounds with the first four of those rounds being objective based scenarios finishing off in a massive team deathmatch where the team that won the majority of the previous rounds gets a points boost.
The multiplayer in general is hugely playable and puts your enjoyment levels through the roof. Surprisingly bullet time is also available in the multiplayer and works really well. You will know some has you in Bullet time as your screen slows down. Characters from the single player are available to use in the multiplayer as long as you unlock them first. So for example if you want to use the strip club bar man as your Deathmatch avatar, all you have to do is get a platinum ranking in Chapter VII on both arcade modes score attack and New York minute, simple really!
Overall, Max Payne 3 is a gripping, dramatic and truly horrifying story and watching Max’s journey down the rabbit hole (though a little disturbing) really sets a vibe because you now care about this hard ass cop from the big apple and what’s happened to him. With the single player lasting about ten hours there is plenty of scope for a replay. Between the single player, multiplayer and arcade mode there is plenty here to keep any gamer shooting away for quite some time and saving Maxy from being traded in. Max Payne 3 is more like playing an action movie then a game and therein lies the secret of this gem. Well done once again Rockstar, you have hit it out of the park - Don’t be surprised if you see this title getting a nod for game of the year.