Review: Max Payne 3
The last time we saw Max Payne it was in 2003 and the series drew to a close. Now, years later, Rockstar has brought the series back from the dead. Has the broody hero made a triumphant return to the modern era, or is Max Payne 3 an injustice to Remedy's original source material?
- Worth The Time?Not to serious Max Payne fans, but it's worth playing.
- Things LovedThe gunplay is often exciting and good fun, the set pieces can be glorious, there are a few nice moments of nostalgia, the level of gore is sadistically satisfying, the graphics are truly excellent, the voice acting and music are both of a high standard, the multiplayer is surprisingly good fun, the game provides a really solid overall package with lots of content.
- Things HatedThe extreme amount of repetitiveness in both the gameplay and dialogue, the clumsiness of the shoot dodge mechanic, the way the game forces you to play it like a cover shooter can be extremely frustrating, the game can force you to use the bullet time mechanic cheaply, the last stand mechanic with painkillers is a hit and miss, the story is absolutely pointless and doesn't pay any tribute to the series, Rockstar have tried way too hard to recapture what made the character of Max Payne so compelling - and they haven't succeeded, the cutscenes feature visual effects that can be nauseating and headache-inducing, the game honestly gets boring towards the end.
- RecommendationIf you're a massive fan of the original Max Payne because of its story and character, then Max Payne 3 is an injustice to that aspect of the series, and an unlikable addition to it. If you don't care about the past, this is a pretty decent but very repetitive action game that may be worth playing, but it isn't worth celebrating. It's a solid package filled with lots of content, but the experience on offer can only justify a second hand purchase at best for me.
- Name: Max Payne 3
- Genre: Third Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Rockstar Vancouver, Rockstar New England, Rockstar London, Rockstar Toronto
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Price: R399 (PC), R632 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Max Payne 3 is a game that I feel should never have happened, and that’s how I felt before I even played it. The simple reason is because Max Payne is one of my favourite game series in history, and it received the perfect ending after Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. There was no reason to continue it, and for me Rockstar proved that exact point with this game. However, as always I went into the game with an open mind, allowing it to do the talking. And truthfully, I walked away from this title feeling like Max Payne was done a great injustice. I’ve played the original games two or three times each back in their day, and again just last year, so they’re pretty much stuck in my memory. It was easy to conclude that Max Payne 3 is most definitely not Max Payne, neither in character or spirit. This is clearly a Rockstar production, and while I admire their effort, I can’t really say that I’m impressed or pleased by it. Not when history has already been written gloriously with this series’ past. Max Payne 3 to me felt like trying to follow up The Dark Knight with the main villain being the Penguin. I’m not joking.
The greatest failing of this game, or I should say one of its worst failings, is the story. The story and characterisation is one of, if not the most important thing about the entire Max Payne series, and I can’t say that I’m surprised that it’s one of the weakest points of this game. If I have to be completely honest, I didn’t get the point of the story at all. For most of it Max Payne completely fails at everything he does, and spends a great deal of the time protecting or looking for people who end up dead, often by his own sheer stupidity. Max Payne has been degraded into an alcoholic, chain smoking, pill-popping moron, and if it wasn’t for the voice actor doing a great job, I’d have had a hard time recognising the awesome character who found inner-peace at the end of the original series. Just for a fun fact, did you know that if you completed Max Payne 2 on the hardest difficulty, then Mona actually survives? Well, turns out it counts for nothing because canonically she is dead in Max Payne 3. But that’s fine, I can accept that. What I can’t really accept is a story that doesn’t seem to have any point to it at all, with Max Payne seeming to have just as little purpose. I was really so disinterested in this story, and it got buried so deep under the armies of enemies I had to kill, that by the time the finale arrived I had no idea who the major players were and what the significance of the plot was. Rockstar are far better than this.
And that’s an important part of it. Look no further than Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto to see where Rockstar’s skills and gift in storytelling is from, but with this game they tried to create it true to their own form, yet still hang onto the past. Max Payne 3 tries so hard to emulate the writing and recapture the spirit of the original games, but let’s face it, Rockstar are no Remedy. I will say that the voice acting is of a great standard, which we’ve come to expect from Rockstar, but that’s where it stops. The cutscenes are a particular area of distaste, as the original’s comic book presentation has been replaced by genuine cinematics, and while the good part is that they allow for seamless transitioning between gameplay and story, with no loading times present, the bad is that the visual effects they make use of are overdone and painful to see in excess. The constant screen flashes, colour distortions and sharp appearances of random words on the screen can be nauseating and headache-inducing at worst, and overly distracting at best when they happen frequently. Don’t expect the original games’ sad, gritty but brilliantly realised setting and amazing writing with plenty of memorable lines, because you won’t find it here. What you will find is a disgruntled, worn out hero whose dialogue shows signs of age, repetitiveness and of trying too hard, and someone who is just long past his glory days.
