Max Payne 3
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Publisher: Rockstar
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-16 online multiplayer
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Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter and the second sequel to the trend-setting neo-noire original. Max Payne’s main gimmick was the ability to slow down time (“bullet time”) giving the gamer the advantage in hectic shootouts as well as producing a remarkably cinematic effect in the style of the late, great film director Sam Peckinpah. Following the harrowing events of the first two games, MP3 finds Max as a broken, unfit, boozed-up pill-popping and disillusioned man, who having left the NYPD, is now working alongside old buddy Passos as a bodyguard and security advisor to a mega-rich Brazilian family. Events soon occur that throw Max right in at the deep end, in a tale of packed full of the requisite Max Payne ingredients; a mixture of shootouts, deceptions, kidnaps, rescues, double-crosses, captures, escapes, plot twists and emotional dramas.

Just in case you don’t know Max Payne 3’s ’slow down the action so I can shoot the enemies easier’ Bullet Time™, a gameplay feature that has been copied and used in countless games in various guises since the original, is again the main gimmick of the game, the skillful use of which is only way that Max can survive many of the impossibly outnumbered situations he finds himself in. Bullet time can be activated in two ways; by clicking the ‘R’ stick (at which point bullet time lasts as long as your adrenaline gauge is full) or by pressing ‘RB’, which will make Max dive into a ‘Shootdodge’, during which you can still aim and shoot at various enemies, and usually turn an impossible situation into a victory. The gameplay is unapologetically brutal, with graphically represented bullet wounds and splurging bloodshed aplenty thanks to a highly accurate aiming mechanic, and for the last enemy in a wave the ‘Final Kill’ cam allows you to dwell on the unfortunate’s demise in all its gory glory, and even lets you pump a few extra rounds into his bullet-riddled corpse. You will also undoubtedly enjoy the top notch ragdoll effects that are applied to all the dead guys, physics that remain after their deaths meaning that one dead guy may fall across another’s body so you could end up with a pile of corpses because the bodies don’t disappear like a lot of other recent big name shooters (I’m looking at YOU MW3 and BF3). You’ll also find that enemies often get downed but recover if you don’t finish them off and Max can also get up-close-and-personal, beating them down and getting the opportunity to execute them with a single slow-motion bullet to the head (although this is only advisable in particular situations as you’re always outnumbered and this may leave you exposed).

Shootdodge makes multiple kills possible with either a single weapon or dual-wielded pistols and shows off Max’s fluid movement at its best, and a new ‘last man standing’ feature that means that if you have taken a fatal amount of damage but still have painkillers remaining, you get one final chance to kill the last enemy that shot you. This idea works for the most part, but sometimes you’re aiming a different enemy to the one that fired the mortal shot and figuring out who to shoot can be confusing, possibly because and despite the fact that the aiming reticle is drawn away from other enemies you may have been shooting at and towards the right one. This confusion can make the game feel ‘broken’ until you’re used to it. Every area has ‘waves’ of enemies and a ‘final kill’ view shows the last bad guy going down with a cinematic camera. The game also has small but notable feature in as much as when paused you can rotate the camera around Max to examine the lay of the land, I’ve only ever seen this sort of thing in certain racing game’s ‘photo’ modes.

Max Payne 3’s designers didn’t confine themselves to competent use of bullet time for every shootout though. Max has a cover mode, but it can’t be played as cover shooter in the style of Gears of War, and it isn’t a “run & gun” game either (mainly because Max runs like he’s waist-deep in water, even when “sprinting”), so in order to succeed you’re going to have to mix up the action and adapt to every situation. I’ve noted that some gamers have played the various levels and dubbed them “impossible” because they’re so set in their style of play and aren’t prepared to experiment with different tactics. One thing’s for sure, to complete Max Payne 3 you’re going to die a lot, and the chances are that if you keep dying then you need to try a different approach, sometimes cautious, sometimes with the skillful use of bullet time, and sometimes using “Rambo run” and shootdodge to its max (pun intended). Regardless of what tactics you try, on the Normal difficulty setting with whichever targeting mode you choose (‘Hard Lock’, ‘Soft Lock’ aim assist with the L trigger pressed, or ‘Off’ for free aim), Max Payne 3 is a substantial challenge and will have you scrabbling for and grateful for every checkpoint.

I’d have hoped that the cover mode and bullet time features would have had all the wrinkles ironed out, but there are some distinct kinks in the gameplay, as during shootdodge the camera sometimes gets horribly mixed up, and Max also fires at the ceiling when shooting from cover or standing near some parts of the scenery. We also found that he has trouble shooting around right-hand corners (the aiming cursor actually disappears!) when covered on a right–hand wall. The complicate plot also uses some lengthy cut scenes (many 5-10 minutes in length) and yet some of them can’t be skipped even on a second playthrough as the game says it’s “Still Loading,” which is obviously a pain in the arse that shouldn’t be there. If you think that won’t matter because you won’t want to play the story through twice (like I did) then you’re probably wrong (like I was) thanks to collectible clues and weapon parts, as well as a number of set-piece boobytraps and handily placed explosive items that you may miss the first time through, but demand setting off at least once so you can witness the resulting carnage.

Okay, so we know Max is a pill-popping drunk, but the incessant blurring and phasing effects that are presumably supposed to represent Max’s drugged & boozed-up state (but look more like a dodgy 3D effect without the benefit of 3D glasses than anything else) got on my wick to the point of eye nausea (if that’s possible). I have no idea why they thought it’d be a good idea to make this a fixture for the entire game, surely just moments when you’re seeing things through Max’s eyes would have done, but the blurring goes on and on (and on) through gameplay into cut scenes and beyond. An option to be able to turn this awful effect off would have been extremely wise, as I can see it annoying some people to the point of turning off and playing something else instead.

