I had my reservations going into Max Payne 3. When the game was originally announced as a Rockstar title, I questioned why the company would want to move backwards from the open-world epics they’ve created in the past to instead focus on a linear experience based on an IP they didn’t even originally create (that credit goes to Remedy Entertainment). Before even getting my hands on Max Payne 3, I stacked the odds against it.
But hindsight is 20/20. And that was a stupid mistake.
It’s clear having now played through Max Payne 3 that Rockstar knew exactly what they were doing with the franchise, evolving it to make the series relevant after a nine-year absence. Rockstar’s signature style and knack for creating compelling drama bleeds through ever orifice of Max Payne 3. The 12-hour single player ride is one that you won’t soon forget, mixing a proper balance of character defining moments and balls-to-the-wall action sequences that feel inspired by Activision blockbuster war series.
The story of Max Payne 3 picks up some years after the events of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne — it's worth noting, however, that this game feels incredibly standalone-ish. Due to Max’s insatiable desire to be depressed, he spends his nights getting wasted and popping pills in hopes he’ll succeed in drowning out the misery of his life. He’s not successful. But then opportunity comes a knockin’. Max is given a second chance at life in Sao Paulo, Brazil, acting as bodyguard for a wealthy family.
But you know the story: misery follows Max wherever he goes, and soon after taking the job, the boss’ wife is kidnapped, sending poor ol’ Max on a wild goose chase to get her back.
That’s the general gist of the story to Max Payne 3. Without getting into spoilers, I will say it gets a lot more intricate and intense than that. It’s a ride that will keep you guessing from start to finish, with some truly jarring revelations in the game’s third act that makes the narrative even more depressing than it already was.
Now when you get down to the nuts and bolts of Max Payne 3, the story is really just an excuse to shoot lots of dudes. You will brutally kill thousands of guys with a wide range of weaponry and Max’s patented Bullet Time over the course of the game’s single player component.
Thankfully, the shooting mechanics of Max Payne 3 feel right. This even includes the newly introduced cover mechanic, which is very important if you want to survive some of the game’s tougher shootouts (they get really hard, even on normal difficulty).
Rockstar clearly did a lot of work with the animations of Max to make sure his movements are believable and that they control well. At times, the animations of Max Payne 3 rival, and maybe even surpass the work done by Naughty Dog on Uncharted. For the record, I don’t say that lightly.
It’s always been about immersion for Rockstar. The entire presentation of Max Payne 3 – from the animation, to the graphics, to the cutscenes, to the music and voice acting – is incredible. You really get sucked into Max’s dark, depressing world. There are times when maybe Rockstar goes a little overboard on the stylistic blur effect during cutscenes, but it’s never to the point where your eyes do a heavy barrel roll.
Let it be said, also, that the complete lack of loading screens in this game shows you just how dedicated Rockstar was to keeping the player immersed at all times. The first time I played the game, I played for six hours straight. There just wasn’t a good place to stop and take a break. Not because there’s a lack of checkpoints – there isn’t — but because I was so engaged in the experience that I didn’t want to stop, my hungry stomach and my dog’s bladder be damned.
To be honest, I would have been happy with Max Payne 3 if it were just the 12-hour single player experience. However, and this is a common trait running through the entire gaming industry now, multiplayer is included to round out something that was perfectly competent as just a single player game.
The first hour or so of Max Payne 3’s multiplayer is a chore to push through. You start with basically nothing – no customizable loadouts, very little in terms of character customization, and only deathmatch game types available. At this point, multiplayer feels very pedestrian, almost to the point where you’d rather just return to your regularly scheduled program of Call of Duty or Battlefield. But once you get over that initial hump and open up some of Max Payne 3’s more unique game types, then things become more fun.
“Gang War” is by far the bread and butter of multiplayer. This game type plays out over five acts and includes a little bit of story to add context to some of the events from the single player game. The games included are your typical multiplayer fare – team deathmatch, territories, capture points and capture the flag, to name a few – but they’re classics for a reason, right? The mode’s story elements definitely help enhance the mode’s appeal.
Additionally, “Payne Killer” is a nice distraction, allowing one player to play as Max while someone else plays as his partner, Passos. Everyone else on the battlefield tries to gun the two heroes down. This is Max Payne 3’s take on King of the Hill. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it should entertain and tack some extra hours onto your Max Payne 3 experience.
When it comes right down to it, the linearity of Max Payne 3 turned out to be one of its greatest assets. By narrowing the game’s scale, Rockstar was able to hone in on what’s most important and deliver in every category. The game plays great; it looks amazing, even truly incredible at points; and the story is quintessential Rockstar, which is nothing but a good thing. To add further bang for your buck, multiplayer doesn’t feel like a half-assed addition to justify another bulletpoint on the back of the box (once you log some hours into it, of course).
I’ll leave you with this: Max Payne 3 is my second favorite Rockstar title ever, only behind Red Dead Redemption. Truth.
CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Max Payne 3 for the Xbox 360 from Rockstar. We received the game on day of release, so we weren’t held to an embargo. Before starting our review, we completed 100% of the game’s single player mode on (balls hard) normal difficulty. We also played every game type in multiplayer over the course of roughly five hours.