After numerous delays, using the new “Rage” engine by Rockstar, and being developed by them instead of the original team Remedy, Max Payne 3 had a lot of elements that could both speak for or against it. Luckily: Remedy served as consultants for Rockstar when the game reached the end of its development, and even Oskari Hakkinen and Sam Lake commented on how pleased they were with the project. Fans today are definitely split on this title, but could it at the very least be a fitting ending to this trilogy?
Max takes a trip to Brazil
Max has become more of a wreck than ever before. Turned to the bottom of the bottles and the pill-caps, he now struggles through life as a bodyguard for some rich punks in São Paulo, and while he isn’t happy about it, he needed a job far away from his home due to crossing the line with a mob family in New York. Soon enough, things get out of hand with kidnappings, murders, questionable hired goons and we are eventually taken to the deep slums of Brazil.
If I can complement the story on one thing: it is still about Max’ pain, just like previous entries. It is not as poetically displayed as before, but definitely in tone. It is more urban, with a vocabulary that is somewhat lacking due to more swearing than clever comments. We still feel with the man, it is just a tad out of character, but it can also be a sign of how tired he is. Speaking of which, Max feels really off in the areas he is in, besides the flashbacks when we visit New York. Luckily: the game acknowledges this with Max talking down on the area he is in and his life in general, which makes his journey more intriguing and personal. The entire story is told through monologues again, which makes it easier to sympathize with the main character. The entire story is also told in a flashback that jumps back and forth in the plot, but it is easy to follow and I never felt lost.
However, none of the other characters are interesting. This might have been a move to complement just how little we are supposed to care and focus on Max, but they get so annoying, stereotypical, and none of the bad guys are interesting. Even Max falls at times in this category, making idiotic choices that we all know are not a good idea, like following a street-kid who possibly might know something. The setting in Brazil is not appealing either, despite how much work they put in it, making it feel realistic and dangerous. Because of this, I never got invested in what was around Max or the overall plot, especially when there were a bunch of plot-points that did not add anything. Making a damsel in distress pregnant for example, does not give her more character. The story has certain twists and turns that are intriguing, but again: the characters makes it hard for me to care. Even the flashbacks to New York, while definitely more intriguing and interesting, felt somewhat lacking in character at times.
Gone are the comic-panels from previous entries. What we have here, are more in-game cutscenes with some parts freezing, with words highlighted and popping up on the screen, to make it somewhat simulate a comic. It is an odd choice, but it works to keep the story floating. Back is also interactive objects that give more to the plot or the setting, with monologues from Max. The symbolism from the previous entries is much less here, but there are minor ones, such as one piano-tune that can be heard throughout the game.
The story is pretty uninteresting until the very end, but at least we have one character to feel with and while he is not as poetical in his vocabulary as before, he is still one I care about. Unfortunately: he is also the only reason for making me not skip a single cutscene despite how many times I wish I had.
Story Score: 5/10
Gone modern, but still acknowledges its darker days
After so many years, Max Payne had to change with the time. Being a third-person shooter, we now have cover mechanics, blindfire, iron sight aiming, and you can only carry a limited amount of guns. Max can carry 2 smaller arms and one two-handed one, or drop the two-handed gun in favor of dual wielding. It might seem limited, but due to different guns being easy to find, it demands you vary and try out different style of play, which is fantastic. Melee-attacking also returns and is much better implemented with the ability to steal an enemy’s weapon, and kill them instantly. While a cover mechanic is introduced and certainly useful, you can’t be a sitting duck and will have to move around before your cover is destroyed. One way of moving, is with the return of bullet time.
Bullet time returns and now fills as you shoot enemies and they shoot towards you. It might seem easy to misuse, but it is not a superpower, like in Max Payne 2. Here, it is mainly used to slow down time to get a good aim before the enemy sees you or to dodge and fire at enemies. The dodging returns and while you can go in bullet time even when it is empty, you are exposed easily when you dodge, unless you do it from cover to cover and it will still drain your bullet time. This is a godsent, since this game is incredibly challenging and can easily give you a game-over if you let your guard down. You will have to rely a lot on these abilities to make your way through, but at the same time use them cautiously so you can live through the next shoot-out. You can even lay down and thanks to cover-mechanic being helpful, crouching is also useful (unlike previous entries). There are some scripted segments where bullet time will happen, giving you a chance to kill as many as possible before battling on in normal-time, which are great fun, rewarding precise shots.
