Max Payne 3: How Good Is This Game?

4 years ago

Max Payne`s home has always been on the PC. The original 2001 game and its sequel debuted on the PC, and though they received console versions--some of which captured the excellence of their PC counterparts and some of which didn`t--it was on PC that he first made his mark. Times have changed for Max, and his latest outing hit consoles first and PC second, which may raise concerns about whether, this time around, it`s the PC version that feels secondary and the console versions that feel definitive. As it turns out, such concerns are unfounded. Max Payne 3 is just as gorgeous and intense on PC as it is on consoles, and the pinpoint precision offered by a mouse makes the PC version the best way to enjoy this brutal and haunting shooter.
Wherever you go, there you are. It`s a truth Max Payne knows better than anyone. Fleeing his New York life to take a job working security for a wealthy family in Sao Paulo, the hard-drinkin`, pill-poppin` Max finds that his demons come along for the ride. Though the details of the plot add up to your typical story of conspiracy and corruption, of the rich and powerful preying on the poor and helpless to become even more rich and powerful, the writing, acting, and presentation elevate this tale well above a boilerplate video game crime story.

It`s hard to stay ambivalent once you see the horrors being suffered by the innocent here, and you`ll likely want to see Max`s quest for vengeance through to its conclusion just as badly as he does. Max reveals a complexity here not seen in earlier games, as he hits rock bottom and must either stay there or face his demons head-on and make himself anew. Other characters, too, reveal a surprising humanity. You might be tempted to write off Marcelo, the youngest brother in the wealthy Branco dynasty Max is hired to protect, as the shallow playboy he often appears to be. But in moments of disarming honesty, he reveals to Max a depth that lies beneath the facade he presents to the world.

Cutscenes use multiple moving panels to pay homage to the graphic-novel-style storytelling of previous games without feeling beholden to it, and the considered use of blurring and other visual effects echo Max`s state of mind, perhaps making you feel as if you`re the one who has been hitting the bottle a little too hard. James McCaffrey does an excellent job reprising his role as Max, bringing a wider range of emotions to a character who has previously often been one-note. The writing is terrific; Max`s world-weary wit is as bone-dry as ever, and as he ruminates on things like loyalty and loss, much of what he says has the sound of hard-earned wisdom. Subtle touches throughout the game make Max seem convincingly alive, such as the complex look that crosses over his face at the start of one stage when bloodshed seems inevitable; it`s as if he dreads what`s coming, but does his best to mentally prepare himself for it.
Max Payne 3 has far more sunlight and color than earlier Max Payne games, but the menaces Max faces here are at least as dark as those he`s faced before. The locales Max has to gun his way into or out of are alive with authenticity and detail. Nightclubs throb with dance music and light shows; children play soccer in the favelas; run-down hotels are packed with leftover junk from their earlier days of luxury. And it`s not all tropical locations and bad Hawaiian shirts for Max Payne here; a few great flashbacks that take place in Hoboken, New Jersey, reflect the snowy weather and urban atmosphere of earlier Max Payne games, as well as Max`s previous fashion sensibilities, and connect his new life with his old one.

Max hasn`t lost his ability to blow bad guys away by the hundreds, but in Max Payne 3, reflecting modern sensibilities and perhaps his own age, he takes things slower and makes judicious use of a new cover mechanic. Yet the addition of this currently common element doesn`t mean that Max Payne 3 feels like every other third-person shooter. Far from it. The game is differentiated from its contemporaries by several qualities, not least of which is its unflinching violence. Bullets visibly tear through bodies, leaving holes that spurt blood as your enemies die. Each encounter with a group of enemies ends with a bullet cam, showing your final, fatal bullet soaring through the air and striking its target in grisly detail, and giving you the option to pump excessive, unnecessary ordnance into the poor bastard. It`s a cathartic and satisfying way to end each firefight.

Bullet time, the defining mechanic of the Max Payne series, lends gunplay a cinematic intensity that remains exhilarating from the start of the substantial campaign until its finish some 12 hours or so later. When bullet time is enabled, you can see every pellet that bursts forth from a shotgun, every bullet that whizzes past your head. Windows break apart beautifully; concrete shatters to reveal the rebar underneath; and all other sorts of believable destruction to the world around you takes place as you and your enemies try to gun each other down.
Bullet time slows your enemies down significantly, letting you aim and fire faster than they can respond. But despite the significant edge this gives you over your foes, they are no pushovers. They make smart use of flanking tactics, so you need to stay aware of what`s happening on all sides, and, yes, you need to make effective use of cover. There are still situations aplenty where an old-fashioned head-on approach can get the job done, but by and large, you need to approach combat in Max Payne 3 a bit more defensively than in past games. This measured approach allows for individual moments to stand out; rather than losing yourself in a constant flurry of gunfire, you can take satisfaction in a particularly skillful shot, and lining that shot up with a mouse is easier with the precision afforded by a mouse than it is with a gamepad.
To sum it up, here are the pros and cons:
Pros: Tight, terrific gunplay that feels especially good with a mouse. Great writing, voice acting, and cutscene presentation. Detailed environments that get destroyed in spectacular fashion. Impactful sound design. Fun, chaotic multiplayer.

Cons: Max`s shootdodge maneuver is sometimes frustratingly ineffective. Max is supposed to be a 50 year old, but he can run and shoot like a trained military soldier, which doesn`t really fit in with what he is supposed to be.

Overall rating: 9.5/10

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