The obvious wonder now is whether or not the thrilling gameplay of the original series has made a great return here. The short answer is yes and no, as for every bit of greatness there is a lot of negative aspects. Firstly, I will say that the gunplay is often exciting and good fun, the set pieces can be glorious and there are a few nice moments of nostalgia thrown into the mix. The classic gameplay of the original series has been preserved, in that you’ll gun down armies of enemies making use of stylistic slow motion dives and bullet time dodges, and that’s really what the gameplay is all about. The health system from the original games is still here, in that you don’t regenerate and will need to pop painkillers to lower your damage levels, but there are a few problems with it. Firstly, there is a new Last Stand feature, where if you have a painkiller and you’re dealt a fatal wound, then the game will slow down and you’ll have the opportunity to kill the enemy who took you down. If you’re successful, you’ll come back to life. While it sounds like a free-flowing system, it can frequently lead to frustrating results because firstly it often happens that your target gets blocked by some environmental obstacle, and secondly when multiple enemies are around you, it isn’t always easy to find the one who killed you, since you’ll have to lock in on each enemy to see when your tiny reticule turns red. Even if you’re successful, you’ll be left vulnerable on the floor while you wait for Max Payne to take his time getting back up.
This actually leads to one of the worst things about the gameplay, which is that it often forces you to play it like a cover shooter. The shoot dodge mechanic can be clumsy, because touching any object when diving forces you out of slow motion, and this can become frustrating in the many claustrophobic areas you’ll shoot it out in. Furthermore, Max Payne takes far too long to get back to his feet after hitting the ground from a bullet time dodge, which means you can expect to eat quite a number of bullets while you desperately try to execute another dive. The final problem is that you can’t dive into cover, as Max Payne will first stand up awkwardly and then only go into cover at your command. All of these critical flaws place unnecessary emphasis on painkillers, due to the high damage you can take from trying to be cool, and more importantly force you, when you’re outgunned, to often stick behind cover and not only play this game like a cover shooter, but also use the bullet time mechanic cheaply and rather lamely. I can’t count the number of times I snapped out of cover, activated bullet time, and went for a headshot or two before snapping back and waiting to repeat this formula. This is not the adrenaline-pumping action that Max Payne is all about. Even the awesome bullet time quick reload from Max Payne 2 has been taken out, where reloading during bullet time would make Max Payne execute a stylistic spin and instantly reload his weapons allowing you to keep firing without missing a beat.
Now don’t get me completely wrong. There are some spectacular moments in this game and it can be plenty of fun when things are going right. The way environments become destroyed during fire fights is a thrilling sight to behold, and the arsenal of weapons on offer are diverse and great to use. On top of that, the up, close and personal melee executions are fantastically brutal, even if you don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to use them because of the armies of enemies you’ll face at any given time. However, the next major problem with Max Payne 3 is that it’s extremely repetitive with its gameplay, and in the absence of a gripping narrative this becomes glaringly noticeable. The game’s basic formula is walk into a room, enemies will crowd in the moment you are exposed or if the cutscene beforehand blows your cover for you, and then you just shoot everything up. This would usually prove to be a winning formula for Max Payne if the narrative was compelling and true to its form, but that isn’t the case here. So with no story interest and no fantastic characterisation, all eyes fall on gameplay, which has great aspects to it but also lots of shortcomings. On a more pleasant note, the level of gore is sadistically satisfying, providing a notable reward for players who execute good shots, and the kill camera for the final enemy you take out is pretty great too, as the game will zoom in on your unfortunate foe, allowing you to shoot him some more and slow down his death at the push of a button.
There’s another key element of the Max Payne series that Rockstar failed to realise here, and that’s the matter of setting. The original Max Payne prided itself on dark humour, depressing overtones, a noir theme with a touch of cold winter and gritty realism. Max Payne 3 takes an entirely new approach with a more colourful and sunny setting, with some nostalgic story-related flashbacks to the more original setting in a few levels. Look, I’m fine with change if it pays off and is for a good reason, but that’s just the thing with Max Payne 3 – it doesn’t pay off. The setting doesn’t power the experience, and in actuality it’s contradictory that the bright and sunny theme of the game results in a rather bland and uninteresting setting that isn’t used in any meaningful way. It made me wonder what the change was really for, but I guess the failing of the setting ultimately comes down to the failing of the narrative. It tries to come around to something meaningful towards the end, but unfortunately the actual gameplay gets quite stale towards the end, as its idea of a finale is to throw an army of enemies at you that Space Invaders would be impressed by, and as I said the plot gets buried under the endless bodies you’ll leave lying around. I was actually just wanting the game to end as I reached the final stretch. What I’m saying here is to stress as much as possible that this is not Max Payne, not in all of his glory. This is a full blooded Rockstar production that to be honest, apart from visually, isn’t their best.
