At long last Max Payne 3 has arrived to the masses.  It has been 9 years since we have stepped into the shoes of one of gaming’s most conflicted characters, but were all the delays and aggravation worth it?  Has the Max Payne franchise stood the test of time?  Read on to find out.

Max Payne, was of gaming's most conflicted characters, and rightfully so

What if I didn’t play the first two Max Payne games?

First thing I wanted to make abundantly clear with Max Payne 3 is that this game is targeted at two distinct audiences.  The first audience is comprised of diehard fans of the first two entries, who understand Max’s troubled past and the intricacies of his internal conflict.  The second audience are the newcomers to the series, those who may have heard about small tidbits through the grape vine, but really don’t understand why Max carries himself the way he does.  The first audience will have more contextual knowledge for Max’s inner workings which is a given, but this game has been designed to be played and enjoyed in a vacuum, as to not ostracize our second audience.  However, both audiences will find this game as equally entertaining that I guarantee you.

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Pills, Bullets, and Kong Whiskey

The preeminent action noir series has returned and in Max Payne 3 players will find themselves picking up Max’s mess of a life set well after the events of the first two titles.  Max is washed up and all sorts of downtrodden, but has found a new line of work doing private security for wealthy businessman Rodrigo Branco, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Max is tasked with protecting Rodrigo’s family, presumably at all costs, but when Rodrigo’s typical trophy wife Fabiana is kidnapped on Max’s watch, Mr. Payne is dispatched on a crusade to rescue her, but ultimately stumbles across a much more nefarious plot.

Leaving New Jersey in his rearview, one body at a time

Max was brought into the fold by a former NYPD colleague Raul Passos, who offered Max an out from the miserable existence that consumed him in New Jersey.  With the allure of money, leisure, and travel Max accepts Passos’s offer and leaves his chronically inebriated life behind, just to pick it back up later in a different locale.

The change of scenery for the series is welcomed in my eyes, as I think the well that was NYC setting had dried up even prior to the second game concluding.  The drab environments have been replaced by visually striking ones and the overall variety of locations will keep players in awe by their scale and detail (in particular the Nightclub Rooftop level).  Another ostensibly different approach to the series’ third outing is the delivery of exposition through cut scenes as opposed to the comic strips used in the previous two titles.

Welcome to Sao Paolo

The best way for me to describe the visual presentation of these cut scenes is by comparison to a movie with a familiar premise and that is Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire”.  The lens flare, anaglyphic filtering, and the use of choice word pop ups showcased in Max Payne 3’s cut scenes can be nauseating at times, but it adds great style and is borderline metaphorical to how Max probably sees the world, through a wide eyed lens coated in whiskey and painkillers.

This is the last allusion I’ll make to “Man on Fire”, but just like that movie’s main protagonist Creasy (played by Denzel Washington), Max Payne 3 always keeps you guessing what Max’s motivations are behind his actions.  Does he genuinely care about rescuing the girl and completing his mission or has he become so filled with resentment that he is blindly walking down a path of inevitable self-destruction?  It isn’t always easy to tell and that is what makes the game’s narrative that much more compelling.

Though this was a Rockstar production and not a Remedy game, Rockstar has delivered some fan service for players of the first two games.  James McCaffrey reprises his role as the voice of Max Payne and delivers hands down his best performance in the franchise and is an early nominee from me for best voice work of the year.  Max’s grizzly and overly pessimistic attitude is exemplified perfectly through McCaffrey’s voice work and in conjunction with the cut scenes gives players a more complete representation of how Max is feeling at any given time in the game.  In addition to well-done voice work there are a few easter eggs that I don’t want to spoil, but veterans of the originals will surely know what I am alluding to when they come across them.

The game also boasts an Arcade mode as a complimentary experience to the robust single player campaign.  Time trials and challenges are the name of the game in Arcade mode and it gives players a good reason to dive back into the single player after they have completed it.  In addition to the Arcade mode elongating your Max Payne 3 experience, there are various clues and golden gun pieces scattered across each level.  The clues offer supplementary material for the game’s narrative and when you fully piece together a golden gun the player gets a souped up version of that particular weapon.  Overall there are a lot of things to keep you busy with the offline components of Max Payne 3.

Bullet-time is beautifully violent

The Max Payne franchise has never been one to shy away from violence and the third entry is no exception.  Max Payne 3 is undoubtedly exhibits more gratuitous violence than its predecessors, but does it so elegantly that it is hard to think of it as such.  The refined bullet time mechanics demonstrate more so than ever that Max is an artist, well versed in the craft of death.  The bullet-cam from previous games is back and is still initiated on the last enemy in a wave that Max will encounter and the minutia of the body being destroyed is simply, beautiful.  That might sound disturbing to hear such a comment, but each entry and exit wound have been articulately detailed coupled with arterial spray (pending on bullet placement) and it is really the perfect way to end a wave of enemies; the bullet-cam just offers such great satisfaction and is something players will revel in.

