Giant Bomb Review

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Max Payne 3 Review

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Rockstar Games modernizes and makes Max Payne its own, creating something grittier and more grounded in reality, if not quite as singular.

A harder Max for harder times.

Rockstar Games faced no small feat in taking on Max Payne. With nearly a decade since Finnish developer Remedy--long since busy exploring the dark wilderness of the subconscious with Alan Wake--parted ways with the series, the challenges were manifold. After that much time, did the John-Woo-inspired gun ballet still play? And what of the comic-book-noir aesthetic, which leavened Max’s blackstrap pathos with fleets of self-reference and absurdity? Rockstar, of course, addresses both of these issues with no small amount of its own usual panache, discarding large swaths of Max’s established aesthetic and asserting its own set of influences in the process.

Rockstar held publishing duties on the first two Max Payne games, but Max Payne 3 really feels like a modern Rockstar game, with the grimy creative fingerprints of the creators of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption all over it. To trot out a hoary old line that Max Payne himself would probably mutter to himself and then sneer at, this ain’t your grandaddy’s Max Payne. And in a way, that’s kind of a shame, since there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

Even for Max, a lot of time has passed since Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, to the point that the dramatic, traumatic events of the first two games are little more than old scar tissue now. Having long since ruined anything worth ruining in New York with booze and pills, Max has retreated from his own life and taken up reluctant employment as a personal bodyguard for the wealthy, powerful, and treacherous Branco family in São Paulo, Brazil. For as comfortably as Max and his black jacket fit into the shadows of New York’s underworld, he’s a stranger in a strange land here. His leathery American frame sticks out like a sore thumb in the washed-out sunlight of both São Paulo’s rich playgrounds of privilege and its rusted favelas, which he fumbles through with as little grasp on the local language as to why he’s really in São Paulo. Max has never been a particularly sunny soul, but here he regards his idle rich clients with about as much simmering contempt as he does for his own half-drunk, careless ineptitude as family members get kidnapped and his bad situation continues to find new ways to get worse.

Max on Fire.

Rockstar has never been particularly shy about its specific influences, which are often cinematic in origin. With Max Payne 3, the setting, character situations, and overall look of the game make comparisons to the Tony Scott movie Man on Fire inevitable, and apt, though there are strains of director Michael Mann’s slick latter-day crime dramas in there as well, all of it spiked with a spare synthesizer score and shocking moments of extreme violence. Though it’s not couched in the caricatured satire of GTAIV or the bleak revisionist period trappings of Red Dead, that same authorial voice still rings like a gunshot.

There’s still plenty of internal monologue from Max, but like the rest of the game, the language is less flowery and more nihilistic than Remedy’s work with the character. It’s still every bit as stylish, but in a completely different way, replacing Max’s old static comic-panel storytelling devices with flashy multi-frame cutscenes that are jumpy and dynamic, often popping up key bits of dialogue on screen for added punch. It’s a distinct look and feel that, in some ways, reminded me more of the blown-out neon and cheap digital noise of IO Interactive’s Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days than the previous Max Payne games, but there are times that it overindulges in its own sense of style, distracting from the plot’s serpentine double-crossing and Max’s near-constant self-flagellation.

Max may be greyer at the temples than when we last left him, and far more emotionally handicapped by drink and drugs, but he’s no less capable than he ever was when leaping through the air in slow-motion with a pair of guns while facing down armies of thugs, crooked cops, and worse. Tapping into Max’s hallmark ability to drop the action into slow-motion for fleeting moments of time is still fundamental to the game’s third-person gunplay, and he still relies on found painkillers to manage his health--a grim fact he’ll regularly make glib reference to--but both have been tweaked in significant ways.

When nothing else makes sense, open fire.

There’s no on-screen indication other than the silhouetted life meter in the corner of the screen to let you know when Max is near death--a point that feels oddly archaic--though should you take one too many bullets, you can cheat that last gasp by targeting the enemy that got you, provided you’re holding onto at least one painkiller. Max’s basic shoot-dodging abilities remain intact, though now when you clear a room of enemies, you’re given the opportunity to continue pumping the last man standing full of lead for no apparent reasons beyond gory style and a vicious vindictiveness. The experience is also punctuated throughout with orchestrated slow-mo gameplay set-pieces that usually involve Max leaping through the air while killing as many men as possible.