Here’s another thing; there are a lot of females in Max Payne 3; some sexily dressed, some scantily clad, some naked and some that you're supposed to be guarding/rescuing, and absolutely none that actually move like a female or look “sexy”. Most are quite attractive facially but anatomically they're far from correct, and one poor girl (Giovanna) appears so ‘broad in the beam’ (or to put it more plainly; has an unnaturally wide pelvis) that when she becomes a central character in the plot and features in many cut scenes it actually looks uncomfortable to be her—goodness knows where she bought her jeans, but they must be s-t-r-e-t-c-h. She certainly has ‘good childbearing hips’ which she'll no doubt come to appreciate when repopulating the Latin American continent after the depopulation caused by Max's latest adventure.

Rockstar Vancouver spent a lot of time on the multiplayer mode (a first for the series) and I’ve got to say I’m not sure it was totally worth it. I’ve heard that Sony and Microsoft have encouraged and cajoled various developers onto doing multiplayer modes when they didn’t really want to, and Max Payne 3’s was probably demanded by the Rockstar bosses after the huge success of both GTA IV (and its add-ons) and Red Dead Redemption’s multiplayer modes. But to me MP3’s smacks of a developer that didn’t really know what it was doing or quite what was expected of it. A selection of modes (including two training modes) eases n00bs into the game (although for some reason high levels are able to join these games and massacre newcomers for easy XP), and a number of objective-based modes (Payne Killer (tooled-up Max & Passos Vs the rest), Takedown, Short Fuse, Delivery, Grab, Turf Grab, Total Turf (king of the hill or territories by any other name), Siege and Passage) try to add some variation. I found the game slow and unexciting to play, although this may be more due to the extremely high quality of the other games I’ve been playing online recently more than any genuine deficiencies in MP3’s makeup. Max Payne 3 allows and encourages you to form a “crew” with friends, or join public crews. A player can be a member of up to five at the same time, and completing tasks as part of a crew will gain XP points. A crew and in-game settings may also be transferred over to GTA V’s forthcoming multiplayer mode, and this above all indicates what the designers were aiming at; a friends-related squad game.

I played the Max Payne 3 multiplayer game many hours for the purposes of this review, but I have to be honest and say that despite the faultless aiming mechanics because of the slow, if realistic movement of the playable characters and the limitations of the maps and core gameplay I found it to be a rather sluggish, old-school online deathmatch game with only sporadic, brief thrills, and that means there isn’t much to recommend it. It did grow on me thanks to playing in a crew that I’d mostly played Battlefield 3 with, and with friends to chat to and form strategies with the game did become more fun. Play it on your own and it isn’t much fun, and plays much like any other third-person shooter with nice animations and the occasional bullet time sequence thrown in.

The problem is that as hard as it tries it doesn’t have the style, the spectacularity or the features of Gears of War 3’s, the rapid, over-the-top action of MW3, or the scope, drama and vehicles of Halo Reach’s, Battlefield 3’s or even good old GTA IV’s multiplayer modes. The game does allow you to customise your avatar significantly and level it up (and unlock new weapons, loadouts, classes etc with XP earned for kills, “Grinds” (set objectives) and cash looted from bodies, and there’s also a feature called “Bursts” (various perks triggered by the right stick button). Of course true bullet time isn’t possible in multiplayer (it’s there, but it only affects those in your line of sight (both friend and foe), and it’s quite disconcerting when you’re suddenly plunged into slow motion. I’ve heard players scream with rage because their team/crew mate’s bullet time has caused them to miss their shot and get fragged instead, so I’m not convinced how well this works. Whatever you think of it, multiplayer bullet time certainly makes for cinematic shootouts... Used wisely “Bursts” can swing a game in your gang’s favour, but none of them are going to make you go “wow how cool!” like a certain MW3 perks, BF3 upgrades or Gears unlocks.

The irony here is that a 2-player campaign co-op mode would have been a much better idea and suited the franchise better (particularly as for much of the game Max has an AI-controlled buddy called Passos along for the ride) and would have appealed to me a lot more than what we actually got in terms of multiplayer gaming.

Max Payne 3’s stylishly noire story might get a bit daft at times (could a drug-addict boozer really aim straight enough and react quickly enough to stay alive in the situations he finds himself in?) and his almost constant narrative that consists of both self-effacing (he refers to himself as a “fat bald dude with a bad temper”) and cynical and sardonic one-liners that often end up being three liners might not appeal to everyone... But Max’s latest adventure is undoubtedly now a full-featured game with a substantial solo story (8-10 hours on ‘Normal’) and a sizeable, friends-oriented multiplayer component to boot. I found that after an uncertain start the game really grew on me as I perfected my cover/bullet time. shootdodge techniques and learnt the best way to approach each shootout, and heartily recommend this wonderfully violent slice of neo-noire to anyone.

Note: Rockstar will be releasing seven add-on DLC packs (mostly multiplayer maps packs by the look of it) via Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Players will be able to purchase DLC packs individually or get the whole set at a discounted rate by purchasing a "Rockstar Pass".

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Best Bits

- Quality, tight shooting action that you might actually have to think about!
- New bullet time features.
- Dramatic noire story.
- New multiplayer component.
Worst Bits

- Enough with the blurred booze/drug effects already!
- It’s a “grower.”
- No campaign co-op.
- As linear as can be.
- Occasional aiming issues from cover.
- Unskippable cut scenes even the 2nd time around.

by: Mike Honsole

Copyright © Gamecell 2012