With Max Payne suspiciously missing from the current generation of consoles, players have had to wait for a long time before having the chance to play a new chapter in the pathetic story of Max Payne. Like only Rockstar Games seems to know how to do it, we were fed with a constant, but small, stream of information about Max Payne 3 over the last three years. Through videos, images and developers diaries, pieces were finally falling in place, and the puzzle started to take shape. In light of what was cleverly presented to us, we knew this game could very well be able to bring the series to new heights by relying on a highly cinematographic treatment. For my part, I have only good memories of the two first chapters of this series, one that is known for its "bullet time" slow motion effect, an experience that brought The Matrix movies to life for us. As much as I was anticipating this third installment, one question was haunting me: How will the franchise do without series creator Remedy Entertainment? Well, I had to lay some serious sacrifice in order to discover the answer. Theses are days when going to work is not that hard...
The story of Max Payne 3 takes us 8 years after the events of the second game. Max is obviously in bad shape physically, and most of all, mentally. In fact, we have never seen him in such a state of self-destruction. Consumed by crawling guilt, he is resigned to forget the past with the help of a dangerous therapy composed of drugs and alcohol. This “past” being the death of daughter and wife, which left a wound that Max simply cannot heal. Far away from anything that might remind him of those incidents, Max finds himself in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This is where he would begin a new life by accepting a job perfect for a bad ass like Max, getting away from police work and taking on a role as a bodyguard for a wealthy family. A peaceful job, or so he thinks, that would allow him to continue to support his liquor habit. As you might expect, everything gets turned upside down when a group of unknown criminals attacked and kidnapped a member of the family under his guard. Who was responsible for this mess and why? We don’t know. So, our old pal Max is back in business, bald and sober, at least for the time it will take to settle this.
As it was the case for the first two Max Payne games, this new chapter is using a third-person view that allows the player to see both his character and the environment. The title is essentially based on multiple guns-a-blazin action scenes, interrupted by short cut scenes used to solidify the story or to justify the killing that has just occurred, and the next one that’s about to start. During those intense gun fights, Max can count on a complete arsenal of firepower; be it short or long range. Although Max is able to carry four weapons at once, ultimately the final selection is based primarily on our ability to quickly retrieve a weapon on the ground left by the enemy during combat.
“Max Payne is obviously in bad shape physically, and most of all, mentally. In fact, we have never seen him in such a state of self-destruction.”
During battle, Max can hide behind objects and walls, which is fortunate as it is almost literally raining bullets out there, and you will not come out victorious in Max Payne 3 without exercising at least a measure of caution. It is possible to remain quietly camped behind an object and shoot from there, though your aiming ability will take a hit. From that position, you can also stand up and aim, making your shots more accurate, but leaving you vulnerable for a split second as well. Some of these objects you use for cover can only protect you for a limited time before breaking down, which is in my opinion a big step forward in the genre. We find all too often in shooters that an object’s realistic durability and density don’t actually apply. It is not perfect, mind you, but it is good enough to force us to change locations regularly.
No doubt the bullet-time effect that we saw in the Matrix is a distinctive feature in Max Payne. In case you do not know, it consists in slowing time in order to aim and shoot with precision. Using bullet-time, you can also Shootdodge, a slow-motion diving technique, while being able to target and shoot enemies. This action is so fun to do that you will abuse it. But beware, when the bullet-time effect ends, you may find yourself in an awkward position without protection. Also, the effect only lasts a few seconds, and you will have to wait before you can use it again.
That is not all Max has in his bag of tricks, as the developers added a new mechanic called "Last Man Standing”. This can be best described as a last chance bullet. When you get hit hard, you are given a few seconds to get your revenge against the enemy who just shot you. During that moment, the target reticule changes from white to red when you aim at the correct enemy, and if you drop him, you will live, if not, then Max will be pushing up daisies. Keep in mind that in order to use the Last Man Standing, you need at least on health pack left.
The story in Max Payne 3 is told very well, and we can certainly attribute part of it to Dan Houser, known for his work in Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. With the help of countless convincing and very interesting video sequences, we really can feel the weight that sits on Max’s shoulders. I even felt so bad for him that I began to think that death is perhaps the only option left to him. Those kinds of emotions are usually not very easy to transmit to players, specifically in the shooting-action genre. The script is so well constructed that is ensures a smooth transition between the big gun fight sequences and intense tragic moments.