In bringing the action of Max Payne into 2012, the addition of a cover mechanic is perhaps both the most subtle and significant change in Max Payne 3. Being able to slide into cover to control the tempo of the action is almost a given in a post-Gears-of-War third-person shooter. Combining that with Max’s literal ability to control the tempo by slowing down time might make him seem invincible. Instead, Max is made more fragile to make up the difference, a choice that makes it more challenging to use the slow-mo in a cool, stylish way and undercuts one of the fundamental things that has defined Max Payne in the past. Aside from the addition of some hard- and soft-lock targeting options, the actual gunplay doesn't feel too radically different, and yet for all of the chaos around you, it's an experience that feels much more controlled.

As in GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3 features a competitive multiplayer mode that runs parallel to the single-player; it takes place in the same world, with familiar locations and players, but it’s a very different experience. You can trigger the slow-motion effect in multiplayer, and though it’s in more limited quantities than in the single-player, it has the added impact of affecting everyone in the game. Beyond that ability, though, there are few surprises to be had in the multiplayer. There are deathmatch and team deathmatch variants, as well as an objective-based Gang War mode, and you’ll earn money and experience that you can use to unlock new weapons, gear, and abilities. Adding to the persistent side of the multiplayer, you can choose to join a crew, which can provide additional bonuses. It’s all pretty well thought-out as far as these types of modes go, but it feels kind of common, watering down the elements that make Max Payne cool.

Rockstar has taken a lot of risks in the ways it has reshaped the series with Max Payne 3, and there’s something to be said for opting out of the easy route. The aesthetic overhaul is certainly the most noticeable, though there's no understating the impact that certain gameplay modernizations have had on the experience. While fans might have a hard time processing the dramatic change in tone, it’s approached with a seriousness and conviction that I respect, and frankly, have come to expect from Rockstar.

198 Comments
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Posted by ninkendo

meh, I'll stick with Diablo III

Posted by Pepeman

QL?

Posted by joachimo

Grabbin' pills

Online
Posted by SolidOcelot

Can't Wait to play this.

Posted by Anwar

Where's the Quick Look?

Posted by BaconGames

I keep forgetting today is Monday because I was like "whoa Max Payne 3 review" but it's the workweek, of course there's a review. And I was just saying I missed Ryan reviews.

Posted by reelife

sweet, but where's the quick look? :3

Posted by FreakAche

Crazy internet drama coming to this comment section in 3... 2... 1...

Posted by RampageAssassin

Pre ordered a while ago and it's nice to hear it doesn't disappoint even though I never expected it to.

Posted by Mikular

Awesome, but the quick look, meng!

Posted by Grissefar

@Anwar said:

Where's the Quick Look?

Posted by DjCmeP

4/5? Shit talking confirmed for the bombcast...

Posted by shway

QL is there in the nether

Posted by Sayishere

QUICK LOOK

ITS FAR BEYOND BEING QUICK RIGHT NOW

Posted by Cyrisaurus

I'm really excited to play this, but I'm more excited that now R* has to move on and give us the goods on GTA V.

Posted by falpatrick

@ninkendo said:

meh, I'll stick with Diablo III

Yeah. Compare two completely different games. Why even comment?

Anyway... Can't wait to play this!!!

Posted by prestonhedges
there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

Posted by rjayb89

What else is going on, Ryan.

Posted by jozzy

This review seems a little weird to be honest, can't really tell from the text if he really enjoyed it or not. Clearly not enough for a 5/5, but more than a 3/5 but I couldn't tell you why from this review. Feels like a rush job.

Edited by Packie

As much as I'm looking forward to it, I can't help but miss Remedy's wacky, silly sense of humor mixed with grim noir. I always felt Rockstar's way too serious to capture that old magic.

Posted by Phatmac

I'll be getting it soon. Can't wait to pop some pillz.

Posted by SYMPHONICOLOSSUS

Interesting review... I guess. I look forward to the Bombcast to hear more from Ryan as to why he gave this game four stars (rather than five). I just finished it over the weekend and I feel that it is totally worthy of a full five stars. Interesting, indeed.

Posted by MuttersomeTaxicab

@gladspooky said:

there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

Really?

Posted by 2HeadedNinja

@gladspooky said:

there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

Im not into defending the crew at all costs since I had a fair share of critic towards them myself ... but what? That doesn't even make sense.

Posted by KatyGaGa

I really hope they don't end up doing a Video Review instead of a Quick Look. Quick Looks have more information and are more entertaining than Video Reviews, and, I imagine, are easier to produce as well.

Posted by Twinsun

@gladspooky: Oh, you mean like The Ballad of Gay Tony? Oh wait..

Posted by Sheetsy77

Tuesday...come faster. I'm glad Ryan enjoyed it, 4/5 is f'en good non the less.

Posted by Yummylee

Great review, Ryan! I just wish you & the crew would review games more often because I always enjoy reading them - Ryan, Brad's and Alex's especially.

