For a man who’s had more than his fair share of trouble, Max Payne definitely likes to wallow in self pity. Even years after the events of the first two games, Max’s self-loathing is in full effect for the franchise’s third outing.
The story of Max Payne 3 takes place in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Max has been working security for a local big wig and spending his off-time staring down into his glass of booze and the occasional nondescript pill or two while trying to forget about the loss of his wife and daughter. But he won’t have free time for too long: The boss’ wife gets kidnapped while Max is on duty. And things go downhill from there.
Instead of using highly stylized graphic novel-style artwork as a storytelling device, as was used in the first two games, the story in Max Payne 3 is told through standard in-game cutscenes, with a slight twist. The twist, however, tends to be used to the point of annoyance, and I found myself wishing for an option to disable the visual distortions that represented Max’s alcohol- and drug-hazed perspective.
Max’s story will take you between 10 and 15 hours, and the game has several challenge modes to keep you busy after you’ve completed the main storyline. One of my favorite modes places a timer counting down on the screen; when you take out enemies, you gain time. It’s a fun way to see how fast and how efficiently you can replay sections of the game and then compare your scores to other players on the leaderboards. Sorry, Rockstar Games, but there’s no way I’m gonna play through the entire game again with that counter looming over me!
The gameplay brings back the staples of the Max Payne universe: bullet time and shoot-dodge. The shoot-dodge was particularly tricky to pull off this time around. I don’t know if it’s because I was playing on a PS3 instead of a PC like I had for the first two games, or if I just wasn’t doing things right. The limitations to the number of weapons that Max can carry forces you to make decisions as you go, instead of trying to stockpile weapons, and adds a sense of urgency to the game.
The artwork is sun-drenched, as befits the new locale, and the set design is well done. The game is by no means an open-world, though, and you will always be aware of where you need to go to further the story. This may be frustrating for some, but I found it a refreshing change of pace from all the “Go anywhere, do anything” games because it helped to make the narrative that much more cohesive.
While there are large set-piece moments, the game never tries to keep cranking up the action just to crank it up. Instead, the game designers seem to have made sure that all the action actually serves the game’s narrative, and the game is better for it.
The destructible environment means that you need to keep moving. Hide too long and the enemy will destroy your cover. The Shoot-Dodge manuever, which is looking as great as ever, has lost some of it’s efficacy; because the enemy AI is much better, there’s a good chance that they’ll be hiding behind cover, and you won’t get a chance to hit them with your aerial combat moves.
The story is excellently written, with deeply flawed characters that are so much more interesting because of their flaws, and well-acted. I highly recommend Max Payne 3.