This year Rockstar Games have bought back one of their greatest ever characters in one of their most loved franchises from the Playstation 2 era Max Payne.
After a gap of 9 years in between sequels gaming has moved on a great deal so the worry was always going to be, would Max Payne be able to keep up with today’s style of gaming? Would this 2nd sequel feel old fashioned and boring? The answer to both of these questions is NO! Rockstar Games have done an amazing job of bringing Max into the modern day. The 3rd game feels better than both 1 & 2 and is quite different in many aspects too.
At its core Max Payne 3 is still a third person shooter driven by a great narrative but gone are the comic book style cut scenes. Instead the story is moved forward through more traditional cut scenes that are strangely reminiscent of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days in that they include distorted style effects that make you feel like you are viewing Max through a CCTV monitor. There is still a hint of the comic book style in the cut scenes as occasionally during a conversation key words will appear on the screen in a cool graphical text or a sort of snap shot will be taken of the screen and will split off to a side panel. It is very hard to describe but looks incredible and is totally unique to Max Payne 3.
The action itself at first feels almost exactly the same as in MP1&2, you have two pistols you dive through the air which slows everything down into bullet time (which Rockstar Games is responsible for bringing into gaming in the first place) and you kill every one that you see. Very quickly though you realize there is a lot more to the game play now. For starters there is a great cover mechanic now so you don’t have to constantly run around like a lunatic to avoid getting shot. Max uses cover in a great way. As with most games you snap to cover with the press of a button (square in this case) and from there you can blind fire or lean round or over cover to line up shots. You can also slow time down here and pop out to get a great head shot before your enemies even have chance to react to you being there. I found myself using this a lot towards the end of the game when you are quite literally taking on armies of heavily armed and highly trained thugs.
The other great things you can do with cover is jump over cover in to a bullet time dive and when you land on the floor Max will stay there until you either tell him to stand up or if your close press square and get up into cover. It’s a great little mechanic that just adds to the realism and immersion of Max Payne 3.
One word of warning though. Max Payne 3 is hard. And not just in the later stages of the game. It starts as it means to go on. You need to have a great deal of experience with shooters to even stand a chance here. Max is a normal guy it only takes a few bullets to down him. There is no Call of Duty style red screen style unlimited health here either. You have an old school energy bar that fills up as you get shot. The only way to replenish health is via painkillers that are scattered through the levels but these are few and far between. Again this all adds to the overall realism that this game is going for. You constantly feel like any one guy could take you down so you treat every enemy with respect and take them down with viciousness because you know he could kill you just as easily as you could do the same to him. Thankfully though bad guys are just as fragile as you. Head shots are instant kills and even if you can’t get a head shot then most baddies only take about 3 rounds to the chest to kill. They do start to wear armour later on in the game which forces you to either go for leg shots (which make running goons fall forward right onto their faces) or make sure you nail them in the mug every time.
I’m not going to say anything about the content of the story here. It’s not that it’s the greatest story ever told and I’d be ruining it for you. But it might be the best story ever acted in a video game. This absolutely leaves every other narrative driven game (Uncharted 1/2/3, Mass Effect, GTA, Red Dead Revolver, L.A. Noire) behind it. The acting is perfect as is the animation. I have never found myself caring so much about a character as I have with Max. He is the most human character in video game history. He is easy to relate to which makes you care even more. I found myself just willing him on towards the end of this epic story and hoping things would finally end up OK for him. You have to play this game to understand properly what I mean. The writers need to be extremely proud of themselves here as they have, for me at least just wiped the floor with all other narrative driven games ever made.
So it’s safe to say that I love Max Payne 3. I really have tried to think of some negatives to put in this review but there aren’t any. At a push then I would say it is a tiny bit annoying when Max switches back to his pistol during cut scenes which means when gameplay resumes I have to switch back to his rifle. I can see why this happens though as it assists the cut scenes and to be fair it takes about 2 seconds to switch weapons. Other than that I really don’t think there is anything bad to say here.
Max Payne 3 is my pick for game of the year 2012. I have never played anything this professionally put together, it is clearly a culmination of Rockstar Games’ never ending pursuit of perfection and it just makes me wonder how mind blowingly awesome Grand Theft Auto V is going to be when it comes out.
By this game now. You will not regret it.