Max Payne 3 Review – Or: More Noir Than A Black Hole With The Lights Turned Off

The Game

Raise your hand if you’re surprised to learn that guns are an integral part of the Max Payne experience?

Max Payne 3 screenshot
And now that Max just shot the poor sucker who raised his hand, we can proceed…

Max Payne is a third-person shooter with an elephant-size emphasis on the word “shooter.” Forget puzzle solving, navigating tricky environments a la Uncharted, or anything other than popping caps. Max Payne is all about dropping you down a linear path, populating said path with bad guys, and letting you run wild with various firearms. It’s not deep, it’s not varied, but despite these flaws Max Payne’s shooting is in a class all its own. No other franchise lovingly takes the time to show every single piece of brass ejecting from your guns. No other game wears its gun fetish on its sleeve like Max Payne. Sometimes I think the game has slow-motion just so players can check to see if guns really eject the correct number of spent shell casings.

Max Payne 3 screenshot
1… 2… 3…

While the shooting mechanics of Max Payne remain as solid as ever, they’re also completely unchanged from previous iterations. Max can still perform Jon Woo-style sideways jumps while firing guns akimbo. Time can still be slowed down to a crawling to place your shots with better accuracy. A slow-motion shot of the final bullet fired during a gunfight slamming into the last bad guy still highlights the end of a sequence. Max Payne 3 does nothing new. This is a pure Max Payne experience, as if the game had been released in 2004 instead of 2012.

It might seem like I’m complaining and in a way I am, but time away from the series has served to make everything old seem new again. On the other hand, I could have installed my copy of Fall Of Max Payne and enjoyed a similar experience. One nagging design choice that gamers might have a problem with is the lack of a rebounding health meter. This was acceptable 10 years ago, nowadays it’s pretty much a given. However, just to play devil’s advocate, the lack of refilling health does lend a sense of desperation to some of the game’s more frenetic gunfights.

The single player campaign should last you a decent 10 hours or so. For a Rockstar game, known for the overwhelming number of side diversions found in its Grand Theft Auto titles, Max Payne 3 is extremely linear. You run, you shoot. There isn’t much to do aside from finish the central storyline. Multiplayer can extend the game’s shelf life considerably depending on how much you appreciate the online mode, Gang Wars. Instead of typical deathmatch and team deathmatch, Gang Wars features evolving objectives based on what happens during the four rounds of a match. You can claim territory, defuse bombs, or assassinate randomly chosen team leaders. Basically, you have all the most popular online modes in one package.

The presentation

While Max Payne 3’s gameplay is firmly last gen, the game is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in terms of sheer graphical prowess. Brazil’s unique architecture is reproduced faithfully, all winding streets and debilitated shanty towns. What really stuck with me is how freaking hot and sweaty everything looks.

Max Payne 3 screenshot
No wonder Max is getting himself a cold drink on the box art.

The graphics engine is at its best when showcasing bullet wounds. Shots carry real impact and the game’s rag-doll physics are some of the best in the industry. Supporting this carnage is a top-notch audio suite. I don’t know if the developers recorded the actual guns being fired in real life, but it certainly sounds like it. Each gun sounds so unique that you’ll quickly develop favorites based on sound alone. Character models look fantastic. Max gets the most attention, going through several costume and cosmetic changes at various points in the story. NPC faces are great, showing a good range of emotions while never coming off as stiff.

Max Payne 3’s score is a highlight. Composed by, appropriately enough, Brazilian born artist Pedro Bromfman, his music is always welcome and never intrusive and serves to add some local flavor to Max’ South American adventure. Speaking of Max, he’s voiced by Irish actor James McCaffrey, whom you’ve probably seen in a dozen movies or TV shows. McCaffrey gives a sterling performance, delivering even the corniest of noir lines with aplomb.

The Verdict: [rating:4]

Max Payne 3 is a welcome return to the gritty universe created by the two previous games. While not a revolutionary leap forward for the series, it serves to reintroduce gamers to the mechanics that made the Max Payne brand a name to be reckoned with in the industry. It’s easily the best pure shooter currently on the market. If it’s action you crave, Max Payne delivers in spades.

Your faithful, bullet-ridden reviewer,


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