Max Payne 3

Info:

Developer/s: Rockstar Studios

Publisher/s: Rockstar Games

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Third-person shooter

Release Date: 2012-06-01

Review:

The Max Payne series has earned itself something of a cult following, with the release of the first game in 2001, Max Payne offered something different for gamers – a third-person action game, with a film-noir presentation that made use of comic-book panels in order to tell the story instead of CG cut-scenes, to top it all off, the game had impressive visuals (immediately identifiable by the protagonist’s constant grimace) and added a bullet-time play mechanic that meant gamers were able to slow down time at will allowing one to set up all manner of elaborate and impressive gun battles in a style lifted straight from The Matrix.  In 2003, Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne was released and it managed to outshine the original in every-way with improved visuals, tighter controls and a more polished storyline that added a new level of complexity to the Max Payne character.

The in-game graphics are insane, here Max dangles outside a helicopter engaged in a rooftop shootout with some thugs.

Nine years after the last game, Max Payne returns in full force with the aptly named Max Payne 3 and true to form the game is an engrossingly dark and blood-soaked expansion of the Max Payne mythos.  When I saw the first screens of this game about a year ago, I was somewhat concerned by a bearded, bald and Hawaiian shirt clad Max Payne (at the tail end of the game), thinking that Rockstar may have departed a little too much from the original series in order to relaunch the franchise in 2012.  Thankfully I was wrong as while Max Payne 3 does take a different direction, it only serves to strengthen the legacy of an already impressive series.

Sam Lake – responsible for The Fall of Max Payne’s plot as well as being the face model for the original Max Payne game (looks a bit like a Tim Burton character doesn’t he…?).

So as I stated before, Max Payne 3 is something of a departure from the first two games.  Gone is the New York City setting as Max has quit his job at the NYPD instead choosing to spend his time in bars, addicted to alcohol and painkillers.  Max has evolved (or perhaps devolved?) somewhat in this third installment – he’s older, warier and more cynical than ever which is nicely portrayed throughout the game by use of stylized cutscenes (more on them later) and various quips by Max himself (voiced by James McCaffrey, who you may remember from the cult classic television series Viper).  After a fallout in a New Jersey bar with a local mob boss’s son, Max befriends Raul Passos who interjects in the confrontation and eventually convinces Max to leave the bottle behind (somewhat) and pursue a career in private security.  So this time around, Max finds himself in São Paulo, Brazil working as private security for the exceedingly rich Branco family consisting of three brothers – Rodrigo, Victor and Marcelo and sure enough, all hell breaks loose as Rodrigo and his wife Fabiana are kidnapped by a gang known as the Comando Sombra.  Needless to say, as Max it’s up to you to rescue the couple and thereby kill off half of Brazil in the process as you duck, dive, shoot and maim your way through scores of bad guys over a course of fourteen chapters.

Throughout the story, Max will have flashbacks of New York, requiring players to fight through his memories.

Memorable quotes >>

“I knew this was a bad idea, but, in the absence of any good ideas, I continued forward.”

“I’d been sitting at the bar for three hours, or five years depending on the way you looked at things.”

“When you’re stuck in a foreign country and don’t know the words for “reverse charges” and you’re in some lonely skin joint in the middle of some poor slum and just had every last cent robbed from you and you call yourself a bodyguard then you know you’re a loser.”

“The guy was smoother than an oil slick on an iceberg, and about as toxic.”

The game is filled with elaborate set-pieces and action sequences such as this boat chase scene, hitting slo-mo (L-Shift) distorts the colour and adds scan-lines for effect.

While the storyline in Max Payne 3 isn’t the most original in the world – kidnapping, backstabbing and the like, it does however manage to be a little convoluted at the same time, as more and more characters, villains and para-military groups get thrown into the mix, it can be hard to follow exactly what’s what.  Thankfully though, this is only a minor setback as is traditional with the series, your goal is to basically kill anything that moves and the plot is unfurled in such a cinematic fashion that things are always kept interesting meaning that one doesn’t really have to concern them self with every little detail of the plot.  It’s also worth noting that the game consists of a lot of foreign dialogue (Portuguese if I’m not mistaken) that isn’t translated into English, but I believe that the lack of a translation serves to engross the player into the game even further, giving one the feeling of actually being in a foreign country, not knowing what the hell is going on.

At certain sections, the game will automatically enter slow motion mode, giving you a finite amount of time in which to kill all the enemies before they kill you. Very cool.

There are a number of reasons why this game won’t appeal to everyone, for one – Max Payne 3 is uncompromisingly violent so if you’re squeamish or deterred by the sight of blood and gore then you’d do well to skip this one.  There is a wide array of weapons to choose from in which to dispatch your foes with, and it’s done so in such a wonderfully cinematic style (thanks to bullet-time) that you will find yourself taking a moment before rushing enemies in order to plot out exactly how to take them out in the coolest way possible.  Another nice touch is that players will always know when they’ve cleared out a certain area of bad guys because the last man standing will always be killed in slow motion as the camera follows the bullet into the face, chest or other extremity of your hapless victim.  Secondly, Max Payne 3 has a strong narrative interwoven between the game-play in the form of stylized cut-scenes that make use of various cinematic techniques such as scan-lines and shifting, especially during his painkiller trips emphasized by various phrases and words on the screen during Max’s narrative, these cut-scenes serve to replace the comic-book panels of the first two games and are also unskippable, as they cleverly veil the loading screens, that’s right instead of having to sit watching a series of static images or loading bar, the in-game movies are actually the loading screens themselves, rather ingenious.  As the cut-scenes are so frequent, players may feel that they’re too long or intrusive (a common complaint of Metal Gear Solid 4 for example) especially since the narrative dictates the pacing of the game, but it’s a small trade-off for what is undoubtedly the most action-packed and cinematic shooter to come out in years (and besides, I’ve always been a fan of in-game cut-scenes or FMV so it suits me just fine).

