Max Payne 3 Review: Man on Fire
I never played Max Payne 1 or 2, so I went into Max Payne 3 pretty blind regarding expectations from the series. Remedy was the developer behind the first 2 games in the series, but Rockstar took development into their own hands for Max Payne 3, and it was this that primarily made me interested in playing the game. LA Noire was a really interesting, albeit flawed game bearing the Rockstar logo, and Red Dead Redemption is one of my favourite games of recent years so I was anticipating Rockstar's big release for 2012, especially since they had to overcome the challenge of modernising a long absent series for a modern market. What I got with Max Payne 3 is a competent and largely entertaining game, but something that I did not expect from such a powerhouse of a developer; mere adequacy.
The story of Max Payne 3 is told via flashback form, narrated by Max himself throughout the experience. Max has reached rock bottom in his life, with everything gone wrong and having no direction or will to live left. Reflecting upon how he came to this point Max Payne 3 begins its dark and grimy story. Max himself is addicted to alcohol and pills, has a personal life style of complete disarray and has really become a piece of shit failed cop with nothing to live for. Events overtake him and he is hired as a bodyguard for a wealthy and powerful Brazilian family, the Branco's, and moved to Sao Paulo where the major events of the game take place. His new job fails to be the easy babysitting role he expected, and militia attacks with kidnappings result in Max trying to redeem himself from his drunken and failed stupor. Unfortunately, the plot is extremely predictable and covers well worn ground in entertainment. The setting is far from unique, the twists fairly obvious and the plot has some considerable holes in its logic. Max himself provides narration for all events throughout the game, but his constant self loathing and cynicism gets tiring. Ethan Thomas of Condemned was a much better character for a similar role, and Max just came across to me as annoying and pitiful, but not at all interesting. The plot has no major character developments and the story material involving drug gangs and corrupt officials is just not interesting subject matter for me. Compared to the narrative heights achieved in GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3 is a boring story about uninteresting factions and limited characters fighting enemies who just don't really matter, and all the dark and violent scenes present in the game cannot compensate for this despite how well they are presented and written.
Max Payne 3 is a good looking game, with crisp graphics and really detailed environments. The visuals are not the best on the market, but the character models look really fantastic with plenty of attention given to clothing, facial animations and guns. The game also avoids repetition in its levels, jumping around several different locations and largely managing to keep each level feeling fresh. The brightly lit tropical environments of Brazil are nicely contrasted with the snow covered New Jersey, and Max himself radically changes appearance throughout the game, sporting a disgusting shirt to go with his baldness at one point. The environments manage to be as gritty as Max himself at times, and this helps to emphasise the cynical tone of the game. Max Payne 3 also integrates a lot of stylised effects into the core game. During cutscenes the phrases of Max's narration will actually pop onto the screen to provide emphasis to the situation, and blurring effects are used to show the player the same disorientation that Max feels courtesy of his addictions. It reminded me of Kane and Lynch 2, but Max Payne 3 pulls off this stylistic choice far more effectively and successfully. The game also has a lot of slow motion death scenes, most of which have blood spraying across the screen as an enemy take a hole through their body or face. These are a lot of fun to watch and are some great animations.
The soundtrack of Max Payne 3 is my single favourite part of the game, with some powerful tracks that really add to the atmosphere of the scenes they accompany and elevate the game above many of its rivals. The music can be depressing to stirring, and I particularly enjoyed the song by Health towards the end of the game. The voice acting is also great throughout the game, with the Brazilian characters actually coming across as believable and Max himself being a great performance thanks to James McCaffrey. The weapons in the game sound great, with a lot of power behind using them thanks to the audio contribution.
The gameplay of Max Payne 3 is largely what you would expect from a third person shooter, with cover having a heavy focus as well as on the cuff reaction to a changing situation in combat. The enemies are formidable and will react to decisions taken by the player in combat, but they are also fairly limited in scope. You are always fighting guys with guns. Some will have body armour and different weapons but it can still get repetitive. The cover mechanics are also a bit unreliable at times, and the radial menu for changing weapon can easily lead to the player jumping out from cover unintentionally. This is annoying as Max does not have a lot of health and goes down quickly. The good news is that the combat is vicious and enemies are rarely bullet sponges, though head shots are very desirable. Having never played the previous games in the series I was looking forward to using the much vaunted slow motion of Max Payne and this mechanic has an important role in combat. It can be activated to save yourself when your health is low and overall I think it adds a nice twist to the fairly straightforward combat system. Beyond shooting Max Payne 3 is a linear journey from cutscene to cutscene. There is no freedom and absolutely no free roaming of any kind, the game is strictly a 3rd person shooter. It works well but this limited scope was frustrating for me personally as some of the locations would have made for interesting areas to interact with and explore more fully. Cutscenes also interrupt the gameplay way to often, and the combat is just not as tactical or satisfying as something like Gears of War.
Max Payne 3 is a stylish narrative focused game. I love the brutal violence and unapologetic nature of the combat, and its striking cinematic nature enhances this to feel like a movie, but that is part of my problem with Max Payne 3. The game often feels like the player is having very little input, as you always go exactly where the game wants and cutscenes cannot be skipped as they double as the load screens. There are plenty of scripted set pieces and moments made to be impressive, but to me it all felt sluggish compared to the likes of Uncharted, and definitely no where near as exciting or impressive. The game also has a few jitters in its frame rate at moments, nothing major but it is there. Max Payne 3 also has a multiplayer segment but I didn't touch it thanks to the online pass, playing the game as a single player title instead. Maybe I missed out on something great as a result, but I expect a game like this to stand on its single player portion alone. To its credit, Max Payne 3 has some really nice and slick menus, and an easy to navigate chapter select screen. The game has two discs on the 360, and it was easy to transition between the two with a good breakdown of the content between the two, The core problem is that Max Payne 3 feels claustrophobic thanks to its sheer lack of freedom or player choice, instead rail-roading the player into its overly cinematic path.
Max Payne 3 is a competent, stylish and fun third person shooter with a great soundtrack and strong dialogue. However, the storyline is very limited and predictable, and it tries to pull off twits and emotions from the player that it has not justified, falling a bit flat as a result. Maybe it is necessary to play the previous titles in the series to get the full impact of the narrative, but I found it to be a generic and stock story that serves as an excuse for the events of the actual shooting. The game is also not very long, taking me around 9 hours on normal difficulty. The additional difficulties make for a daunting challenge, but with the game being so linear I don't think it is worth playing a second time. Max Payne 3 is the perfect rental, but for a game developed by Rockstar and 9 years in the making I cannot help but be disappointed by this competent but unexciting experience. Max Payne 3 does nothing new and pretty much every aspect of it has been done better in other games.
- Great graphics and music
- Hard hitting violence and gore
- Impressive focus on a consistent style
- Poor plot and characters
- Overbearing narrative
- Very linear and controlled game
- You want to change your life, so you shave your head bald and put on THAT shirt
- 6/10 - Decent