It's hard to miss an old friend when you don't realize how much he or she has impacted you. In the same way, I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy Max Payne 3. The familiar grizzled cop and bullet-storm pastiche was my jam back in the good old days of shooter yesteryear, but times have changed. Gone is the era of Quake-style shoot-'em-ups, Unreal arena-FPSs, and most certainly gone are bullet-time powered third-person shooters. This shine of bullet-time wore off long ago and it has only been poorly imitated (or used in generic ways) in recent modern FPSs. Thank god for Max Payne 3, then, because it blows the living crap out of every bullet-time powered shooter out there. Forget Dead to Rights or The Matrix's slow-mo scenes; Max Payne does it better, and the third time truly is a charm for Rockstar.
The first thing you'll notice when booting up Max Payne 3 is just how depressing this game is. Max hasn't been doing well in the few years since we last saw him. With his entire family dead, booze and painkiller's have become his roughest vices. Max downs both like candy drops, shrugging off their hallucinogenic and perception-altering affects. Still, you can see the his age and grief reflected in his body. Rockstar has ensured players see every pained expression and wrinkle on his face. Max's life has been tough, and his body clearly shows it.
The third title in the storied franchise centers on Max's bodyguard employment for a rich Brazilian family known as the Branco's. The figurehead of the family, Rodriguo, is a popular builder and has earned several awards, including his attractive wife (hint: she's not there for the man). Naturally, said attractive wife also enjoys Brazil's nightlife and wears flashy clothing that sets her apart from the other loathsome, rich trash. In a sequence of events only possible in Max Payne, she ends up being kidnapped and Max blows up half of Sao Paulo looking for her. If you're looking for a much deeper, more complex and involving plot, look elsewhere. Yes, there's plenty of intrigue and a few decent shocks but it's nothing you haven't seen before. No, come for what Max Payne 3 does best: shooting.
If Rockstar wants to do one thing incredibly well, it's the combat. Every gun is a powerhouse in Max's tired hands. You'll feel the kick of every SMG, handgun, rifle, or shotgun as you mow down hundreds of bad guys. When Max swings his revolver around, you can feel the weight of it in his hand as he physically adjusts his body's balance to account for the metal mass between his fingers. When he pulls the trigger, your adrenaline pumps as the bullet speeds along and gloriously makes contact with an enemy target. To make the combat as visceral and exciting as possible, Rockstar has also utilized motion capture tech and the Euphoria engine, allowing for incredibly realistic animation and physiological response to being shot (think action movies where bodies twitch for each impact). In English, Max Payne 3 lets players shoot up people real pretty-like.
The most important part of the combat, however, is the bullet time. Much like the old games in the series, bullet time fills up with kills. The more Max shreds, the more foes he can stylishly dispatch using his signature bullet-dodge and slow-motion abilities. A final killcam also highlights the brutality of combat, showing each and every hole a bullet makes in an enemy. If players wish, they can 'bullet-time' the cam and slow it down to enjoy the savagery on-screen for longer periods of time. Not that I would encourage such behavior or anything.....
The singleplayer campaign clocks in at around 7-10 hours, depending on what difficulty you choose. I went with Normal, disabled the auto-aim, and faced some fairly stiff odds here and there. The initial five or so chapters (of the 14 available) go by fairly quickly. Around the midway point, however, the difficulty ramps up. Expect a few frustrating deaths here and there. I had to learn certain enemy positions before blindly charging in with bullet-dodge; not doing so got me killed. All in all, the main story is a fun, well-scripted excuse to throw some awesome set-pieces at players. In particular, the siege on one guy's office is likely one of the best gunfights in gaming history.
Visually, Max Payne 3 is a stunner. Particle effects have been turned up to 11 here and everything reacts beautifully to the impact of bullets. Dust and debris kick up as windows and sparks fly all around Max. It's an aural spectacle, especially in cramped environments where a rapid-fire SMG or shotgun is a necessity. The audio is equally strong, with voice-overs matching the quality of the game's production values perfectly. It also doesn't help that the weapons sound fantastic. The music is appropriate, though it's sometimes difficult to hear given how often I was squeezing the trigger.
Rockstar has also boasted about its much-talked about multiplayer, calling it the most cinematic online experience possible. Thankfully, the experience is mostly fun, partly in thanks to the social media service Social Club. Social Club allows players to join up with crews and play on teams in any of the games varied modes. It's great to feel like a larger part of a gang, given the nature of Max Payne 3's enemy-gang tendencies and various factions. The MP modes, such as Gang War and Payne Killer, are all fairly interesting. Each has a different objective set, such as eliminating a hidden target, assassinating Max Payne and his partner Passos, or straight-up killing. No matter your fancy, Max Payne 3 will satisfy. Unfortunately, I wasn't as satisfied with the implemented bullet-time. While it actually works (in a multiplayer game!), I can't say I entirely understood its workings. That may be because I'm ill-experienced with these kinds of things but I'm fairly certain it doesn't help the games pace much. Regardless, the multiplayer is still a blast and ties in nicely with the singleplayer storyline.
Max Payne 3 is Rockstar's homage to movies like Die Hard and Hard Boiled. It's part John Woo, part Bruce Willis, and all action. The violence is brutal, visceral, and satisfying, ensuring gamers blow up every single thing from here to who knows when. While the story may not be entirely original, it's still well-executed and drives the exciting action at a steady pace. The multiplayer, while somewhat handicapped by the bullet time, is still a great diversion from the singleplayer. It will no doubt have its fans among many of the players.
Final Score: 9/10