Publisher: Rockstar Vancouver
Platform: PS3, X Box 360, PC
Genre: Third Person Shooter
After an 8 years hiatus Max Payne is back, older, fatter and more gravelly than ever. MP3 is cut from the same cloth as a lot of Rockstar games, it's a third-person shooter based on the Euphoria engine with sloppy cover mechanics, about a gravelly guy with a troubled past who is in some way being used by "the man" to kill "the bad guy".
Who exactly the "bad guy" is is a question that could've done with some consistency. The whole campaign is about 10 hours and boils down to a single extended mission with a few flashbacks, but who exactly you're meant to be fighting changes so often it gets muddled over time. The plot picks up not long after Max Payne 2 and finds Max a broken down alcoholic with a painkiller addiction dealing with the death of his wife and child. He's wound up working private security in Sao Paolo when a local gang attempts to kidnap the head of the family he's protecting. The initial attempt fails but a second attempt gets 2 members of the family and Max is sent to recover the victims and get to the bottom of exactly who wanted them taken. These early sequences have a lot of depth to them. Max is a clearly a shell of a man, the classic film noir detective and though he does tend to ramble on about how he's ruined his life, the claustrophobic, depressed and almost desperate feel all adds to the atmosphere.
Then the whole plot just falls off the rails for about 3 hours, as you grind your way through a mess of horrible foreshadowing and flashback sequences that don't move the actual story forward in any real way. At intervals throughout the game there are flashback missions that go back to Hoboken New Jersey, before Max was recruited to go to Brazil. On their own merits these are great sequences, they give room for Max to be a bitter lonely man in a setting that suits far better than Brazil. The mob boss DeMarco is a far better bad guy than any of the main villains. Max shot his son in a bar fight, it makes perfect sense for DeMarco to want revenge and the grieving father angle gives him more legitimacy than anyone in Brazil who are to the last money-grubbing jerks with no morals. But as good as those sequences are they don't actually bring the main story anywhere and really just pad out the main game with an idea that was entirely deserving of its own game or even a high quality DLC title. By the time the plot actually starts going anywhere again there are at least 3 different gangs out for Max's blood and the wrap up of the fight against each gang is incredibly disappointing and short enough to scream "we spent all the money on making the voice actors more gravelly and completely ran out of time, we're really sorry".
The game does look stunning. Environments are rich, the hordes of enemies you gun down have a decent amount of variety to them in terms of looks and the cutscenes are interspersed with subtitles for important pieces of information in a cool graphic novel kind of style. Slam back some painkillers to recover health and the whole world turns a different colour for a few seconds. The Sao Paolo Favella where you spend most of the game is a filthy grime encrusted hell-hole and you'd well believe that no-one outside this place would really care about what goes on inside it. The voice acting is generally top-notch as well but Max himself is really quite poor in game. It can take a lot of shots to get a clean kill on someone and between combat set-pieces Max has a love of throwing his guns away so between each room there's a simple requirement to check every nook and cranny for guns, ammunition and painkillers. And that would be tedious on its own but every thirty seconds you've got Max monologing about how he needs to hurry up or the bad guys will escape and that just gets damn annoying. There's a horrible repetition in his cut-scenes as well, everything is miserable and it's so hard being an alcoholic and on-and-on-and-on. And for all his whining, about 7 hours in he just decides to stop drinking, shaves his head and bam, his raging alcoholism is completely cured and he never even suffers a noticeable hangover. I recently stopped drinking caffeine and I couldn't get out of bed for 3 days, Max Payne can give up drinking with a snap of his fingers and he's off to slaughter some more Brazilians with nary a second thought.
The controls and gameplay are pretty poor overall. They don't do anything too crazy; shoot, aim and crouch are all in the correct place but their aiming mechanic is dreadful. A lot of the environments are too dark to really see the dark grey clothed bad guys against the dark grey backgrounds and the sluggishness of aiming makes a certain amount of auto-aim a necessity in tense fights which causes big problems. A lot of enemies are heavily armoured, like 10+ rounds of assault rifle fire just to stun them, so headshots become the only viable option. Auto-lock however locks squarely onto their bullet proof torso and it takes a critical fraction of a second to break the lock and aim at the face. The bullet-time and shoot dodge mechnics help a little but within bullet time Max moves so slowly that it can be difficult to clear any kind of room so it's only real value is clearing an area you know is an ambush site cos you just got ambushed and killed in it. The attention to detail is pretty good in general, the guns are accurate for that part of the world and the ammo they carry is also accurate, the body armour is well detailed though a little on the invulnerable side.
The "Last Man Standing" mechanic is a rare exception to the poor gameplay. Painkillers are sufficiently rare that a lot of the time you'll be running around on close to half health because it's just not worth risking the med-pack yet. Sometimes a lucky ambush or cover destroying shotgun blast will take you out in one hit though at which point you enter into bullet time and have a few seconds to kill the enemy who got the critical hit on you. If you hit you get to use a med-pack and keep playing. It's a well balanced mechanic and lets clean hits with high-power weapons be dangerous but not instant cheap kills. Some of the combat set-pieces are a bit too rigid though. One that sticks out is an office cubicle complex where my first ten attempts met with failure but my 11th met with laughably easy success, which just leaves the impression that there's only 1 way through that section and the game designers were content to let you die over and over until you do things their way. It also means there's absolutely no replay value to that section now. I know the route to take and I can just blast through it without even thinking. As a rule though the combats are very samey, similar enemies with similar weapons and the same grab cover and burst fire for head-shots will see you through. There are some moments where you need to know when to break from cover and rely on bullet-time to let you bring down a cluster of enemies but they're few and far between.
Max Payne 3 is a frustrating game to play. It has moments of genius and then long stretches of mediocrity. It has an incredible dark atmosphere that is ruined by an protagonist who at times is just whining (not helped by the fact that when he actually battles his demons he has no noticeable difficulty doing so). It has a story that wants to be big but is crippled by being fore-shadowed in the first hour and the revolving door of main enemies that leaves the final few fights rushed and messy. I wanted to really like this game but in the end I just can't. The gameplay needed more work, or at least the setting and
efforts that went into it deserve more work, maybe more game time focussed on the detective side and less on monotonous combat. I would've loved more time in Hoboken, more time setting Max up as a genuinely sympathetic character. I would've settled for a more relaxed pace to the story, a few extra hours spent actually destroying with the various gangs would've created a feeling of real milestones in the story. Sadly though, I'm going to have to recommend you give this one a miss.
Rent or Buy: Rent
Reviewed by: Tony O'Hare