There’s one thing that you can almost guarantee with an impending Rockstar release and that’s class. The acclaimed developer creates unrivalled experiences as if part of their DNA, able to execute incredible – and at times peerless – adventures that etch themselves onto your entertainment soul creating an everlasting bond. With such titles as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire in their repertoire the multi-continent studios have a pedigree that most would die for, so the next chapter in the Max Payne franchise has expectation that was mountainous.
More than seven years have passed since The Fall of Max Payne, the second title in the series, and like a good whiskey – which Max himself would be all too familiar with – it has aged wonderfully. The aforementioned confidence within Rockstar titles is paramount and exudes an intense atmosphere within seconds. Whilst Mr. Payne’s third outing may well get off to a reasonably slow start, few games manage to keep you engaged so effectively during non-playable segments. A distinct lack of game time, aside from some expertly executed tutorials, in the opening forty minutes would usually be a clear mood killer but Max Payne 3 manages to stimulate the plot and develop character bonds with some brilliant foreplay.
As after all, Max Payne is not your typical hero. A drunk, cynical ex-cop who hits rock bottom only to discover there’s still further to fall, Max will take you on a journey that no other protagonist has even dreamed of – as it’s far more akin to a nightmare than most ‘adventures’ you’ll set out on. There’s a raw brutality to the at times sickening plot that plummets from bad to worse for Max in a matter of seconds as his life in private security quickly disintegrates. Self-narrated amongst a hefty campaign set in the suburbs of São Paulo, Brazil, Max Payne 3 brings an immensely engrossing storyline told in glorious fashion.
With an MTV-esque camera filter channel-splitting effect a core stylistic theme throughout intertwined with clever comic book transitions and some mightily impressive polygon and texture based visuals, Max Payne 3 is an undeniably beautiful game. The clear and powerful art style is apparent and assists in giving Max Payne its own rich flavour. Much like a strong glass in need of rocks, an industrial score compliments the grungy artistic flair exquisitely. There are the occasion auditory hiccups however, where dialogue would be twenty seconds delayed – noted by the use of subtitles – and now and again would stutter and jerk during loading. It was a rare blemish on an otherwise flawless sounding title, that felt like a fly who’s met an untimely end afloat in my glass.
He may be ageing without a certain grace but that does not mean Max is any less mobile or ruthless. Racking up a body count that borders on genocide comes with the job; one that just never seems to have a dull moment. Whether it’s rescuing lost “packages”, clearing out villages of gang members or just putting yourself in harm’s way for the sake of it, Max certainly puts himself through some serious pain. Not that even a second of it is without excitement though as Rockstar has perfected the “bullet-time” mechanic to produce a simply stunning gameplay feature that not only adds variety to general gameplay, but provides scope for some fantastic set-pieces.
“Say what you want about Americans, but we understand capitalism. You buy a product and you get what you pay for.” – Max Payne
Never feeling like one of the prostitutes in a dingy bar within Max’s adventure, overused and cheap, bullet-time grants you a major advantage when picking off foes from a distance, throwing yourself around a corner to get the jump on a shotgun-wielding nutcase or when you happen to have leapt out of a window and need to drop six guys before crashing back down to the cold concrete surface of reality. It’s an expertly implemented mechanic and one that makes gameplay a real joy to partake. When surrounded by a well executed cover system, a “last man standing” mechanic to give you a second chance at life – providing you still have a painkiller on you – and the physics based reactions to your movements and you’ve got an incredibly smooth and sophisticated series of gameplay mechanic at hand.
Shootdodge (a.k.a hurl yourself through the air) to avoid the oncoming barrage of fatality inducing shrapnel, or indeed to enact the same painful outcome on another, can be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences around – especially if you do so off of a ledge with enough bullet-time for the entire journey. Hit a wall or an obstacle on the way and you’ll react according; complete a clean jump and you’ll end up on the floor where you can perform 360 degree fire if you require it.
Max’s triumph though is in the detail. Voice work, environments, level design, gameplay features, killcams, dialogue, plot points, all the twists and turns; it all comes together in a simply stunning package that, aside from some harsh difficulty spikes and questionable checkpointing towards the end would be the ideal ride. From the start to the very end of a hefty campaign, you accompany Max and his deeply troubled soul on a turbulent and testing journey that at times seems destined to end in his overdue death, and not a second of it is out-of-place. Each segment, quippy line from Max, seamlessly sown cutscene, and locale flows effortlessly in yet another masterpiece from Rockstar.
If a campaign of at least fifteen hours of such class isn’t enough to satisfy you, then the Arcade mode – essentially a score based replay of the main story – will add some longevity; but it’s with the brilliantly designed multiplayer that will garner the hours spent. A wonderfully compiled progression and unlocks system brings the incentive, ingenious use of bullet-time adds the Max Payne essence, and a series of enjoyable game modes, coupled with the adrenaline pumping combat completes the package. There are a few balancing issues and spawning can cause some real frustration, but when you throw in Social Club – Rockstar’s game-based social network for creating and managing crews, collecting and viewing your stats, and comparing them to your friends – you’ve got a fantastic multiplayer portion as well.
Max Payne may well suffer from a permanent hangover but his third console release certainly does not. A high-grade production throughout, with unique and cinematic storytelling, intense gameplay, and critically focused art direction. It only goes to cement the knowledge that Rockstar delivers a narrative rich blockbuster every time. Whilst the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption may be revered as the studios hallmarks, Max Payne 3 is perhaps the most complete and thoroughly joyous experience they’ve released – their Dalmore 62 if you will. High praise indeed.