The last time we saw Mr. Payne it was late 2003 with the release of Max Payne 2: The Fall Max Payne. The sequel did not stray from the original’s winning formula of utilizing Bullet Time and telling the story through comic panels. The first teaser glimpses of part 3 showed a very different looking Max. Now he is stockier and almost completely burned out. We also saw the change to Rockstar Studios as the developing team taking over for Remedy (of Alan Wake fame).
Are we losing the comic book noir style of the 2 original games? Is Max Payne 3 set to become just another Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption knock off? It’s not to say that those titles are less than awesome, but fans loved Max Payne for what it was: a hard boiled shooter told through comic book panes that dripped with style and grit. Warm up those trigger fingers, you killers, because it is time for Max Payne 3.
Max is no longer treading the seedy streets of New Jersey, as the game opens with him at a party in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Max has not aged well, and as we can see, he still enjoys a steady diet of pills and alcohol, even on the job. Being a cop has not worked out for Max, so now he is working personal security for the Branco family. We have a rich family, free flowing alcohol and a very poor country where almost everyone in power is crooked; what could go wrong? There is an attack and Mr. Branco’s trophy wife is kidnapped. Let the games begin.
The characters in this story are believable and do an excellent job developing as the action turns from bad to worse. The story is not something completely unheard of, but carries enough twists and surprises to keep even the most ADD riddled person tuned in. As the game progressed, I found myself caring more and more for Max and this disastrous mess of a life he was trying to lead.
The graphic novel or comic book frames used to tell Max’s story in the past are almost completely gone except for a few here and there, now filled with words meant to move the narrative forward. Thanks to the Rage Engine, all cut scenes are fully acted out and the transition into gameplay is about as close to seamless as I have ever seen. If it was not for the perspective changing to fasten me in for 3rd person view, I may have never known what was in game and what was not by just looking. I was seriously worried that by losing the graphic novel narrative the gritty noir feel would be gone, but Rockstar did an excellent job of putting my worries to rest.
From the instant I took control of Max, there was empowerment, but I could tell this was not the same hero I once knew. The controls in this outing actually felt like the burned out hero on screen. He cannot move as fast, takes more time recovering when injured and even groans in pain like an old man. Max has a completely new catalog of one liners to keep the fans grinning from ear to ear. I love the fact that Max’s weapon capacity became realistic and you can see the 3 gun maximum he can carry throughout the game. No more toting around a small arsenal that is pulled out of nowhere. If you choose to go dual gun, Max will have to drop the rifle or shotgun he is carrying. This led to a lot of strategy when taking on foes.
As with the last 2 titles, the gameplay really revolves around Bullet Time and gun based combat. Bullet Time is not a requirement, rather an assistant for dealing with groups of foes. I went through the first half with minimal Bullet Time used. As the game progressed, the enemies became more difficult and I started using the technique consistantly. It was a massive help in taking out armored groups and reserving pain killers for later use.
Bullet Time comes in three flavors, shootdodging (diving and firing your weapon), last man standing (chance to recover if you can take down the enemy that just shot you before dying yourself) and melee (hand to hand combat). The last man standing was the most commonly used option for me because it is automatically triggered when I was wounded and about to die. Once I completed the required shot to survive, I was able to fire from the ground to take care of any others on the screen. The melee option went unused, as I never let the enemy close enough. The original shootdodge was used plenty in dispatching the enemy, though. All of these looked great and worked as required. Switching between targets in Bullet Time seemed a little clunky and did not work too well. Most times the meter would be empty before I could finish off more than 2 enemies.
Anything in Max Payne’s world can be riddled with bullets. Glass shatters realistically, cover disintegrates and cars explode. At times I found myself shooting objects just to see what would happen. Enemies could be turned into Swiss cheese, and to top it off you have the Bullet Cam for dessert. When taking out a group of enemies the last shot fired slows down and a camera followed my bullet right through the enemy. The Bullet Cam had me shooting enemies differently each time just to score a new death annimation. Yes, this has been done before via kill cams and such but not with this level of detail. Blood flies, gaping wounds are present and skulls shatter. Watching how some of my enemies fell was shudder worthy to say the least. I loved the fact that if I was shot in the shoulder there would be a wound right where it happened until I got my hands on some damage reducing pain killers.