Max Payne 3 Review
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On 06/25/2012 at 10:28 PM by Nick DiMola
Remember when the shoot-dodge was your best bet for success?
Fans of the series should rent it for the story with an expectation that the gameplay isn’t quite what it once was. Those who enjoy modern third person shooters will likely love what Max Payne 3 has to offer.
Max Payne 2 was a game that did two things amazingly well: it provided a dark, deep, and gritty story that was accentuated by its film noir approach, and it offered unique third person shooting that was unlike anything else thanks to the bullet time system. Max Payne 3 brings both back, but neither is executed to the degree of excellence seen in the past iteration of the series.
Bullet time enabled players to (literally) dive headfirst into a room, spray bullets in all directions, and kill every standing enemy before everything returned to normal speed. Such tactics simply aren’t feasible in Max Payne 3, unless of course you wish to die. Instead, the obligatory pop-and-cover shooting mechanics have been thrown into the mix, shifting the focus to playing it safe over risky, poorly thought out maneuvers.
It’s truly a shame to see the series be shifted into this cookie-cutter mold that it has never fit before. Somewhere in the transition from previous developer, Remedy, to Rockstar it lost its identity. The shift away from a true film noir approach also hurts the tone and feel of the story, though Max is just as gritty as ever and perhaps even more so now.
Whatever complaints I could lever against the overall experience, Max himself is an interesting and charismatic character despite how rough he is around the edges. No longer is Max patrolling the dark streets of New York, instead finding himself in the depths of Brazil. After stirring up a fight in a bar and killing a mob boss’ son, he evacuates the States in search of personal security work.
It’s clear that Max has been through hell and back and this manifests in a serious drinking problem that plays a significant role in the game’s story. Knowing his past, understanding his many losses, specifically his wife and daughter, you can empathize with him. Despite being a drunk, Max is a likeable character, and his many one-liners and sharp jabs only cements that likeability.
This is all due to the top notch dialog and voice acting - just as we've come to expect from Rockstar this generation. Like Max, the other characters in the game come to life in the various situations throughout the game, their actions, speech and sound effects.
Taking a page from the Uncharted series, Max Payne 3 is sharply focused around telling the story in a variety of cut scenes and guided segments wherein players lose control of Max or are forced along by an invisible hand. This is an effective way to convey the winding tale of deceit; however, there’s nothing but shooting in between these story-based segments. Uncharted brings a degree of exploration and platforming that Max Payne 3 simply does not have. As such, the game is best served in small doses as the constant cover-based shooting quickly becomes a drag.
Even worse, the game starts off terribly, making it tough to become engaged until after you’ve invested a couple of hours. The AI can be overbearingly difficult at times too, even on the standard difficulty. Enemies are seemingly incapable of missing you when they shoot and painkillers to refill your life are few and far between. The designers of the game accommodated for this apparent flaw by placing extra painkillers in your inventory when you spawn after dying a number of times. The design is not only patronizing, but it points to a much bigger balance issue undercutting the experience.
Though the story and settings aren’t quite as good as the past game, both are still great here. I genuinely enjoyed seeing the story through and catching all of the bits of Max’s dialog. The shooting even proved fun from time to time, especially during segments where bullet time was forced. Catching a rope, flying up five stories, and icing enemies in slow motion was an empowering blast. Even some segments where I was able to sneak around a room slowly killing enemies were fun.
The multiplayer mode really encourages this stealthy gameplay. While it’s mostly the same rank-based multiplayer mode we’ve seen since the dawn of Modern Warfare, it’s a good bit of fun here. Despite Rockstar’s apparent push to make it the real meat-and-potatoes of the game, it’s more of a fun distraction to the fairly lengthy single player campaign.
While Max Payne 3 isn’t quite what I was expecting, it had its moments. I wish it would’ve fallen more in line with the film noir style of the past games and allowed the shoot-dodge to continue to be a viable and effective maneuver, rather than forcing cover-based strategy. However, what’s here is not bad, but far from great and not worthy of much more than a rental to see the story through.