It’s been nine years since we last filled the shoes of ex-cop and part-time poet, Max Payne. A next generation platform and a shift in developer isn’t the only thing that’s changed, and fans may be teetering on the edge, undecided on whether or not to make the leap back into slow motion. By the end of this review, you will have hopefully abandoned the edge for a much more elegant position, mid-air and with time slowing to a crawl.

Max Payne 3—like its predecessors—is a third person shooter, baked in the influence of hardboiled Hong Kong movie director, John Woo. It has a large emphasis on story and stylish, chaotic gun battles. The shooting really takes the stage and although some of the novelty that was originally introduced in Max Payne 1 and 2 may have diminished, no other game does slow-motion, heart pumping action better than Max Payne 3.

The story is centered around the games namesake, Max Payne. Still trying to overcome the loss of his wife and child, Max has descended into a lifestyle of drink and painkillers to help him get through the day. After getting into some trouble with a Hoboken mob, Max needs to find a new life. Charismatic friend, Raul Passos, offers Max a job in private security looking after one of the wealthiest families in Sao Paulo – the Brancos. It isn’t long before this gig well and truly hits the fan and Max is back into the old life of bullet dodging, and trying to save the people he had sworn to protect.

The tale becomes darker as the game progresses and you are eager to solve the mystery behind what is happening. Max is self-deprecating throughout, giving the impression that you are playing as a bit of a loser, but he provides a real dry sense of humor and you really want the guy to succeed when all is said and done. James McCaffrey reprises his role as Max Payne and he does a fantastic job bringing a bit more life to the character, whilst keeping everything we loved about Max in tact. The writing has lost some of its poetic imagery—largely due to the fact Sam Lake is no longer writing for the character—although this could have been an intentional move by Rockstar. The presentation is very reminiscent of the movie, Man On Fire, with visual effects seeping in and out to reflect the confusion in Max’s frequently drunken state of mind.

                      “I had a hole in my second favorite drinking arm…”

Max Payne 3 offers a unique set of mechanics in its gunplay, the most obvious one being – Bullet-time. Bullet-time allows the player to slow everything down to a crawl whilst aiming your guns in real-time. A meter displays the amount of bullet-time you have left and the meter depletes as you use it. You can replenish the meter by performing headshots, or by withstanding an onslaught of gunfire heading your way. You can initiate bullet-time from any position in the game, whether it be—prone, standing, rolling, climbing, falling or recovering from an explosion.

Another trick Max has up his sleeve is the Shootdodge. The shootdodge sends Max flying through the air in slow motion, allowing you to dodge incoming fire, reach a more advantageous position, or simply giving you another opportunity to pull off some stylish shots mid-flight. The shoot dodge is not limited by the bullet-time meter, allowing you to use it even if you’ve run dry. However, any meter you do have will still deplete during the shootdodge, creating a more tactical approach in your usage of it. You are also able to shoot your guns from near any position, including a full 360 degrees from a prone situation. Even as Max is struggling to get up from a fall, you are able to keep blasting your gun.

You have plenty of weapons at your disposal and plenty of bad guys to use them on. The weapons range from assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, Uzi’s and being able to dual wield any of the aforementioned handguns. Unfortunately, there are no grenades to speak of in the single-player—although your enemies won’t be shy introducing you to their own. The great sound effects in the game add more fire to these already heated exchanges, and it heightens the excitement consistently.

Max Payne 3 introduces a pretty disappointing cover system. Max’s control is very weighty at the best of times, and moving in and out of cover is a real chore. If you play this like a duck and cover, you will be largely unsuccessful. The enemies will rush you, throw grenades, cover will be destroyed and you will be forced to move. There is no “cover swap” mechanic either, obligating you to manually leave cover and enter a separate piece. This encourages you to play the game as more of a run-and-gun—much like the older games—and it is recommended that you play in this style using cover only to take a breather. In order to recover health, the painkillers are back! After a certain amount of deaths, you are granted an extra painkiller to help you through it.

The final newly introduced mechanic is Last Man Standing. If you have a painkiller and you are at the brink of death, Max will fall to the floor and bullet-time will be activated. If you shoot the guy that shot you, you will come back from the hands of ruin. This will use up the painkiller and if you have none with you, you will die instantly. Unfortunately, this mechanic is far more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes, the man who shot you is out of your reach, or behind cover. Other times this feature will just glitch out on you. There is no way to “restart checkpoint” during Last Man Standing either, making it frustrating when you don’t want to wait for Max to simply drop dead.

The game is one big shooting match and new enemy types are introduced later in the game, forcing you to adopt new strategies and be much more accurate with your shots. The difficulty ramps up significantly, making the run-and-gun style a lot harder to pull off near the end. This pushes you to play more cautiously, which is almost the opposite of what Max Payne stands for.

There is quite a bit of replay value in the games collectables, extra game modes and varying difficulty levels. The most notable difficulty level being: Old School difficulty. This mode disables Last Man Standing and is a godsend, I tell you.  The other game modes include – Score Attack and New York Minute. Score attack has you playing through the games chapters, trying to rack up points by achieving certain objectives with your kills. New York Minute will be familiar to anyone who played the original Max Payne. This mode puts you against the clock with a one minute timer. You are allotted extra time for every enemy you take down. This is the ultimate run-and-gun experience in Max Payne 3.

“But I wasn’t in much of a state to do anything… apart from kill people.”

The soundtrack is as haunting and relevant as ever. The game opens up with a chilling rendition of the original Max Payne theme, and the music is appropriate for the environments. When you are in sunny Sao Paulo, you will hear street party music playing in the background. If you are in a pumping nightclub, you will be deafened by the bass and techno that fills the room. The music really hits the spot late in the game, but I do not wish to spoil the moment for you!

Finally, we have the multiplayer mode. Max Payne 3’s multiplayer is a real disappointment. The game sports a variety of game modes including your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, but the most memorable match-ups take place during Gang Wars and Payne Killer. Payne Killer is a king of the hill-type mode, where one player is assigned as Max and the other as Passos. Armed with unique weapons and abilities, it is their goal to take down everyone they can. The other players have to take them down. Whoever kills Max, becomes Max and the same goes for Passos. Gang Wars is Max Payne 3’s attempt at introducing a narrative during its multiplayer. You play through a gauntlet of various objectives and the next objective is dependent on the outcome of the last. Max is narrating throughout this mode and it is probably the most fun you will find in the games multiplayer. The online experience in Max Payne 3 can be fun in small doses, but it ultimately lacks a sense strategic depth. If you’re looking for some mindless chaos, then the multiplayer might be for you. In contrast to its single player mode though, the multiplayer is a real let down.

You are able to customize and level up your characters throughout the multiplayer mode and you can also join “crews”. These Rockstar crews are the clans of Max Payne 3. It is worth noting that these crews will be transferred over to Grand Theft Auto V when that game launches.

Overall, Max Payne 3 is a stellar experience. The graphics are on par with everything else this year and the attention to detail is second to none. Max’s clothes will develop sweat patches and blood spots over time, and the animations are impeccable. Rockstar games have used the Euphoria engine to great effect in Max Payne 3 and it adds a lot to the experience.

If you loved the previous games, you should absolutely pick this one up. It will deliver where it counts, but be prepared for some frustration along the way. If you love shooters, I would also recommend this to you, just don’t expect the same precision you’ll get from other games in the genre.  The game will take you between ten to twelve hours to complete and is certainly worth the price!

Bullet in the Head | Max Payne 3 Review
Max Payne 3 offers some of the most visually stunning, chaotic action this year. Yet another compelling piece from Rockstar Games.
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