May 21, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Taking over one of gaming’s most well known franchises and moving away from the open world genre that they made the standard in the industry many years ago, Rockstar has proven once again that they’re one of the best in the world at what they do. With no open world, no story-driven player decisions, and no revolutionary L.A. Noire facial animations, Rockstar has released the third installment in the Max Payne franchise, which instead focuses on fixing everything the iconic developers have gotten wrong in the past. The end product results in one of the darkest and best stories ever told in a video game with Rockstar even teaching other top industry devs like Naughty Dog some new tricks.
Almost every year gamers are treated to something special when Rockstar releases a new game. The last few years have seen very different takes on the open world genre from Rockstar that lead to them standing out as a premier developer in the industry: one in present day NYC (GTA IV), one in the Wild West (Red Dead Redemption) and one in 1940s Los Angeles (L.A. Noire). Although all three games were spectacular, the character movement animations and aiming mechanics have always been so poor that most gamers were forced to use the auto-aim feature. It’s one thing I’ve often complained about, and with Max Payne 3 Rockstar has finally listened and made vast improvements to their system.
Epic shootouts are what helped build the house of Payne sixteen years ago, so taking the Hard Boiled-inspired idea to the next level was the perfect opportunity for Rockstar to try something new. Max Payne 3 debuts Rockstar’s new and improved version of their classic aiming mechanics, which allows players to finally use the free-aim option without frustration. Although the aiming still takes a little time to get used to and some tweaking of the sensitivity settings, once getting used to the controls, you’ll be playing Max like the killing machine he’s meant to be, especially towards the end when the already amazing soundtrack switches up to match the song from the commercial and you realize it’s time to set Max loose.
As a side note: Casual players can still enable the old lock-on aiming mechanics used in previous Rockstar games, but I’d strongly suggest at least changing the targeting reticle from the default dot to the much-easier-to-see weapon-specific crosshair mode.
To go along with the revamped aiming mechanics, Rockstar has also given the character movement animations a complete overhaul. Similar to the Uncharted series’ brilliant use of fluid character movement among objects in levels, characters in Max Payne 3 truly feel alive due to the insane amount of detail put into their animations. Rockstar has actually slightly raised the bar in this area by making characters react uniquely to where they’re shot. Each enemy dies in a unique animation and how they fall is determined by their surroundings and the force of what they’re getting hit with.
With a new realistic way to carry guns that forces players to choose between dual wielding or using a stronger two-handed weapon, players constantly have to switch between weapons for each situation, keeping the gameplay frantic and realistic with ammo and health (painkillers) being somewhat scarce. Even with a ton of guns and improvements to the shooting mechanics, the gameplay can slightly border on becoming a repetitive cover-and-shoot experience. That’s when it’s up to the player to take advantage of the series’ most iconic feature, bullet time, and pull off crazy stunts that not even 007 would dare try.
Constantly trying new and crazy daredevil maneuvers is what makes Max Payne 3 so much fun and so damn addicting. Max can slow down time when shooting or when diving in shootdodge mode; either way is exhilarating as you watch bullets zip past Max as he dodges them by inches and furiously fires back. Max can even stay grounded after making a shootdodge leap of faith and rotate in 360 degrees, killing everyone around him before he gets back up. The bloody icing on the cake is the new killcam system that follows the final bullet(s) Max fires from the barrel(s) of his gun(s) into the body of the last enemy he’s fighting, making for epic conclusions to each shootout and even allowing players to continue to pump shots into a dying foe.
To really keep gameplay exciting, there are also random scripted sequences where Max pulls off completely unrealistic stunts, like tackling an enemy through a second-story glass window to use as a meat shield all while shooting at more enemies below or hanging from a helicopter, laying waste to enemies one after another and shooting down rockets with whatever gun in his other hand. I won’t give away any more of the scenes, but there are plenty of unforgettable sequences that you’ll want to replay over and over again.