Another thing that also returns are the painkillers. You can carry 8 at max with you and they heal a lot of health and instantly this time, which is a good move due to how fast-paced the game is. What makes them different from traditional medpacks is the last-stand ability. If you are hit by a deadly shot, you will go in slow-mo and try to kill the enemy that tried to kill you. If you do so, you will automatically take a pill and come back to life with some health restored. Death can come easy, so this is a nice extra, but a fatal shot to the head will kill you. This is quite different from before, but a nice upgrade that works with its mechanics and makes you choose if you want to refill more health or use it as an extra life. To give an example of how important they are: I never had the maximum amount of Painkillers, making this entry possibly even harder than the first title. Finally: similar to previous entries, there are clues to find that can elaborate more about the plot or give more to the overall setting, such as dead bodies, newspapers or similar. All are accompanied by Max’ monologue and going off the linear path, might also reward you with painkillers or guns, which you will definitely need.
Besides the shooting and taking cover, there are also some on-rails sections, such as shooting from a boat at high speed. While they aren’t as fleshed out, they are still fun and hectic, and make you take important choices on whom to shoot so damage to your vehicle will be limited. Another element to shooting are a couple of sniper-parts, where you cover for a partner and they can be intense, but great fun and don’t last for too long, only breaking the pace nicely. I also counted 2 quick-time event parts, but they were forgettable and did not add or take away anything.
The enemies are fierce and dangerous, hide when it is called for, and with precise shots, they can easily kill you if you aren’t careful. This is in general a difficult game, demanding you to think quickly. To lessen the frustration, the auto saving is well implemented and I never felt it was unfair or too harsh. There are even a couple of boss fights that require some quick thinking and precise shots, such as one with a lot of armor, or one that must be killed by with scenery you can destroy. The enemies are forgettable themselves, but the gunfights certainly aren’t.
With so many upgrades and still focusing on what Max Payne was originally about, it makes for one of the best shooting-games I have ever tackled. Surely the bosses aren’t that huge of a highlight and the enemies might not vary much, but these are the only nitpicks I have with this entry. It is definitely one of the best modern third-person shooters to come in a long time.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
New style, impressive payout
We have gotten to the next generation of consoles in its later days, and Max Payne 3 is a showcase for it. It is a beautiful game, with great draw-distance, lovely details, and while the settings are questionable at times, they really went all out to make the areas feel realistic and appealing. The mix between the brighter areas such as Brazil, with the gritty and dark New York are actually a good contrast to each other and work well. The characters aren’t bad-looking, but some are definitely forgettable in their design. To be perfectly honest, I only recall 2 characters that had a good and detailed design to them, one of them being Max (oddly enough due to his alcoholism and drug-abuse).
The cutscenes mixed with comic-filters work great at making the story flow, due to using in-game presentation. The filters to simulate Max’s intoxication are a bit of an eyesore, but effective, making us feel with him, as well as the highlighted letters that pop up. On a more technical level: the lightning, destructible environment, bullets flying everywhere and even the sound effects of guns are impressive.
The voice-acting is really good, despite the script and characters not always being interesting. Max is once again done by James McCaffrey and it is a familiar and a strong performance. You can hear some years have gone by, as it should. The music needs to be mentioned as well. While not as effectively used as in previous entries, it is a huge and varied soundtrack, including the theme of Max Payne, melancholic songs, hectic upbeat tracks and so on. Each music-piece fits in the environment and while I am not a fan of some music because of it, the quality and how memorable they are is impressive nonetheless.
Presentation Score: 9/10
More to shoot in single- and multiplayer!
After finishing the game, there is a ton to come back to: collecting golden gun-parts for decorating your weapons, clues throughout the game that give more to the story, fun minor secrets, achievements that are actually enjoyable, and more difficulty-modes. If that was not enough, even the multiplayer is impressive, with character-customization, the ability to put a bounty on people, the game can be connected to GTA5, crew-making, and is in general much more interactive. It might not be the most in-depth in its mechanics, but it is definitely customizable and unique enough to be enjoyable for more than a couple of rounds.
Extra score: 9/10
Max Payne has really deserved his retirement. Having to deal with a plot that is not very engaging and plenty of characters that are unlikeable, could really have been the low-point for the series. Despite this, we get some of the finest shooting in a long time, great replay value, fantastic visuals and a soundtrack, that makes the series go off with a bang. While I would recommend giving the entire series (and its odd GBA-port) a shot, Max Payne 3 can also be recommended to those that have never tried previous entries or have played plenty of TPS, as long as you are not to bothered by stereotypical GTA-tropes.