Review: Max Payne 3
Can Max Payne 3 really live up to expectations after all the waiting and hype? Find out in our review.
After nine years, a lot of grumbling about baldness and Brazil, and roughly 9 trillion promo vids telling us how shooting works – not to mention a terrible movie in among all that – Max Payne 3 is finally here. And, for the first three hours or so, the game will have you caught in its grasp tighter than Max holds a Beretta.
The opening cut-scene – one of many, many more, which is something we’ll get to in a moment – is a lovely introduction to the continuing misadventures of everyone’s favourite alcoholic/murderer/junkie loveable rogue. New York has been cast aside after yet more bad business with the locals, at this point replaced – to be returned to sporadically as the game’s narrative leaps about like the man himself – with the seductive neon and lush sunshine of Sao Paulo’s nightclubs and high society.
This being Max Payne, the man who turns any surrounding area into a place with a worse K/D ratio than Thermopylae, it’s not long until the shooting begins. It never really stops. Rockstar’s efforts on the graphical front are matched only by the excellent animation; whether strutting through a party or frantically cradling a shotgun up to his armpit so he can reload a pistol, Payne certainly looks and acts the part.
For these opening few hours, Rockstar’s aesthetic prowess combines with the basic appeal of slow-motion man-shooting to create what seems to be The Best Game Ever. A shootout in a nightclub demonstrates all that’s good about bullet time: vaulting around cover in slow motion to pick off a goon with a headshot, diving behind a bar, firing wildly at multiple assailants as glass smashes, wood splinters and shell casings echo is wonderful. When Payne grabs an enemy and forces them out of the VIP window, careering in enforced slow-mo – one of the game’s new touches – to the dance floor below, there will be a little part of your brain that goes: ‘Yeah. That’s what I’ve been waiting for.’
It’s not long, however, until flaws start creeping in, and the longer you play the more apparent they become because, in a purely mechanical sense, the game doesn’t have that much to offer.
This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if the elements that surrounded it – namely the story or the level design – were better than they are. After all, the thrill of a perfect slow-mo headshot doesn’t really diminish; it’s merely cheapened by what surrounds it, and the game falls down here.
One of the key problems that Max Payne 3 has is that it’s punishingly hard, even on easy, which kind of takes away from the fantasy of all-out badassery. Before release Rockstar was keen to calm complaints about the introduction of a cover system, but you’ll be using it a lot as you’re just so vulnerable, even in bullet time.
In Max Payne 2, you gradually became faster and more lethal the more kills you racked up in one BT session, really amping the feeling of being an unstoppable force that would make John Woo proud. No such mechanic exists here, and so it makes more sense, with your low resistance, to move from cover to cover in slow motion. Max Payne is about taking risks to look cool, which is your well-deserved reward. For the most part you can’t get away with that here, so why take the risk?
It’s a shame, one compounded by the design of the stages themselves, and the cut-scenes that frequently, aggravatingly interrupt them. Opening any door seems to trigger a cut-scene, and as the game progresses they become more and more like eloquent demarcations of new kill rooms than narrative checkpoints. The settings are varied and, one dreadfully dull boatyard aside, fairly engaging, but, again, they play out all the same way. Fun at first, but gradually more and more irritating.
Speaking of the story, while we’re not saying it’s terrible – it’s actually pretty good, being shocking in places yet very, very funny – there’s just something missing from it, affecting the game overall. The previous entries played out as almost straight-faced spoofs and as such drove you through because, well, anything could happen next. Norse gods, secret societies, amusing self-references out of the wazoo and almost a surreal quality – the TV show that corresponded with your actions, anyone? Max 3 is well told, yet has none of this appeal.
It’s akin to the difference between Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s: one is a bizarre, gothic fantasy where there are few rules to break and an exciting, if childlike, sense that anything can happen, which suits the character no end. The other is a ruthlessly grounded tale that appeals in its realism yet jars with the character for the same reason. Max Payne 3 is the latter, sadly.
The continuing saga of everyone’s favourite terrible cop has been a long time coming. Maybe too long. It’s not bad by any means; there are moments of high-fiving, air-punching joy here. The trouble is it’s both as eloquent and repetitive as its lead. Moments of glory clash with irritating, baffling design decisions to ensure that Max Payne 3 isn’t quite the sequel we all hoped for. Brilliant in places, utterly frustrating in others.