A lot has changed in the world of Max Payne since we first saw him almost a decade ago in 2003's The Fall of Max Payne -- he's moved to Brazil, rounded out with a gut and even grown a beard. One thing hasn't changed though, he still likes to shoot people -- and does it well, almost uncomfortably well.
With Max Payne 3, Rockstar has stepped out of their comfort zone and into a new yet familiar territory, and it works incredibly well. Featuring remarkably well done action, an engaging story and a surprisingly fun multiplayer engine -- Max Payne 3 is a game that should be on everyone's radar, or at least in their crosshairs.
One thing is evident from the first few seconds you boot up Max Payne 3 -- this isn't the same title you've played almost a decade ago. Though it does share a few similarities, this is a more grown-up Max for a new generation; one that makes bold choices with its gameplay and narrative. Giving up the detective life, Max trades in the dreary New York skyline for the sun, shanty towns and seedy nightclubs of São Paulo, Brazil where he's taken a private security job. As you may expect, everything starts to go wrong when the trophy wife of Max's new employer gets kidnapped on his watch, and thus Max Payne 3 begins in earnest.
To tell you the truth, you're likely to hate a good portion of Max Payne 3 in the beginning. Rockstar employs a slew of storytelling effects and production techniques, from filters to shifting time frames and it comes off as extremely off putting and noisy. It grows on you though, as it does a great job making you feel a connection to Max, and his tale of desperation. In truth, the narrative weaved in Max Payne 3 is well done, and as a result of some great performances and writing that serves as a love letter to both the exploitation and Noire genres -- it's easily the best of the series.
But who am I kidding? As good as the story is -- that's not what you're here for. You're here for the guns - -and luckily Rockstar delivers. The mechanic is as simple as they come, you're able to hold two side arms and one larger weapon, and dual wielding forces you to drop the large weapon, but it somehow feels so incredibly fresh and unique here. With each section, it's remarkably rewarding to let the bullets fly and take out a slew of enemies, especially when using Max's signature bullet time and kill cams.
Perhaps it feels so rewarding because the game always feels like you're desperate for survival. The world around you will crumble, Max will become damaged and with each battle, you're likely to escape by the skin of your teeth. Translation? Max Payne 3 is difficult, and can be infuriatingly difficult thanks to the spread out checkpoints, which often force you to repeat tough sections you've already completed in an effort to get back to where you started, but it never becomes overwhelming, and it's all part of the Max Payne experience.
It is a bit off putting though that the story intrudes so much on the actual gameplay. Max Payne 3 is heavy on cutscenes and they're going to pop up often, which is going to sway a lot of gamers who don't care as much about story. To that same point, it's a bit disappointing that there's almost no character development here -- the Max you start with is the same one you'll end with.
Max Payne 3 also features an impressively addicting online suite. If you were to ask me a year ago if I would be so enthralled by the multiplayer suite in Max Payne 3, I may have laughed at you, but it's undeniable. The Gang Wars mode takes place over five rounds, the first four with randomly selected objectives like assassinating a specific team member or defusing a bomb, the last round is always a deathmatch, and always turns into a chaotic but fun mess.
It may be a simple formula, but Max Payne works. Delivering the blam blam in spades, yet crafting a compelling and engaging story, Max Payne 3 has Rockstar written all over it. You'll come for the over the top violence, stay for the performances and fall in love with the mutiplayer. Welcome back Max, now have a drink.