Max Payne 3 isn't really a Max Payne game. At least, it's not like Max Payne 1 or 2. This game is its own game - and while it might star a character called Max Payne, voiced by the same voice actor, it's really not a Max Payne Game - it's a rockstar game.
And it's a damn good one.
Max Payne 3 takes place roughly a decade after Max Payne 2. The years have not been kind to Max - he's an absolute drunk, he's been fired from the force due to his actions in Max Payne 2, and he's addicted to pain killers. After spending years upon years sitting in a bar feeling "sorry for himself", Max meets Raul Passos, a former cop turned "private security expert" who tries persuades Max to join him in South America, to protect a very rich property developer and his family. Initially Max resists the offer, until a few unfortunate events in New Jersey literally drive him out of the US for good.
The story follows Max on his drunken attempts to defend people he doesn't even like out of a sense of obligation and duty. It's a very dark story, with conspiracies, paramilitary plots and political intrigues rearing their ugly heads. It's also, thankfully, a relatively compelling one, decently told and well paced. It is, however, light-years away from the Noire type setting of MP1 and MP2. A lot of people have said this, but it bears repeating - the game is, thematically, almost exactly like the "Man on Fire" remake starring Denzel Washington. Not plot wise, but thematically. And there's nothing wrong with that - Man on Fire was a great film. But it's not Film-Noire, and many fans of MP1 and MP2 are going to be disappointed with that.
Max is far more bitter and disgusted with himself in this game, rarely finding any comfort or happiness. Some people are turned off by this gloomy-max, but I personally find his resolve to keep going no-matter-what quite noble and heroic in a way. He's down on himself, and he is relentlessly cynical and bitter about everything, but his actions still show him to be a good person trying to do good in an extremely dark part of the world. Towards the end of the game, you do realize that Max does care about right and wrong and fights for what he believes in.
The story lasts 14 chapters and takes roughly 9 to 10 hours to beat on Normal, considerably longer if you play it on a harder difficulty.
While the story of MP3 might not have much to do with (plot wise or thematically) with the previous games, it does preserve the most important aspects of the gameplay of the previous games. Bullet time is still in here and is as vital as ever for your success. While a cover mechanic has been implemented, the game still encourages shoot-dodging and slow motion dives backwards or forwards. It controls extremely well on the PC, and as long as you have a decent mouse and a fair amount of dexterity, Max can still gun down a room full of people with as much grace as a drunken middle-age "gringo" hurling himself through a window can (which is to say, a surprisingly large amount).
The cover mechanic is also necessary - Max is very fragile in this game. On Normal, you can get killed in a few seconds of automatic gunfire. Enemies are quite accurate on any difficulty above normal, and the pain-killers which function as health packs never recover more than half your health and there aren't that many around (quite a few of them are cunningly hidden). Max can regenerate a vanishingly small amount of health, but only if he is near dead and it's never more than enough to survive perhaps one pistol shot. If you get killed by an enemy but still have a painkiller left, you will enter into a slow motion fall where Max has a chance to kill the enemy that shot him - upon doing so, a painkiller is used and Max can rejoin the fight.
The controls are very good. The game is quite difficult at times, but as long as you use bullet time and look before you shoot-dodge, you can kill enemies very efficiently. Be warned though - bullet time use and head-shots are a must. Later on in the game, enemies are heavily armored and you will literally run out of bullets trying to kill them if you don't shoot them in the head. This is a game that heavily emphasizes accuracy and if you are bad at shooters, this game will punish you until you are at least reasonable at shooters (or until you quit, whichever one comes first).
Multiplayer works in much the same way except that health regenerates all the way and bullet time is considerably harder to activate.
Max Payne 3 is a good looking game on the PC. It's no Crysis or BF3, but it's good. You can tell they are still using elements of the GTAIV engine and L.A Noire engine, but it looks better than those games - not by a lot, but it does. Provided you have a decent gaming rig, it runs very smoothly and looks very nice, which is surprising given how awful previous Rockstar PC ports were. They did a good, good, good job porting MP3 to the PC.
You can tell that whoever was the lead artist or level designer on Max Payne 3 was, he or she was talented. The levels are very nicely put together, the lighting is fantastic, the animations are smooth, the themes and the style oozes out from the screen. It's not film noire, but it's still brilliant. Artistically, it's a great look game. Technically, it's good - not brilliant, but good. In particular, character models are very nicely detailed and animated - well, perhaps animated isn't the right word as 99% of it was motion captured.
In terms of Audio, the Voice-Acting is really good. Max Payne himself sounds better than ever. I won't pretend that I liked the voice acting for Max in MP1 and MP2 - he always sounded half asleep or bored out of his mind in those games. His voice was completely flat and void of emotion. In MP3, he sounds grim, depressed and unhappy, but he actually sounds like he has emotions and the voice acting and delivery is on par with anything you'd find in Hollywood. If there is at least one thing MP3 does better than MP1 and MP2, it is the voice acting.
The soundtrack is quite good as well. A lot of it is ambient stuff, but it does the job. The main theme of Max Payne is as haunting and depressing as ever, though.
This isn't to say that MP3 doesn't have problems - it does. The script is mostly good, but some of the lines just seem strange or poorly written. The voice actors do good jobs delivering those lines, but they're not the best lines all of the time.
The Story is also.... a little bit murky and a little hazy. It does make sense, but it takes a while to get going and the big revelations occur quite late and not all the motivations are completely explained. Also, while Max and Passos are interesting characters, the rest are significantly less interesting. Max is the main character in this story and 90% of the game focuses on him and him alone on his rather dark journey around Brazil.
And there is the issue with cutscenes - while the cutscenes are very well done and entertaining to watch... you can't really skip them. It always claims that the next part of the level is loading whenever you try to skip, and while that might be true, I find it difficult to believe that it takes 4 minutes to load part of a level, when that same part of that same level can load in literally 10 seconds when I jump into the game from the chapter select screen. This means that Max Payne 3 is not friendly towards people who want to replay the campaign but want to skip some of the cutscenes.
The Multiplayer, while decent, is also severely unbalanced for new players. You will get your ass kicked if you leap into the multiplayer right now by Lv 40 players with custom sniper rifles who can kill you in one hit.
It's a great game, with a good story and fun mechanics. But it's not a traditional MP game - it's a Rockstar game. It's almost a spiritual sequel to "Man on Fire" the movie. Hell, it would make a great action movie... but not a good noire film.
If you're not that attached to MP1 and MP2, then pick this game up. If you are, however, then be prepared for a very different type of game.