The years have simply not been kind to Max Payne. Between a murdered wife and child, one double-cross after another, and a near infinite number of goons slaughtered by his own bullets, Max Payne’s existence has descended into that of a tortured one — and the constant consumption of painkillers and scotch certainly have not helped matters any. Normally at this point in one’s life, the contemplation of either suicide or a much-needed vacation may enter into the mind. In this instance, Max has opted to travel — though his journey may just prove to be that of a suicide mission by the time it’s over. Talk about two birds with one stone, eh?
Yes, kids, Max is back in Max Payne 3 — the first game in the popular franchise to not be made by Remedy Entertainment. Instead, the folks at Rockstar Vancouver have taken over the reigns here to deliver gratuitous violent shoot-em-up goods at their finest. And they do so admirably — bringing us a rollicking joyous third-person shooter that transports both Max and the people at home down to the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo, where — just like the ad campaign for the 1976 cult classic Snuff pointed out — “life is cheap.” And is it ever once Max comes to play, but more about that later.
Having made his way to Brazil after a relatively “minor” faux pas involving a New Jersey mobster’s now-deceased son (which is presented as one of several flashback levels later on in the game), Max is now employed as private security for the powerful and influential Branco family. However, between the boozing, the pill-popping, and the boozing (not to mention the boozing), our seemingly-indestructible anti-hero is unable to fulfill most of his shielding tasks — which makes way for a multitude of bad guys infesting every location certain members of the Branco family visit; henchmen with orders to either kidnap or kill.
Their reasoning? Well, I’d be lying to you if I informed you this was a story without its share of conspirators and secrets: it is a Max Payne game, after all. And so, our ever-suffering protagonist is pitted against psychotic paramilitary people, shady Brazilian policemen, gang members of the notorious São Paulo favela, traffickers, and more. Fortunately, each and every one of them leave guns behind once they have been eliminated entirely. All you have to do is stay alive long enough to buck ‘em out of existence.
Max Payne 3 brings with it its own fair share of gaming nuances. The “bullet time” feature we all loved so much in the original pairing of shooters that lead to this superior installment has returned, but a number of other features have been added. For starters, we have what is called “Last Man Standing” — a built-in gimmick that lets you know when the final fink of a round has been eliminated. Say you shoot up an entire office full of armed, armored assailants (and you do). How do you know when the onslaught has come to a complete stop? Well, once your bullets rip the last man standing to shreds, the camera focuses on the final round(s) entering his body and the whole thing slows down so that you can see just how good a shot you are. After that, it is clear to move on — until another round of rowdy thugs come out to play in another section, that is.
Max Payne 3 also gives players the option of customizing their difficulty levels. Yes, you can play Easy, Medium, or Hard, but you may adjust the aiming on either three; the “Hard Lock” option allows the game to lock on to the nearest enemy, “Soft Lock” permits you to hone in on the closest hoodlum in your sights, and “Free Aim” is for those of you who don’t need no stinkin’ help riddling bullets throughout any location. Each level of difficulty brings its own reward with it as well. You’ll get more health and painkillers (health) on Easy than you will on Hard, but beating the campaign game on either of the three aforementioned settings will unlock its own goodies — ranging from select arcade mode options (Easy/Medium) to two more levels: Old School and Hardcore (which one unlocks after mastering the game on Hard).
Note how I said “arcade mode” back there. Yes, this is also the first Max Payne to include a multiplayer option, so you and your friends can start up a private (or public) war with the world online. Who doesn’t enjoy shooting their acquaintances day in and day out? Multiplayer mode also gives you and your pals a number of goodies (weapons, armor, abilities, etc.) to encourage and enable you to change your appearance (and that of the people you purge from the planet).
Now, if you find yourself wondering if Max’s appearance has altered, too — other than that which has been done by booze, drugs, and age, that is — it has. Portrayed in the first two games by series creator Sam (Järvi) Lake, Max is finally brought to life by the same man who has been voicing his character (in English speaking countries) since the original Max Payne first hit shelves in 2001: actor James McCaffrey, who also voices the now-legendary character once more (it would have been sacrilege, otherwise, right?). It was a wise move, too, since the character is now a more chiseled, grizzled one this time ’round, and Lake’s eternally youthful face just wasn’t going to cut it on this front, kids. So, thanks the phenomenon of motion capture (much like we saw in the stellar L.A. Noire), both McCaffrey and Payne have been brought forth into the modern world of video gaming.
That’s right: no more graphic novel-style panels with voice and thought bubbles. We have moved into the world of High-Definition; frankly, I would have felt profoundly ripped-off had they kept up with the old technique on this one and not used full motion. The graphics are pretty damn impressive overall, though the game’s tendency to deliberately flutter (like a found-footage film would do) and to flash pointless keywords of dialogue on the screen is more annoying than it is artistic, so I might dock Rockstar Vancouver a point or two for that alone. Sound-wise, McCaffrey’s extremely deep tenor is at such force here during Max’s inner monologue, that you might want to crank the subwoofer down a bit — the narration is so cavernous, that it literally vibrates the room far more than any explosion within the game does!
The game’s assortment of weaponry will also have your walls-a-vibrating from all the shoot-outs. Unlike the previous two games, Max Payne 3 does not seem to give us the option of stocking up on Molotov cocktails. Sure, there’s the occasional grenade or rocket launcher to play with, but for the most part, it’s all about guns, kids. Max can either rely on a standard pistols, shotguns, rifles, and SMGs — even going as far as to go all Chow Yun-Fat on everyone by two-fisting it (in which case he’ll drop the larger piece of artillery, since he can’t carry ‘em all — this isn’t Grand Theft Auto, you know!).
Various pieces of golden guns (Christopher Lee, where are you?) can be found throughout the game’s levels, which — once assembled — will result in said firearm becoming more powerful and having a greater ammo capacity. So, were you to find all three parts of an Uzi, all Uzis you find in the game from there on it would be golden and more powerful. Cool, huh?
Actually, I think the whole damn game was pretty cool — enough so as to still warrant my interest after having completed it the first time ’round (yes, on Easy). Max Payne 3 is arguably the best installment of the series thus far (though it can hardly be compared to the originals). It’s an exciting, pulse-pounding, and ultra-violent entry in an exciting, pulse-pounding, and ultra-violent series. Fans of shooters will probably be in hog’s heaven, but some traditionalists may find it to be a slight case of creative overkill. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though — and will more than likely go on doing so.
Max Payne 3 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.