Rockstar Games, much like their namesake, have aged to the point where they are no longer the new kids on the block putting out genre changing games but producing polished content with mass appeal. Max Payne 3 is the latest in a franchise that has switched hands from being developed by Remedy, who handles the Alan Wake series, to Rockstar studios. Does Max Payne 3 follow suit behind Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption and showcase that aged Rockstar polish?
When a gamer hears Max Payne, they expect at least three things; Bullet Time slow mo, a lot of gunplay, and old school pulp/noir dialogue filled with metaphors and similes. That is something the Mark Wahlberg movie missed and luckily Rockstar Games remembered for Max Payne 3. Max executes more slow-mo shoot dodges, spits more downtrodden pulpy dialogue, and fires more guns than you can shake a leg at. It is nice when people who understand what fans want work on the project unlike *cough* Mark Wahlberg *cough*.
The gameplay formula is still the same as the eleven year old series starter, Max Payne. Enter a room, slow time either manually or by doing a dive with shoot dodge and kill the enemies. Kill more enemies to fill your Bullet Time meter. Recover health with pain killers. Rinse and repeat. What Max Payne 3 does differently is that it brings in polish to the experience. Encounters are more scripted. There will be a room and a half full of enemies moving from cover to cover to flank you. Clear the enemies and move to the next section to find another room full of enemies or perhaps a forced slow mo section such as gliding down a hall on a rolling cart with plenty of enemies lined up for you to take out. There are also vehicle sections that will have you clearing out enemies like ducks in a shoot gallery. These sections tend to be extremely fun and break up the monotony of 14 levels of the same type of gameplay. While the technology backing the game is new, the game still very much feels like the eleven year old Max Payne and earlier players of the series will fall right in with no trouble.
What those earlier players might notice is that the graphic novel cutscenes are missing. Max Payne 3 takes the approach of blending cutscenes and gameplay. While a purist might be upset without the graphic novel scenes, the new technique creates a similar vibe. Cut-scenes are in-game but have a visual filter over them that mixes trail lines, motion blur, and general distortion that appears to symbolize how Max Payne views the world through his mixture of pain killers and booze. When key pieces of dialogue happen during these scenes, the words get stamped to the screen as if they were the dialogue bubbles in the graphic novel. While this new style is highly polished, it does change the feel of the story despite the similar vibe to the graphic novel.
Speaking of story, this is where Max Payne 3 fails. The story moves Payne from New York City to Sao Paulo, Brazil which as Max says, “Is like Baghdad with g-strings”. Payne, no longer a cop, lives in Hoboken wallowing in booze and pain killers still mourning the losses occurred during the first two games. An academy buddy convinces him to take up bodyguarding down in Brazil where Max in his own words “is no longer slipping, but slipped.” True to Payne’s luck, things turn from bad to worst in a hurry during his gig guarding a rich family. Despite getting the original writer of Max Payne 1 and 2 to work on 3, there is a strong departure from that Max Payne feel. Dialogue wise it’s still good old Max Payne, though with way too many lines on his fall into booze and pills.
While single player is easily knocked out in a weekend, several modes are available for replay value. There are 5 difficulties of the regular story based gameplay and after you beat the game, arcade modes are unlocked. Score Attack has you going for the high score in each level while New York Minute is all about getting the best time with kills generating extra time on the clock. Once New York Minute is beaten, New York Minute Hardcore is unlocked which just takes the mode and puts it on the hardcore difficulty level. There are achievements tied to each of the modes and difficulties besides easy and Score Attack so if that extra motivation is needed, it is there.
A new addition to the Max Payne series is multiplayer. The game contains the usual modes, deathmatch and team deathmatch. A mode called Payne Killer is a mix of team and regular deathmatch style where two people play Max Payne and Raul Passos and the rest of the players are a team trying to kill them with the killer becoming that character next. The bread and butter mode is a series of objective based matches called Gang Wars. The shifting objectives contain a shared story thread that tries to emulate the single player game. Types of objectives contained in each match are random.
The multiplayer has a progression system that has become a staple of online shooters since the first Modern Warfare game. Experience is earned, levels are gained, and toys are unlocked. Bullet time from single player makes an appearance in multiplayer as one of the many adrenaline bursts available depending on the loadout of your customized builds. The slow mo effect is based on line of sight and within a radius. If someone catches you in bullet time, than all you have to do is break line of sight by ducking behind cover. Adrenaline is generated from kills and looting bodies. Loadouts contain what burst you want to use, weapons, gear, and thrown explosives. The more heat you pack, the more your loadout will weigh affecting movement speed and other attributes. This creates a need to build more balanced loadouts rather than just packing massive heat with all the effective weapons.
Rockstar Games has thrown some mean polish on their last few titles. Max Payne 3 is no different but might leave fans of the series pondering some of the plot choices. Story issues aside, a gamer will be hard pressed to find a better third person shooter available now. With future DLC already announced, Max Payne 3 is a title you buy and come back to every month or two as DLC is released.