But Max Payne 3 isn’t just another brainless shooter with a slow motion gimmick, and by focusing on a more linear experience, Rockstar has produced one of the best and darkest stories ever told in a video game before. Also using the same style as the Uncharted series, the story and gameplay are constantly switching back and forth without the use of loading screens to keep players on the edge of the seat and immersed in the experience. A stylized art direction also makes the game feel different with its unique use of comic book-style shifting images, gritty scan lines, and distorted chromatic aberration effects.
Cutscenes are never too long, and Max is constantly delivering cynical, yet meaningful, true noire-style narrative (unlike L.A. Noire) to build upon the story in the middle of the gameplay. Like the movie Man on Fire where Denzel Washington plays a washed up ex-CIA operative who now works private security for the rich in another country, Max too has peaked and decided to try a less dangerous job protecting a rich family in São Paulo, Brazil. Turns out bad people really like kidnapping the rich and like Man on Fire, members of the family Max is supposed to be protecting are taken in an elaborate extortion scheme that turns out to be something much bigger.
Although the basic formula is very similar to Man on Fire, Payne’s story involves more emotional pain (hence the name) and doesn’t include a cute little Dakota Fanning that he must save. Everyone that Max has ever loved, including his wife and daughter, have already been brutally murdered years ago in the events leading up to the first game. Max has become a washed up shell of the man he used to be who drowns his sorrows away with brown liquid and white pills. Whether he’s trying to make up for the mistakes of his past, just do his job, or go out in a blaze of glory, it isn’t made clear to the player what Max’s true intentions are when embarking on a suicide rescue mission and going after the kidnappers — a question Max himself most likely doesn’t know either.
When done playing through the amazing singleplayer campaign, players can find even more value with the game’s multiplayer. Like previous games in the Rockstar family, multiplayer offers a ton of fun modes ranging from straight up Deathmatch to objective-based modes. Similar to Killzone’s multiplayer, Gang Wars tries to combine a bunch of modes like defusing bombs, assassinating leaders, and deathmatch; unfortunately, the narrative isn’t as good as what Killzone 3 accomplished and the modes can be somewhat confusing at first.
Players can also form crews with their friends online and when playing together form mid-game rivalries with other crews and race to kill one another more to complete secondary objectives during matches. There’s no killcam that follows bullets like in the singleplayer, but there is a very impressive hit detection post-death screen that shows each player exactly where they got hit on their body. In between rounds there are tons of informative stats, so more casual players who see that their shots landing on enemies are far less accurate than what’s being landed on them can easily make the decision to play the multiplayer’s autoaim-only mode over free-aim.
While transferring bullet time into multiplayer isn’t a new idea and other games have done it in the past, none have done it as well as in Max Payne 3. Rockstar has managed to perfectly integrate the slow motion gameplay from the singleplayer into the game’s multiplayer which includes many features you won’t find in the campaign. Multiplayer offers a very deep leveling system with tons of character customization, weapons, and more perks to unlock besides bullet time, like the Paranoia ability which makes enemies on the other team see everyone as an enemy and shoot at their own team. Still, none are as fun as bullet time… nothing beats diving off buildings and through glass windows shooting at enemies, especially when watching multiple people doing it all at once in epic big team firefights — it makes for some of the most hilarious, yet intense, moments in gaming history that will always be unique to whoever is playing.
Max Payne 3’s graphics aren’t anything spectacular and if anything are a little dated, but the use of stylized visuals mixed with revolutionary character animations that merge perfectly with cutscenes make up for it. The story is just as good as, if not better, than one of the best movies ever (Man on Fire) because instead of watching, you’re actually in the moment dictating how each epic shootout is going to go down. With an surprisingly deep and enjoyable multiplayer experience stacked on top of the unforgettable singleplayer campaign you’ll want to play through multiple times, Max Payne 3 is the total package and worth every penny. Max Payne 3 gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- Aiming used in previous Rockstar games has been overhauled for the better
- Perfect combination of gameplay and cutscenes with no loading screens
- Story is top notch and told better than any other Rockstar game
- Character animations and physics are amazing
- Multiplayer is very well done and the slow motion ability makes gameplay unique
- Rockstar’s graphics engine is starting to show its age
- Doesn’t use the same L.A. Noire facial animation system
- Multiplayer setup has so much going on that it can be confusing at first