Note: This review is for the Xbox 360 version of the game. It also doesn’t take into account the multiplayer aspects of the title. (Much apologies in advance if this vehemently enrages you.)
Rockstar Games/Studios is one of those rare video game publishers/developers these days where you don’t really worry very much about whether or not they’re going to push out a superior product. Their track record quite literally speaks for itself and I know I’m among a whole multitude of people who — upon hearing they were taking up the Max Payne saga mantel and crafting the third game in the series — were positively frigging ecstatic. And as I did personally, wore around a shit-eating grin for a few hours after hearing said news.
Max Payne 1 and 2 were each famous — and subsequently successful — for two core reasons. One, the bullet-time gameplay was unlike anything ever included in video game gunplay since the inception of Pong so many, many
years eons ago. And two, the story — despite, at times, being completely bat-shit frigging insane — was told in an engrossing, grittily noir comic book format. Which made the aforementioned bat-shit frigging insanity much more easily digestible.
Unfortunately, only one of these distinguishing pillars returned for the third installment in the franchise. Well, more like one-and-a-half, actually. If you want to get all technical and annoying. You see, the bullet time gameplay — in which you can slow down time for a short duration and unleash rampant, unrepentant carnage with reckless abandon — obviously makes a return in Max Payne 3. It’s 2012, yo, after all.
However, the aforementioned comic book storytelling style kind-of/sort-of makes a return in Max Payne 3 in that, upon loading up the game, you’re treated to a summarized comic book style recap of everything that’s happened in that particular chapter thus far. It’s just that there’s no reading of or delivering of any lines whatsoever. Mainly because there aren’t any; it’s all just visuals. Awesomely designed and stylized visuals, mind you, but still, there’s no comic-styled panel visuals in sight. And this made me very, very sad… Probably because I’m a huge dork.
But such is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, really. Max Payne 3 certainly feels like a Max Payne game, both in the way it plays and the tone it conveys throughout everything actually unfolding. While it’s understandable why São Paulo, Brazil was chosen for the setting — what with its corrupt, two-faced, political climate supplemented by a seedy, extremely dangerous underbelly backdrop — it just doesn’t succeed in conveying that… that grim, hopelessly depressing, oft-claustrophobic kind of mood that the first two games just positively nailed so very well.
This is all both a positive and a negative since the story arc that the game follows really left no room at all for Max to stay in New York. Or any sprawling, crime-ridden city in the States, really, since I would imagine he was pretty notorious and well-known following the events in Max Payne 1 and 2. You know, for leaving a trail of dead bodies, blown-up/destroyed shit and brought-to-light-conspiracies-that-the-higher-ups-didn’t-necessarily-want-lit-up-whatsoever in his wake. A reputation that, I would imagine, would be immensely hard to shake.
The thread woven in Max Payne 3 is about what you’d expect from a Max Payne game set in Brazil. Although the biggest problem I had about everything was the disconnected feeling towards the people you were supposedly protecting. Sure, some of them had some redeeming qualities, but it’s almost like, “Hey, these people are extremely wealthy and you’re supposed to protect them or else just feel like a waste of life. Cause they’re really rich and powerful and stuff. Also, they’re really, really wealthy.” Other than this minor gripe, though, the overall plot is pretty solid and you can definitely feel the definitive Rockstar Games signature stamp of authenticity throughout.
Gunplay is also similar to past titles but with a few new face lifts. Most notably the kill-cam, in which time is slowed down automatically and you’re given an expansively cinematic exposé of the final bullet ripping into the last remaining enemy in a particular area. You can also continue pumping said bad guy full of lead for several seconds following their demise, which is oftentimes surprisingly therapeutic whilst also managing to be quite macabrely comical at the same time. Ladies and gentleman, the Max Payne series!
Another newly added tweak to the gunplay in Max Payne 3 is the “Last Man Standing” mode. Essentially, should you have at least one painkiller left in your… wherever Max keeps the damn things, you can ultimately cheat death by killing the bastard who brought you to the brink of life in the first place. It’s akin to a kind-of modern-day, slow-motion, Old West-style quickdraw to the death. And all made possible by the mysterious wonders of opiates. It’s kind of disorienting at times, to be honest, but overall it’s an admittedly cool and nifty addition. Especially since old-man Max takes what seems like a lot more damage a lot more quickly than he used to back in the dizz-ay.
Whiiiiich essentially segues us into the portion of the review where I explain that a cover mechanic has been added into the game. Just as it always is with new games, reboots or sequels that previously never had one before since it became the “cool kid thing to have in your game on your block” deal a half-decade or so back.
But yes, a cover mechanic has been added to Max Payne 3 and if you’re anything like me, you won’t be using it very much except in exceptionally dire situations where you’re literally bullet-time dive the wrong way away from kicking the bucket. Even so, it’s a welcome addition and really compliments the rest of the frantic, running-and-gunning nature of the rest of the games combat.
Oh, and there’s also an over-the-shoulder aiming camera exclusively reserved for when you’re double-toting some fo-fo’s, kid. Which, to be completely honest, I couldn’t really decide if I liked or not. Definitely was leaning towards the “meh” side of the matters meter but, since I’m such a huge fan of the aforementioned, “double-toting some fo-fo’s,”, I pretty much just let it slide. So there’s that.
On the audio front, the music is also just about what you’d expect from a Max Payne game set in South America. Just think a hauntingly-techno-ish style of music with Latino hip-hop flares and you get the drift. The voice-acting — again, unsurprisingly from a Rockstar game — is top-notch. Although — also again — I can’t help but feel that Rockstar really missed out on making this game truly special by omitting the comic book frame-style storytelling method from the previous two titles. But hey, there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk, right? Especially when there’s whiskey in the freezer.
All in all, Max Payne 3 is more of the same of what we’ve come to know, love and wonder-why-no-one-else-is-ripping-off-this-style-of-game-over-and-over-again-yet. Thankfully, it’s enhanced with a modernized, updated and — I guess you could say Botoxed? — makeover to help Max in his limping, aching journey to the 2010′s. Or whatever it is we’ve collectively decided to call this decade.
In the end, the Botox analogy is an apt one. While we may yearn and look back at past Max Payne titles and remember something a lot better looking, this new Max — while getting a bit on the old side and looking kind-of weird if you look at him too long — is certainly something we can still stomach and enjoy.