Only one thug was hurt (murdered) in the creation of this photo

The gameplay in Max Payne 3 has seen some minor refinements, while not substandard, it isn’t anything revolutionary.  Those who have played previous Max Payne games or any other third person shooter for that matter will feel right at home.  Don’t let me paint a negative picture for how this game handles, it is your standard Max Payne fare and that is alright because it works well.  Some notable improvements come in the form of being able to aim down sight (or as much as you can in a third person shooter) and also how Max interacts with the environment while in bullet time.  When diving over counter or tables Max will adjust his posture to clear various obstacles strewed across those surfaces or if you happen to dive near a wall Max will brace himself for impact, picking up his firing from the floor.  The impeccable implementation of collision detection elevates this experience that much more and adds extra intensity to fire fights.

Raining down bullets from above

Today’s modern action game wouldn’t be complete without a few action set pieces, right?  Have no fear because Max Payne 3 has them in spades and executes them with purpose and style.  They are not on the same scale as the likes of Uncharted, mainly because of their brevity and quiet nature (not a whole lot of sound during bullet time), but this does not mean they are any less bad ass.  Spearing an enemy through a plate glass window onto a crowded Brazilian nightclub dance floor all while shooting his compadres is just one of the many instances where Max gets to flex his “bullet time” muscles.

Gather your Crew

The consensus these days is that most people think that multiplayer modes should be left out of games that have always been single player experiences.  That companies shoehorn in multiplayer components to give a game more mass market appeal.  Trust me when I say that is not the case with Max Payne 3’s multiplayer.  Rockstar has created one of the deepest and most highly rewarding multiplayer experiences of this generation.  What is usually a fringe component is some single player games is a fully realized and innovative multiplayer experience in Max Payne 3.  Rockstar hasn’t simply rehashed standard multiplayer practices, but has given them personality.

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Yes, you do have your mainstay multiplayer modes (i.e. Death Match, Team Death Match), but the one mode that sets Max Payne 3’s multiplayer apart others is Gang Wars.  In Gang Wars you will go through a series of rounds performing different tasks, for example, diffusing bombs, acquiring territory or assassinating an enemy leader all culminating to a final round of unadulterated death match massacre.  While Gang Wars is unique, it falls short with its attempt at injecting narrative.  It doesn’t fill in holes as much as it leads on to, but regardless the Gang Wars mode is incomprehensively fun and offers much more freedom than the single player campaign.

The implementation of crews is another thing that takes Max Payne 3’s multiplayer to towering new heights.  Crews are like clans, but will be persistent through Max Payne 3 into Rockstar’s other titles most notably GTA V.  The aggregate stats are a fun way for people to measure up crew against crew and are ultimately there for bragging rights, but like I said it provides an interesting take on the clan model nonetheless.

Choose your faction, then let the customization begin

When it comes to multiplayer unlocks and customization, Max Payne 3 once again excels.  You can alter the look of your avatar for each of the game’s factions with a myriad of options as well as create custom loadouts.  The loadouts draw inspiration from familiar RPG encumberment/inventory mechanics allowing the player to tailor their character for maneuverability and fast health regeneration or to be a walking tank, or perhaps something in between.   Whichever end of the spectrum your character ends up on is entirely up to you, but take solace in knowing that each option is viable on the battlefield.

Sometimes this game makes you want to join Max for a scotch

While some things have been refined for the modern audience, some things have been left in that I personally think should have been forgotten about over the last 9 years.

No matter what difficulty you choose to play on, this game has some serious spikes in difficulty which will surely have you screaming at your TV (I know I’m not the only one who does that).  A few select firefights become an exercise in repetition and these unfortunate scenarios remove you from the experience, even if only slightly, but to play devil’s advocate on my own complaint, these hiccups make every other firefight a breeze to surmount.

The quick save feature, a staple of the Max Payne series has been removed.  Most modern action games have done away with this feature, but like I said a few sentences ago, some ungodly hard parts could be easier to swallow had this feature remained intact.  The ability to generate your own checkpoints through the quick save feature would have kept a few grey hairs off of my big head.  Being at the mercy of Max Payne 3’s checkpoints don’t mark the end of the world, it just took me for a loop the first time I went to do it.

Xbox 360 owners have the game brought to them on two discs, which usually doesn’t present an issue.  I for one usually do not care about disc swapping and have become fairly used to it as the Xbox 360 is more often than not my platform of choice.  You can only access the multiplayer from disc 1 however and if you have disc 2 in and hit multiplayer menu button by accident, you do not have the option to back out, you must either swap your disc or restart you console.  This is a small nuisance that I assume can be fixed through an update, so let’s keep our fingers crossed, or just simply don’t hit multiplayer button while on disc 2 (simple fix I guess).

Final Thoughts

Max Payne 3 is not a perfect game by any means, but has accomplished what few other action games have; achieving a palatable blend of action and narrative.  Far too often action games abandon narrative in pursuit of inane and sensationalized action and to Max Payne 3’s credit, it does not do that.  It is the best entry in the series thus far.  The single player campaign is well designed lasting anywhere from 10-12 hours pending your difficulty of choice and the multiplayer will hold over those who partake for months.  Max Payne 3 is a shining example of what other action games should aspire to and I implore you to not miss this brilliant tale of internal conflict and redemption.