Max Payne 3 – Review

Platform | Release Date
360,PS3 | May 15, 2012
PC | May 29, 2012
Developed by Rockstar Games
Published by Rockstar Games

The Pitch:

For Max Payne, the tragedies that took his loved ones years ago are wounds that refuse to heal. No longer a cop, close to washed up and addicted to pain killers, Max takes a job in São Paulo, Brazil, protecting the family of wealthy real estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, in an effort to finally escape his troubled past. But as events spiral out of his control, Max Payne finds himself alone on the streets of an unfamiliar city, desperately searching for the truth and fighting for a way out. Featuring cutting edge shooting mechanics for precision gunplay, advanced new Bullet Time® and Shootdodge™ effects, full integration of Natural Motion’s Euphoria® Character Behavior system for lifelike movement and a dark and twisted story, Max Payne 3 is a seamless, highly detailed, cinematic experience from Rockstar Games.

Max Payne has always had a simple feeling to pin down. It’s a rain-slick alley behind a Brooklyn nightclub. It’s a handful of painkillers washed down with a fifth of scotch. It’s leather, gunpowder, and broken glass; and it’s a machine of death wearing the face of a grizzled (ex-)cop. When it was announced that Max Payne 3 would eschew more traditional environments for the slums and high rises of São Paulo, Brazil, series regulars collectively held their breath. Take Max out of New York, and is he still the same guy? The answer, unlike so many other things about Max Payne 3, is surprisingly complex.

If you’ve played previous entries in the series, you’ll likely find Max Payne 3’s action to be on par. Bullet Time found its champion in the first Max Payne, and again it’s a source of unmitigated glee. Jumping around corners in slow motion, turning over his body with dual-wielded Uzis, Max is every bit the death machine he’s always been. It’s what happens when the adrenaline runs out that’s such a downer; Max Payne 3 reasserts itself as a true modern-day third-person shooter by turtling in behind some cover. The peek-and-poke style of gunplay intrinsic in cover-based games feels painfully contrary to the series’s traditional action-first gameplay. Expect hours of this game to be spent behind a chest-high wall, popping out to headshot wave after wave of soldiers, cops, or gang members. You’re left to wonder if Max has lost a step or two in his advancing years.

Max Payne 3 tells its story in a way that seems a natural evolution from the comic-book style scenes of the predecessors. The limitations of previous generations required a bit of innovation to frame story sequences like a graphic novel. Now, with these segments being fully rendered with the game engine, keywords and phrases fade or scroll into the background throughout cutscenes. The result is a dynamic contrast that imbues individual words with tremendous power. Drenched with the cynicism and one-liners Max built his name on, if it’s not quite Film Noir, it’s something very close. The isolation, bitterness, and lust for vengeance of Noir have been mingled with socio-political turmoil and crippling poverty. Call it Favela Noir.

Unfortunately, the narrative underwhelms in almost every other aspect. It feels like the antithesis of a Seurat painting; gorgeously detailed when viewed up close, a lackluster blob when you take a step back. If any risk was taken here, it was daring to be pedestrian. Max is washed up, and just does the job he’s paid to do. His transformation from man to weapon is complete, and he doesn’t much seem to care which direction he’s pointed. At times it feels like the entire game is a joke at Max’s expense, as if he stopped mattering the moment he stopped being a cop. Somewhere in the world of Max Payne 3 there’s a hero cop saving the world from an evil multinational conglomerate. This is not his story.

Max’s story might have ended 9 years ago. In a fashion, Max Payne 3 seems to be channelling Rocky V. We want “happily ever after” or “blaze of glory” for our heroes. We don’t want to witness the aftermath of their triumph, especially if they’re unfulfilled, aimless, and depressing.

After seeing the game through to its conclusion, more Payne awaits in the multiplayer. I spent a relatively short amount of time playing around with the deathmatch, and it’s certainly a high point. It’s difficult not to draw comparisons to Uncharted 2’s multiplayer. Both are surprisingly capable systems – deep, yet not overwhelming. The Bullet Time mechanics work amazingly well against other players; if you can see anyone who is slowed, you are slowed. Since this is limited to jump-dodging the effect is usually over quick enough not to be a nuisance, but it can serve as a great way to snatch the upper hand against a better-positioned opponent.

Under any other name, Max Payne 3 would have been significantly more impressive. Given the expectations associated with this series, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed by a game that takes the safe road at every chance. Following the roller-coaster twists and turns of the previous Max Payne games, this iteration is a ride around the merry-go-round with a pretty girl. It’s enjoyable and gets your heart pumping, but at the end of the night you know she’s going back to Trevor because he has a Corvette.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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