Widower Max Payne deals with his grief by means of alcohol and painkillers, portrayed throughout the game’s cut-scenes.

Okay, so let’s talk about the visuals, the graphics in Max Payne 3 are absolutely stunning.  Every little attention to detail has been addressed here, everything from the texture quality, shaders and the people themselves look absolutely brilliant.  There’s no point in trying to convince you as the screenshots speak for themselves, and it’s definitely worth noting that the screen caps I took do not represent the highest quality settings available as my PC was simply incapable of running this game at maximum.  While the console versions have been lauded for their outstanding visuals, they pale in comparison to the PC version which is said to look four times greater than its console counterparts as it features DirectX 11 graphics and has high-end graphics features such as Hull/Tessellation/Domain Shaders (which adds curvature to the character/vehicle models), Gather4 (for optimized shadow sampling / FXAA), Geometry shader / Stream Output to name a but a few.  The PC version also requires 35GB of hard drive space for the install (an install that took close to two hours on my PC!) and has superior audio over the console version due to uncompressed audio (which does sound pretty amazing).  Of course, one doesn’t need to have a high-spec machine in order to enjoy Max Payne 3, as the game is quite scalable for low-end machines and has been tested on a wide range of PC’s.  A list of system specifications can be found here.  Apart from some minor instances of glitching, where for some reason Max refused to walk after picking up a new weapon, the game is bug free as far as I can tell, I didn’t see any clipping or sprites doing weird shit like being stuck through doors *cough* Dead Island *cough* or the like and overall, Max Payne 3 is an extremely polished masterpiece of graphical glory.

A nice feature is the video memory allocator which shows you how much memory each feature uses when you click on it, the game will only allow you to select features that your card supports (normal) but will restrict selecting certain features if your card has insufficient memory (not-so normal) thus ensuring that the game always runs comfortably on your system.

From top-to-bottom – Max Payne (2001), Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne (2003) & Max Payne 3 (2012).

To put it into perspective, Max Payne 3 ran incredibly well on my system which is considered to be rather low-spec by today’s standards, with the following specifications:

  • OS – Windows 7 (64-bit) Enterprise Edition
  • CPU – Intel Core2 Duo E8200 @ 2.66GHz/2.67GHz
  • RAM: 4GB
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon™ HD 4870 512MB RAM

So we know Max Payne 3 looks great and has an amazingly cinematic presentation but all of that would be for naught if the game-play sucked, thankfully however it doesn’t.  Just as Max Payne 2 improved upon its predecessor, this third installment has improved the familiar and fun play-mechanics even further.  Using an over-the-shoulder camera angle similar to the first two games and this time incorporating an easy-to-use cover system (just press Q near a wall or such) similar to that of the Uncharted series, Max Payne 3 retains the run-and-gun game-play that made the series so popular to begin with, throw bullet-time into the mix (hitting L-Shift will activate bullet-time, represented by a small bar at the bottom right-hand corner, for a limited amount of time) and you have one hell of an enjoyable game-play experience.  The controls are tight and responsive. and it’s kind of difficult to imagine how one could play this with a controller as the keyboard and precision of a mouse definitely make life easier.  Though it can be challenging at times to know whether or not you’ve successfully killed an enemy with slo-mo on, things are simplified for the player in that the circle-cross hair will change to an ‘x’ when an enemy has been killed (people like Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw would do well to take this into consideration before bad-mouthing the game then again one can’t really blame him as that’s what he gets paid to do), I also find that emptying entire clips into a bad guy’s face helps.  Needless to say, balance is important in a game and I think this is where Max Payne 3 becomes a little indecisive, you are almost always engaged in some sort of fire fight or other and at times, it’s fairly easy, at other times not so much as you will find yourself repeatedly swamped by scores of enemies who will shoot at you with all manner of fire arms, combined with minimal cover and you will find yourself having to redo certain sections over-and-over.  In some parts I actually died so many times that eventually the only reason I was able to pass the section was due to knowing exactly where and when each bad guy would appear, thank fuck the action is scripted *phew*.  Health packs (represented as bottles of painkillers) are few and far between in Max Payne 3, further adding to the challenge.  Weapon switching is as easy as pressing a button, and you’re able to use pistols/handguns/machine-pistols, in a single or dual array (I’m quite partial to dual-Uzis), shotguns, grenade-launchers/rocket-propelled grenades, sub-machine guns, machine guns, sniper rifles and a multitude of assault rifles, so there certainly isn’t a shortage of firepower in this game.

The urban slum-lands of São Paulo add a nice contrast to the luxurious villas, hotels and yachts that Max finds himself in when in service of the Branco family. The attention to detail is also staggering.

Conclusion

To round off an already impressive package, Max Payne 3 proves to be rather lengthy, despite what some critics have said, easily offering 15 – 20 hours game-play and the experience is further enhanced by a wonderfully cinematic soundtrack by noise-rockers HEALTH (check out the song Tears and Combat Drugs), offering up an experimental, indie-electronic mash-up that adds a new-age ambiance to the game.  All-in-all, Max Payne 3 is one of the most frenetic and impressive games that I’ve played in ages, an action-packed, blood-soaked thrill ride with amazing visuals, game-play and a narrative that could put Hollywood films to shame.  Though frustratingly difficult at times, Max Payne 3 is well worth your time and money if slo-mo battles, elaborate action sequences and cinematic story-telling tickle your fancy.  Highly recommended.

Grade: S

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