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Max Payne 3

22:4520/05/2012Posted by Chris Morell2 Comments

The original Max Payne introduced the world to the solid run-and-gun gameplay but with a Matrix-esque twist, being one of the first (if not ‘the’ first) to bring slow-motion bullet time effects to the video game medium. It was big news at the time, and despite the overuse of slow-motion kills over the last decade, Payne has finally made his return to the gaming forum with all the bullet-blasting antics you could hope for. Time hasn’t been kind to our now-grizzled action hero, but has the formula aged just as badly?

Rockstar Games isn’t shy of throwing money at a project, with the detailed worlds of GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption standing tall as inspired and technically impressive efforts. Max Payne 3 might not allow for similar freedoms, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t received the same graphical polish. As evident from the outset, the locations and character models have been designed with a great deal of care, with Payne himself appearing suitably haggard as a result of his binging habits following the loss of his family. He’s a man haunted by the past and searching for redemption – namely by working in security for the rich and famous – and the game deftly sets the scene by taking him to interesting places from the outset.

Payne’s tale takes him from high-rise parties and bustling nightclubs through to dank alleyways and snowy cemeteries, all of which are ripe for over-the-top shootouts, but each time in a slightly different context. Certain areas don’t impress quite so much, but each locale has a special place in the surprisingly rich story; in many ways, Max Payne 3 could be considered a story-driven experience – albeit a bullet-riddled one spilling over with grisly deaths throughout. The character’s voice work is suitably gruff and lacking in hopeful tones, which serves to give poignancy to the moments where he feels like he’s discovered a purpose. Max is strangely likeable despite the tough exterior, giving emotional weight to his plight and making you genuinely root for him as the story progresses.

Enemies will come to a dramatic (and at times glorious) end, especially when Payne’s bullets fly into the face of an area’s final foe complete with blood splatter and ragdoll animation. It’s all very brutal stuff yet remains satisfying, providing a sense of achievement to what might have otherwise be a fairly humdrum case of pop-and-stop gameplay. This brings us to one of the biggest issues we had with the game; namely the fact that although Payne does this well, there really isn’t anything here besides the high production values to set it apart from games of a similar ilk. You’ll be spending most of your time bunkered behind walls and taking shots from a distance, and although the destructive scenery does help to sell the action, once again it’s been done many times before.

It’s a much more effective tactic to simply slow time and line up a shot than it is to flamboyantly dive around the room courtesy of the ‘shootdodge’, which will leave you prone on the ground and open to attack from all sides. In this sense, the game actually encourages you to play it safe, also throwing out armoured enemies later on who can withstand the punishment. Strangely, you’ll often find Payne wielding a different weapon to the one who had equipped before the start of a cutscene, many of which drop you into the open with a pea-shooter equipped and holding your superior weapon loosely to the side like an idiot. The single-player game is extremely linear; presenting a few frustrating moments where failing to perform an action will result in failure and frustration – and yes, this includes protecting your AI-controlled comrades on occasion.

It’s definitely a challenge, compounded somewhat by the inclusion of an old-school system in which Max has to scrounge pills to regenerate health. This is no bad thing, as it means you’ll be playing more defensively and exploring the grounds in search of items, also giving you something to watch out for in a tense firefight. Checkpoints range from irritating to forgiving, but you’ll never find that you’ve lost huge amounts of time due to an unfair death despite having to clear out rooms for a second or third time. Scripted moments show up now and then to snap you out of your pop-and-stop stupor, thrusting Max through the air and into a bullet-time action sequence.

There’s no denying that Rockstar Games has tried to make this big-name shooter a stylish affair. Whether this style will appeal depends on your definition of ‘cinematic’, as the game often sees fit to alter the cutscenes with near constant multi-coloured flickers and highlighted words. Whether this is to evoke a sense of drunkenness or just another attempt at style is debateable, but there are times when it’s downright irritating – it might even pull you out of the experience during the worst cases. Undoubtedly, the most watchable scenes are the ones involving the minimal degree of flicker.

Online multiplayer isn’t just an afterthought in Max Payne 3. Rockstar has outfitted the title with a robust suite which is not only functional, but surprisingly enjoyable in its own right. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are exactly as they sound, playing out in similar fashion to Uncharted 3’s modes but with a form of bullet-time thrown in for good measure. This functions better than you might expect, but bunkering behind cover and relentlessly firing still yields the best rewards and higher kill count. Competitive types will battle it out to become top dog in any given match, but you’ll need to put in the hours if you wish to keep levelling up.

The game offers a host of other modes for those looking to take the fight online. Payne Killer features a standoff and subsequent change-up, where one player becomes Max and the other becomes Passos, encouraging a mix of cooperative and competitive gameplay. Gang Wars on the other hand offers shifting objectives such as Warfare, which is an all-out gang battle, Short Fuse, involving arming and protecting bombs, while Total Turf entails a struggle over territory… to name but a few. Rockstar didn’t have to attempt an online suite at all given the game’s pedigree, so the effort is to be appreciated. Even so, it’s a fun addition that will keep you occupied for a while once the campaign has ended, which clocks in at a respectable ten hour length.

It’s been years and Max Payne has aged both as a character and as a series. It’s visually impressive and spins a compelling yarn, featuring a protagonist who walks the line of insanity yet remains likeable due to his inner humanity. That said, it goes to show that there’s still only so much that can be done with a third-person shooting game set in the real world, becoming limited by the endless mobsters and hired guns. It’s anything but perfect, but as what amounts to a gritty and playable action flick, Max Payne 3 could be just the ticket for those empty summer months.

This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy provided by Rockstar Games.

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