It’s very difficult to believe that nine years have passed since we were last put in control of Max Payne’s spiralling descent into blood-stained depression. Despite the problems that plagued the console versions of Max Payne 2 and the poor-to-middling reviews that greeted the Mark Wahlberg-led movie adaptation in 2008, it’s fair to say that there was still a decent level of anticipation for Max’s return – not least from those who still hold the original dear to their hearts.
With Remedy Entertainment having moved on to the mysterious world of Alan Wake, development duty has fallen to several of Rockstar’s in-house studios, with GTA and Red Dead Redemption scribe Dan Houser taking up the writing duties for the tale. What results is a competent tale that stays true (and often pays homage) to the franchise’s history, providing balls-out shooting action albeit without ever really offering anything particularly innovative.
Anyone who has previously played a Max Payne title will know exactly what they’re getting themselves into – a series of shooting gallery set-pieces against increasingly difficult odds, strung together by Max’s film noir style narrative. Now working security for a powerful South American family in São Paulo, but still as dependent on pills and alcohol as ever, Max must discover why his new employers have become targets for rebels, militia and even the police. In the meantime, we also come to learn just why our “hero” came to leave the US for Brazil in the first place.
The comic-strip style interludes of previous games have been replaced by fully-fledged cut-scenes (played out with blurring and distorting effects to signal Max’s state of mind), which themselves blend almost seamlessly in the action. This allows the story to flow constantly throughout its 14 chapters, making it tough at times for the player to put the controller down and stop for a while. While it would have been easy for Rockstar to put their own trademark stamp on the game and give Max an open world to explore, running around shooting gang members on the streets in-between launching missions, it would ultimately have been too much of a departure from what made us love this series to begin with.
That said, there are some minor distractions to keep wannabe explorers satisfied alongside the constant shoot-outs. Each chapter contains a series of clues that help add elements to the story, some in plain sight while others are kept a little way off the beaten track. The Rockstar humour comes out via televisions located in some levels, which feature humorous takes on news, animation and soaps, as well as dropping a few nods to the earlier games as well. In addition to this, Max can also find and collect Golden Gun parts, which provide him with more powerful weaponry. Successfully grab all three pieces of a GG in a chapter, and all future instances of that weapon in the game will be golden.
Getting your hands on a decent level of fire-power is vitally important too, as the enemies you face tend to be rather resilient. Naturally, head-shots are the quickest way to down your foes, but when faced with multiple bad guys in confined areas, it’s not always easy to maintain accuracy. It’s especially important to find the right balance of using cover, knowing when to pop out and attack, and at what point to use the classic bullet time effects.
As always Max is able to slow down time or dive through the air in order to increase his chances of survival and grant him more time to perfectly line-up a fatal blow to those that oppose him. The bullet time meter slowly regenerates while not in use, and can be topped up with accurate shooting. Without it, most shoot-outs would likely end in death, as being faced with multiple enemies often sees Max’s health depleting very quickly – even on the normal difficulty setting. On the plus side, you can now snap to cover and peak out, putting the onus on you to stay out of enemy sights.
Loss of health is countered by the use of painkillers, scattered throughout levels and applied with a quick tap of the d-pad. They also tie into a new mechanic, known as Last Man Standing. If Max runs out of health while still in possession of a painkiller, the game enters a slow-motion sequence during which you must take down the enemy that has “killed” you as quickly as possible. Succeed, and your existence will be prolonged. Fail and it’s back to the last checkpoint – something that has the potential to occur on multiple occasions with certain set-pieces, causing fair levels of rage. That said, after a few deaths on the same checkpoint, you are handed extra painkillers to try and ease your way onwards.
With the story over and done with, there are still several more options to keep players occupied. Along with higher difficulty settings, there are also the arcade modes of Score Attack and New York Minute, the latter of which adds a countdown to key moments from each chapter. Killing enemies will add valuable seconds to your time, as you look to reach the finish before the clock gets down to zero. While an interesting take, these modes do serve to expose the rather repetitive nature of Max Payne’s game-play. It’s very much a case of enter room, kill baddies, move on and repeat. There’s nothing cerebral in the slightest here, not even any creepy dream sequences to contend with. Of course, this also does point to the strength of the storyline itself – as dark, violent and generally unhappy as that is – that you can forgive the lack of innovation in the action itself.
New to Max Payne is the inclusion of multiplayer modes. A variety of free for all and team modes are available, taking place on maps based upon different locations from the single player game. There are rookie playlists to help newcomers level up together, as well as Hardcore options for those who want to challenge themselves with the best of the best. There’s even the ability to choose between free and assisted aim (a choice that is also available in SP) if you want to get your kill count up that little bit quicker.
Use of bullet time in multiplayer is somewhat restricted, though naturally this is a good thing unless you want 16 people throwing themselves around in slow mo like they were in a scene from Spaced. Again, there’s nothing here that could be deemed as particularly innovative, but there’s still a decent level of fun to be had running around and killing complete strangers, especially doing so without wearing fatigues for once.
Despite the fact that Max Payne 3 is little more than an early noughties game dressed up in 2012 style, it has a certain level of charm that will keep you coming back till the very end and still hungry for more afterwards. Even the multiplayer feels worthy of at least some of your time, even if it won’t necessarily be a long term favourite. If you’re looking for innovation then you’ve come to the wrong place, but if what you desire is an enjoyable shooter with a decent story then that’s exactly what you’ll find here.