Return of the Max
Whether it's Halo's Master Chief, Gears of War's Marcus Fenix, or even Super Mario, most of the biggest video game heroes are driven by a desire to save the world from some unspeakable evil. If not, then like Nathan Drake from Uncharted or Grand Theft Auto IV's Niko Bellic, they're probably trying to make good for themselves, and will save something of the world in the process.
Not so Max Payne. He's already tried and failed to save himself and others over the course of two PC-focused action games released around a decade ago. Resurrected by Rockstar Games for the latest generation of games consoles and PC owners, these days he's a washed-up ex-cop working as a gun-for-hire protecting a rich Brazilian businessman and his family, but he mostly just stands around drinking scotch and musing about the emptiness of the people around him. His journey through Max Payne 3 changes him, but there's no real hope of redemption.
Number Three With a Bullet
In theory, Max Payne 3 isn't your average action game, then, but it doesn't take long before you realise it actually is your average action game. Max's signature move 10 years ago was a slow-motion dive through the air, inspired by The Matrix, which allowed him to fill his enemies with bullets before they had time to react - looking amazingly stylish in the process. Max's signature move 10 years later is the same.
It still looks amazingly stylish, and the game is best when it's emphasising this style of play: diving through windows in nightclubs, or diving down stairwells at football stadiums, or sliding down rooftops on top of a skyscraper, firing all the way and watching bad guys explode with gore and then crumple to the floor when things return to real time. The locations are brilliantly detailed - studiously assembled visions of a Sao Paolo favela, or the guts of a huge sports venue, or the inside of a rotting hotel that's been converted into a giant torture chamber - and as long as Max is diving around them in slow motion you should be having fun.
The problem is that for the most part you're crouching behind cover - Max Payne 3's one big concession to modern-day gameplay - and trying to avoid taking bullets from hordes of enemies. You can engage slow motion without a dive by clicking the right stick, at which point you can pop out of cover and return fire, but it's less stylish and more just sluggish. It feels like Gears of War in treacle and isn't much fun. Plus, you take loads of bullets and quickly run out of your painkiller health packs.
Pleasure and Payne
That's on the normal difficulty level. If you drop the game down to 'easy' then it's more palatable, although there are still a few sticky situations and unsympathetic checkpoints. However, there's very little gameplay variation within any of this: Max Payne 3 is mostly 10-12 hours of doing what I've just described over and over again. The only relief is the admittedly stunning in-game cut-scenes that advance the plot and chart Max's hero's journey toward whatever grisly conclusion awaits him, and Max's cynical internal monologue, which makes even the grimmest scene interesting and often amusing.
Beyond the single-player campaign, multiplayer plays a bit like a third-person Call of Duty, with lots of violent deaths and variations on standard game modes like capture-the-flag, team deathmatch and capture-and-hold. Some of it feeds back into the campaign in interesting ways, but while it's the best multiplayer game Rockstar has made to date, it still feels like it's there out of obligation rather than passion.
Overall, Max Payne 3 is a fun game, and its bleak world-view and sobering outcomes are certainly an interesting counterpoint to the goody-two-shoes shooters we're all used to playing, but your enjoyment of it will definitely depend on your tolerance for doing the same thing over a long period. If you like the idea of cover-shooting through intricately detailed environments and occasionally diving around in slow motion and having to ponder the nature of Max's existence, then you'll have a good time. Other gamers may prefer to stick with the better blend of gameplay ideas, spectacle and storytelling skill in the Uncharted series.
- Fascinating protagonist with great one-liners.
- Fantastic cinematics and world design.
- Diving around in slow motion is still awesome.
- Very repetitive.
- Checkpointing and difficulty spikes are frustrating.
- Multiplayer is a bit throwaway.