Through the haze of the booze and the drugs, years passed in an instant. Every time I closed my eyes, the frozen grimace of death haunted me. I tried to push the through the pain; come to grips with the changes. I didn’t know if I was strong enough, but one thing was for sure; it was time to move on.

One of the most astounding things to me about the return of Max Payne is not that it exists at all; it’s always been a property that needed more attention. Rather, it’s that Rockstar has accomplished the task of bringing the anti-hero back without needing to reboot the series entirely. Max Payne 3 exists as one of the few examples of successfully continuing a narrative in a new generation with new expectations.

Max’s sad tale works because of the long gap in entries, not in spite of it. Much like Raul Passos, Max’s companion and partner through his latest misadventure, we’ve been left to wonder, “what ever happened to that guy?” The answer is a tragic tale that is worth experiencing for anyone with a strong enough stomach to handle the results of bullet time.

 

Believe it or not, bullet time kills get even gorier.

When we encounter Max for the first time, he’s in a small apartment in São Paolo, Brazil, mixing his addictions. No amount of booze and painkillers seems to be enough for the ex-cop, and it’s a wonder he can even hold it together when he’s on the job. Ah, yes… the job. After an unfortunate incident (which you will discover via a flashback), Max wisely chooses to leave the metro New York City area thanks to an offer from former Policy Academy classmate Raul Passos.

The two run security for real estate magnate Rodrigo Branco, his trophy wife and his annoying family. The contempt Max feels for most of the people he’s paid to protect drips from every line of this trademark inner monologue. Still, it’s a paycheck and he drinks for free. Of course, everything goes to hell right away as thugs make a play for members of the family at a fancy penthouse party. Max and Passos hold them off, but things just go from bad to worse. Well, I won’t spoil it.

The entire experience is a balancing act between familiarity and progress. Max is still the same, dry witted cynic, but the presence of so many other vibrant personalities is a big change. In previous titles, Max was largely a loner, even when with others. He’s gotten significantly chattier, with more coming from him via dialogue rather than internal monologue. Also gone are the static comic cutscenes in favor of a more action-comic approach. Key words will appear artistically on the screen and the angles will shift dramatically. These are all rendered on the fly, reflecting whatever weapons Max is carrying and however much damage he’s been unfortunate enough to sustain.

Please, Max. Take a shower.

Most importantly, though, the entire game is seamless. You won’t see a single loading screen once you are in the game, provided you don’t skip a cutscene. It’s certainly a better way to mask loading than waiting for an elevator.

The game play also blends the old and new. The whole experience is still crafted around bullet time and shoot dodging, but the inclusion of a cover mechanic changes the approach. Rather than run headlong into a hail of bullets, I found myself grabbing cover, popping out and triggering bullet time to go for the headshots. There are still those absurd shoot dodge moments, like flying down a huge set of stadium stairs, but they are a bit more spaced out. I found myself appreciating them much more this way.

There are also scripted bullet time moments as you’re sliding down a roof or… well… you’ll find out. Somehow, despite being planned and extremely cinematic, the game doesn’t feel like a movie. Maybe it’s because it’s a rawer experience than, say, Uncharted, or maybe it’s just because of the writing. Regardless, the foot is always on the gas, and after each firefight, I found that I had been holding my breath.

Classic.

Thankfully, the game uses a slow-motion “last kill” to let me know when it’s ok to consume oxygen again. For the sadists out there (yes, I’m one, apparently), you can hold down the A button to slow down time and pump extra rounds into the hapless foe. These typically leave mangled piles of meat in their wakes, and I’m not sure anyone would be able to identify the victims of my itchy finger.

The game also sports a “last man standing” feature to keep the action moving. If you’ve got at least one painkiller (that’s right, no regenerating health) and suffer fatal damage, you can take out your attacker to stay in the fight. You’ll end up on the ground, still able to shoot. It’s a good idea to survey your surroundings to make sure that you don’t pop up back into harm’s way. Being able to control when you get up actually plays a significant role in surviving firefights.

Throughout the game, there are a number of set pieces and scripted moments. Sniping to cover an ally and on-rails segments are handled smartly and never felt tedious. I enjoyed them immensely, and even when I failed, the game loaded quickly (within a second or two) to get me back into the fight. This is particularly useful in high stakes shootouts when trial and error, finding the best place to grab cover and choosing different weapons are the order of the day.