Wife and kid, dead. Career? Doesn’t really matter with all the personal tragedy… only the whiskey bottle and the pills help Max to go through another day. Perhaps without looking into the barrel of the gun, deciding whether to go for a bullet in the head or the mouth. Nothing new in New Jersey and how could anyone accuse poor Max after all he’s go through, so well predicted by an unhappy and intentional name like Payne.
Apparently, his only concern 9 years after the events in Fall of Max Payne is the next glass of booze, until an ex colleague shows up to offer the perfect job: guard the rich under the sun of Latin America. After some refusals and an unpredicted shootout, Max decides that private bodyguard is better than 3 feet under as a washed up alcoholic and goes with his mate Passos to Brazil, where a rich family will be relying on him for protection. All fine and dandy, the booze is free now, the girls are tanned and naked, just that… obviously everything goes sideways after a series of events that culminate with the killing of Max’s boss.
As usual, just like our hero says himself, he gets into over his head in a high stakes deal, but he can’t help himself. We can’t say that we’ve got lots of original ideas, nor it’s hard to get who the bad guys are, but the way the story is told is worth the 10-12 hours of single-player. And there’s still some noir left, with Max anchored in his bloody and sad past, but at the same time still caring about the weak and defenseless.
The action is filled with techniques and sequences typical to the noir movie and cartoons, alternating colored with black and white images, bloody and violent scenes with a cinematic camera that follows the fatal bullet and the blood spray after said bullet goes through an eye and sticks into the pole behind.
Zuluf: I was a little sad that they gave up the cartoons between levels and I wasn’t very convinced by their replacement with bloom and kinetic typography cut scenes. But I’m a little old fashioned, so a bit skeptical when it comes to electrobotanic artifices.
On the other hand, the voice acting, the Heat style music (especially later in the game) are top notch – the industrial background fits perfectly with the dark synth, while the drums in the favelas go for a natural side of the events. Actually, the whole sound design is better (true, with a lot of investment) and the memorable elements (like the main theme with its memorable piano notes) survived the changes.
Devilschoice: the fact that Max Payne brought bullet time into gaming is no longer news. Although many wanted a Matrix game to take the lead, Remedy went throttle down into the slow motion side of things, perfect for the hero to be involved in a fast and mostly spectacular shootout. Now Bullet Time is back in all its glory, with a little help from modern tech and Max can throw himself yet again, John Woo style, over rails to clean up a room.
The Shootdodge option uses the same principle, but it’s not linked to Bullet Time and can be used independently. But regardless of how spectacular they are, these two maneuvers are also risky because open areas perfect for that also have lots of cover for the AI. So it’s not a simple matter of hitting a button, not just because the opponents are a challenge, but also due to the level design.
Doors lock behind you, enemies come out of thin air in waves and through the ceiling, doors or windows, without exception, after a cinematic. Since the whole game is more like an interactive movie, there are many moments when you can’t tell if you have the control or not. And a lot of times you’ll find yourself behind a crate or a pole after a cut scene, right in the middle of trigger happy enemies.
Such moments rapidly get annoying, especially when mixed with the cover system. It often happens to go one way and go out of cover, boom, loading screen because Max isn’t really Robocop. Getting back your health is still based on painkillers, but the game is cheap with these and allows you a maximum of 9 at the same time.
The solution to these gameplay issues? Careful around corners, in open areas like a subway platform, ruined buildings, yachts or luxury clubs and to audio clues. The music is always catchy and dramatically dangerous as long as there is someone left alive; then everything chills, Max comes with another cynical-sad-ironical line and goes for the next door.
The design-story mix leads to another issue: Max Payne 3 feels like a GTA without the open world part, a character enclosed in the level’s little box, but who could’ve greatly run around Sao Paolo (behind the wheel of a sports car, maybe) or find his way in the creepy labyrinth of the favelas of the Brazilian capital. It’s true that the Rockstar style keeps the line, but it gives nothing new.
Linear levels, linear gameplay “broken” by the chase camera shows and bullet time, little narrative surprises, but still fun. As usual, the wrapper matters the most, the “how” of the story even if it doesn’t get top marks for originality.
To fulfill his sometimes suicidal mission, Max gets a varied arsenal, from classic guns to semi-autos, shotguns and heavy machineguns. For encouraging exploration and because it’s fashionable on consoles, the levels come with goodies: clues to tell bits of the story (newspapers, passports, gun crates, blood and other elements that only lack David Caruso’s sunglasses) and “golden guns”, parts of normal guns in their precious version that you get to used once assembled.
The game also rewards all type of kills, otherwise I wouldn’t have found out that I prefer to go for the groins first and then for the head. You get achievements for any type of shot, in the legs, arms, head, sensitive areas and with any type of gun. But it’s annoying that anytime you get pulled out of a cut scene (read: a lot), Max switches to his default pistol, no matter what gun you have on you. And in the midst of a gun fight, changing the weapon isn’t really the first thing you want to do.
On the other hand, Max continues to use dual guns and if you just use one, the other is carried around; thus, for a heavy weapon you have to throw away the rest, a logical action since Max doesn’t have magic pockets, not the bloody shirt can go for a special-ops vest.
At the other end, enemies become tougher as you go through the story, from gang members to armored guys for which a bullet to the head isn’t enough anymore. With the latter you’ll have to work hard and get to cover even more, with the special moments adding some variety.
The AI was made to be a challenge even on easy settings, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I encountered situations when the enemies acted like they had Tourette, dodging by reflex, even when in cover. True, when they do go out, they roll to the next cover point and shoot without peeking too often, so you got to flank or wait for them to reload. Or, if you’re sick of a pathetic life, go for a risky, but satisfying melee kill.
Zuluf: Unfortunately, the cover system is similar to GTA IV and allows for abuse, like limbs out of cover that can be hit without problems. Actually, going for Hard and then Hardcore is easy enough thanks to this design and a slight similarity to the Uncharted series.
It’s easy to finish the game even when two bullets are enough to send you to the load screen thanks to the cover system (and certain positions that can’t be flanked and from where you can kill half the guys before moving or diving). Even more, while Bullet Time is limited and recharges quite slow, the dives are unlimited even on Hard, even if using them in open spaces is pretty risky without a plan.
Devilschoice: some moments of the fights are weird and at one point, an NPC I had to protect died suddenly, like an enemy teleported behind me. And a few times in the controlled cut scenes the target didn’t activate, which meant that I shot in vain the jeep driver, as the car still crushed me. Fortunately, a reload of the last checkpoint solved the issues, but it was still pretty annoying.