In addition to the exciting single player story divided into four stages through 14 chapters, upon completion, you will have access to the Arcade mode. There are two options, the first of which is Score Attack. This mode simply tasks you with accumulating the largest score by replaying each level individually. When you die, your points are erased, and the use of "bullet time" adds multipliers. Your score is compared to your friends and the rest of the world.
The second, but more fun, option is “New York Minute”, which we experienced in the first two Max Payne games. If you do not know anything about it, this is a mode with time allocated to complete a level. Each enemy eliminated adds 5 seconds to your total, and you must stay alive as long as possible before running out of time. When using “Bullet-time” the timer stops. In all it is quite a bit of fun, and the tension of trying to keep your clock ticking keeps players on the edge of their seat.
Also new to Max Payne 3 are the inclusion of multiplayer modes. For those, the developers did not try to reinvent the wheel, instead offering us what we know and what we expect: solo or team-based gunfights. We are rewarded with XP points according to our actions in the match. But clearly, the clan-like “Crew” is the most interesting aspect added to Max Payne 3 online. So you can either create a crew from scratch with your choice of logo and slogan, or join an existing one among the list from the Social Club website. In game situations, team points are earned by the Crew and the individual player as well. You can gain more points by achieving team goals such as to avenge the death of a member of your team by a member of another team. As the clans are managed by Rockstar game servers, you can have members of your Crew earning XP points while playing on Xbox 360, PS3 or even PC. Finally, your Crew can be ported in upcoming Rockstar Games products like Grand Theft Auto 5.
Unfortunately, I did find some minor irritations. First, the game becomes extremely redundant in the long run. Although one must acknowledge the lifespan of the game looks to be well above the trend in recent years, the fact remains that we are being served almost the same types of levels only in different locations. I also question the developer’s decision to make the game more difficult by simply adding more and more enemies who need more and more bullets to die. It becomes crazy having to shoot 8 to 12 bullets from a semi-automatic to kill one enemy. For example, even just by shooting slightly next to the jacket, on a not-protected area like the arm, the guy will get back on his feet three times while still being able to hold the weapon with the same hand which has just received a volley of bullets. I’m sorry, but we are entitled to expect better. Of course to avoid this, your best chance of success remains aiming directly to the head, which may do the job with only a single bullet, but in the heat of the moment, it is not always easy to do. As some checkpoints are far away from each other, the game becomes frustrating at times forcing us to start again, from a place we may not wanted to. Finally, I want to point out that since the game offers very little freedom, sometimes we get stuck in very bad situations in which, we have no other options but to use the bullet-time to jump forward and hope for the best.
Max Payne 3 is very decent graphically, powered by an optimized graphics engine. Though not the most beautiful game I have played, many details are noticeable that contribute to make the product very credible. For instance, several objects are not static and interact with Max Payne if he hits them. Some other objects can be destroyed, such as cars, gas cans and gas stations. Also, you will notice that during the course of a day in the game, you will spend your time between day and night, rain and sunshine, which is rarely seen other games. Finally, the characters are not dressed the same way during the whole game, which again, is too rare in other games.
The music may not be necessarily what you will remember from your play time in Max Payne 3. Far from being bad, the music is simply there to support the action at the right moment. On the other hand, the narration track from actor James McCaffrey who voiced Max Payne in the first games is near perfect. The many comments and personal reflections from Max contribute to the darkness atmosphere of the game and the high degree of emotions we feel while playing.
With this third installment in the Max Payne series, we are in the presence of a very fun, action-packed shooting game, but also, in the presence of a very hard and touching story. Probably helped with the strong cinematographic treatment, you really can feel what being in Max’s shoes is all about, and wish that he can finally find the peace that has aluded him for so long. As for the rest, players can count on many hours of play time besides the solo campaign. Despite very minor irritants here and there, there are not too many negatives points to out, and the rest is, as expected, well above average.
Release date : 2012-05-15
Publisher : Rockstar Games
Developer : Rockstar Vancouver
Gameplay : Action
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