Now let me get to the most important part of my analysis. The reason for my extreme harshness is that this is one of my favourite gaming series in history. I’ll reiterate that it ended perfectly and there was no need for a sequel. So if you’re going to bring the series back, it will take a lot more than pretty graphics, some good gunplay and Rockstar’s name to make me appreciate it. Understand that this is a very competent shooter often enough, and it has really high production values. Yes, it is fun and in all likelihood you will enjoy it loads, especially if you don’t care about the past games or about the series, story and characterisation as much as I do. But Remedy set the standard, and Rockstar didn’t meet it. I don’t blame them to be honest, because following up the original work must have been bloody difficult. I’ll still stress the point that I don’t think Max Payne 3 should have been made, but it’s here and it deserves a fair chance, which I gave it. And after playing it, there’s just nothing memorable about it, and I honestly can’t really consider it to be part of the main series because it doesn’t reach that level.
Max Payne 3 deserves praise, however, for the amount of content it has, making it a solid package overall. The single player is lengthy, and it will take you ten hours or more to finish, with replayability on the cards if you want to take on the harder difficulties or play through the story in Arcade mode, which keeps score and proposes various challenges for you. There are golden plated weapons to find in the campaign as little extras, where you’ll need to find the three parts of each weapon to unlock it. On top of that, there’s the online multiplayer mode, which is surprisingly pretty good, and doesn’t contain some of the more severe problems that the single player has. It offers three modes, with the first being Deathmatch either team-styled or every man for himself. Then there’s Payne Killer, where one player takes on the role of Max Payne himself, and must survive for as long as possible to earn points while other players will try to kill him. Lastly, there’s Gang Wars, which is an objective-based mode where two gangs compete against each other for dominance. It’s a great mode filled with customisation, player ranking and a number of Rockstar’s own social features, such as the Rockstar Social Club, which allows players to get together in Crews and easily pair up in-game, making it enjoyable for friends.
The bullet time mechanic is still on offer in multiplayer, but it logically only affects players who are within range of the person who activates it. Still, there are various advantages and disadvantages to it, such as easier aiming for one, but a drawback being that multiple targets in the area could give you grief, or that you’ll find yourself in a hot spot as an easy target when you land. Furthermore, there are also a number of abilities, or perks, called “bursts” which are governed by an adrenaline meter, allowing players to pull off some great and useful moves such as revealing enemy locations or confusing your opponents by appearing as one of them. In this way, the multiplayer is very chaotic and exciting, and it’s actually the better part of this experience if I have to be perfectly honest. I had a great deal more appreciation for the multiplayer, and a lot more fun with it than I did with the single-player component. It adds a lot more value to the experience, and actually saved this title somewhat for me in the end.
Max Payne 3 is undeniably gorgeous when it comes to its visuals. Its vibrant, dynamic and exciting, and I already mentioned how impressive the physics, action and environmental destruction is. It’s awesome in motion, and the bullet time effect is exhilarating, even if it does make enemies slightly harder to see in the more bright environments. This game really is some of Rockstar’s best work when it comes to graphics, and it’s an absolutely stunning experience. The music and voice acting also deserve a great deal of credit, matching the high standard of Rockstar despite the failings in the dialogue. What’s really pleasing on a technical side is the control scheme, which is very comfortable to use and allows players to tweak the aiming option, either deciding to use Free Aim or make use of some aim assist options such as auto aim. I always prefer Free Aim personally, as I don’t like the extra help and really enjoy the challenge, but be wary of this for the multiplayer component. On the technical side of things overall, apart from some strange physics glitches and one or two instances where my game wouldn’t load after I died, I didn’t experience any major technical issues, and the experience was a comfortable one.
In the end, if you’re a massive fan of the original Max Payne because of its incredible story, setting and characterisation, then Max Payne 3 is unfortunately an injustice to that aspect of the series, and an unlikable addition to it. However, if you don’t care about the past, then this is a pretty decent, but very repetitive experience that is probably worth playing, but it isn’t really worth celebrating or remembering. It’s a solid package filled with lots of content, but the experience on offer doesn’t really justify an off-the-shelf purchase for me. This is not Max Payne. If you take that approach, severing all ties with the past, you may find a fun, enjoyable and pretty decent, maybe even good action game. Otherwise, the original games completely outshine Max Payne 3, and as a result it’s sadly forgettable.