Plenty excited for Max Payne 3, and I'm particularly curious to see how much the MP grabs me. After my elongated time with Uncharted 3 pretty much at an end, I could with another third person MP shooter to invest in.

Posted by jimmyfenix

why are you even here then ? pointless.

great review ryan cant wait for some max payne!

Posted by MattBodega

MIRRORS ARE MORE FUN THAN SEQUELS.

Posted by HellBound

@Packie said:

As much as I'm looking forward to it, I can't help but miss Remedy's silly sense of humor mixed with grim noir. I always felt Rockstar's way too serious to capture that old magic.

I agree 100%. That is what worries me the most about this. I loved Max Payne for the style and while it is not all gone, it still is Rockstar who has become a much more serious with its story lines.

Posted by phrosnite

Great game, great tournament.

Edited by probablytuna

Great review, looking forward to playing the PC version later this month!

Though not looking forward to that 35GB install....

Online
Posted by BulletproofMonk

Max Payne 3 seems to be everything I hoped it to be. Great read!

Posted by Napalm
Instead, Max is made more fragile to make up the difference, a choice that makes it more challenging to use the slow-mo in a cool, stylish way and undercuts one of the fundamental things that has defined Max Payne in the past.

This has me worried.

Posted by SYMPHONICOLOSSUS

@jozzy: Exactly the feeling I got. Didn't really feel like he REVIEWED the game. I think he was struggling on balancing subjectivity and objectivity on this one, to be honest. He probably wasn't that crazy about it but realized that it was still a very good game.

Posted by Cloudenvy

@gladspooky said:

there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

Haha, oh man. You guys crack me up!

Posted by JTB123

Sounds pretty much like what I expected, still looking forward to playing it this weekend though.

Posted by coribald

@gladspooky said:

there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

Get out.

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Very well done review, sir! Sounds like it holds little to no interest for me as I suspected along the game's long development cycle. The changes make sense knowing what I know about the devs previous work and this seem like a totally decent take on the MP games. Unfortunately, personally, I think taking away the outrageous and goofy elements and excentric stylistic devices (comic book cutscene moments) and introducing run-of-the-mill modern third person shooter mechanics makes the game categorically less interesting. These elements are what I love about Remedy and Max Payne but fortunately we now have another take on that style of game (in some sense) with Alan Wake. Can't fault Rockstar for making this game their own though, I'm just hopelessly in love with Remedy's version of it and I don't neccessarily need to play another one of those either. Although I absolutely would.

Posted by jaks

Walter Hill. You can keep plugging rounds into the last guy like a Walter Hill movie.

Good review though.

Posted by FoxMulder

Ah well....couldn't have expected Rockstar to even come close to keeping the asthetic and tone that Remedy made for the first two games. Maybe I'll pick it up later down the line as it sounds like it isn't at all like what I love about 1 & 2! I still need to play Alan Wake though when I get a 360 cheap in years to come!

Posted by HydraHam

@gladspooky said:

there hasn’t really been anything quite like Max Payne since Max Payne. Max Payne 3 is definitely a different kind of cocktail, but it still packs a pretty good wallop.

This is secret video game reviewer speak for "it's mediocre." But Rockstar spent a lot of money on it and sent me a free copy, so here's a four out of five!

This is secret uninformed speak for "I am talking out of my ass"

Go troll somewhere else.

Posted by SoulAssassin808

Where is my quick look? It said on the site it would be up 1h ago... I need my fix damnit!

Posted by gbrading

Interesting. What I want to know is, is the game still emotional. I love Max Payne 1 & 2 dearly and it was partly because Max was such a great, emotional character. If he's just a cardboard cutout here, then I think that will servery detract my enjoyment.

Posted by Klager

@Napalm: Nothing to worry about. If you played the first one on anything harder than easy, you know two, three bullets can kill you. Just play 3 on easy.

What has me more worried is Ryan gave it a 4/5, and he seems like a genuine fan of 1 & 2.

Posted by OneKillWonder_

It's nice to see a review from Ryan again, even if this one doesn't really speak to what he actually thought of the game. It would've been nice to read what he thought of the story, though I suspect that will be discussed on the podcast. Still, well written review, and I'm extremely eager to get this tomorrow because everything leading up to it has looked incredible.

Posted by Chop

I think I'll wait for a sale

Posted by M3rlin

Would love a Quick Look to make up my own mind...

Posted by Mumrik

This review did nothing to make me less skeptical of where they've gone with this game. It sounds like the game is pretty good, but not what a Max Payne fan is looking for. I just wanted more. Tighter mechanics and so on, but this franchise was not worn out and in need of a reimagining.

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