Max Payne is back. Originally released in 2001 and developed by Remedy, the game was a Noir style crime thriller based in a gritty and dark New York City. The game became a favourite among many gamers and the sequel, Max Payne 2:The Fall of Max Payne was released in 2003. After a five year hiatus from the Max Payne scene Rockstar announced in 2008 that they were developing the third game in the series.
Max Payne 3 is set eight years after the previous installment and we find Max no longer in a snowy New York; he has been uprooted and is now living in the bright and colourful São Paulo, Brazil. Working as a personal bodyguard for the wealthy Bronco Family, Max is still struggling with the loss of his family and with a full on addiction to both painkillers and alcohol. Not long after the game has started things begin to go bad in typical Max Payne fashion, and the shooting starts.
With Rockstar at the helm, fans may be worried that this game would not follow in its predecessors footsteps, but they needn’t have worried. Max Payne feels every bit like the old games. Not only does the game have a great story full of twists and turns and memorable characters, but the signature bullet time is back along with the kill cam. For anyone new to the series, bullet time allows the player to temporarily move in slow motion making it easier to both dodge and aim shots. The kill cam comes into effect when you kill the final bad guy in the area, the camera tracks the final bullet all the way until it exits the skull of the intended victim.
Rockstar have introduced a couple of mechanics that are new to the series. First of all there is now a cover system. This has become pretty standard in third person shooters but I feel it takes away some of what makes Max Payne feel like Max Payne. In previous games you were encouraged to burst into a room, guns blazing, activating bullet time whilst diving through the air and wiping out a horde of bad guys. Now with the cover mechanic Rockstar have had to balance the game, and they have done this by making Max more fragile. Due to this rebalancing I found myself spending a lot of time in cover and then activating bullet time so I was able to eliminate enemies from a safer, less dramatic position. If you do end up dying by taking too much damage but still have some painkillers on you, you’re given a chance at a last stand. This puts the action into bullet time and gives you the opportunity to kill the guy that got you. Manage to pull this off and you remain alive at the cost of a less effective painkiller.
Although most of the game is based in São Paulo, it’s not all beaches and cocktails. During the game you will go though a number of environments ranging from swamps and favelas to nightclubs, corporate buildings and luxury yachts. For fans of the series there are numerous playable flashbacks that take place in New York City. These delve into the reasons behind why Max is now living in Brazil.
Every location you visit during the game has the typical Rockstar level of detail to it and their new RAGE engine looks superb. Rockstar have thrown out the old comic book style of cutscene and chosen to go with in-game cutscenes. These will often divide up into multiple tiles with a filter layered over them giving them the same look as Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. Its a great style but does feel a little over used by the end of the game.
Once you have finished with the single player there are a couple of other modes to get your teeth into: arcade and multiplayer. Arcade mode is the same campaign as the story mode but with the addition of score chasing. Multiplayer plays like the other multiplayer modes in Rockstar games. You are able to play a variety of deathmatch and team deathmatch modes as well as well as objective based gang war mode. The multiplayer is persistent so you will be leveling up your character and unlocking new weapons etc. There is also clan support, allowing you to create a gang with friends and jump into a game. The only thing that sets this apart from other Rockstar multiplayer games is the addition of bullet time. here though it has been limited to how often it can be used. When you do use it, you and anyone in your line of sight (or anyone deemed close to you) are also put into bullet time.
For people who do enjoy the multiplayer, Rockstar have already outlined their DLC plans until the end of the year and a season pass is available to buy for £20 on the relative platforms. This will give you access to all upcoming add-on packs which, if LA Noire is anything to go by, will be plentiful.
Max Payne 3 is a great addition to the series. It’s not groundbreaking like the original was when it introduced bullet time to video games, but what it does do, it does well. The change of location and appearance of Max was not met well when the first screenshots were released but Rockstar have managed to pull off a dark story in the brightest of locations. This is a cracking title and I’m very interested to see what Max does next.
Reviewed on PS3 & Xbox 360