"Max Payne 3": The Review

“Max Payne 3”, as a game, is polished to a ridiculously high sheen. But it’s also stuck somewhat in the past. Is the content here really enough to make the game worth sixty bucks?

“Polished” is not an idle adjective here: there’s a lot of love for the franchise packed into this game, and it’s pretty clear it was never left idle at any point in its development. Right from the Rockstar logo (which, by the way, is a hoot), you can tell Rockstar made this because they wanted to put it out. Sure, they knew it’d be something resembling a hit. But that wasn’t the point.

The problem, though, is that like it or not, in some ways, Rockstar has moved well beyond games like “Max Payne”. And that’s the tricky part: has Rockstar managed to bring Max to the modern day?

Short answer: not really. Whether or not that matters is up to you.

Here’s the problem: this is, for better or worse, an old-school game built with a lavish budget and a lot of technology behind it. How old-school? There’s a de facto “lives” system. Seriously.

That said, a lot of it is amazing. The game itself is fluid, transitioning from cutscene (or game menu) to gameplay and back. The enemy AI is solid; they take cover, they work together and they will flank you if you’re not careful. That said, they’re pretty stupid in a crucial respect, in that if you hang back in the right place, they’ll generally come to find you and walk right into your crosshairs.

The cover mechanic is carefully integrated into the game so that it’s still “Max Payne” in the sense of using bullet-time to sail through the air and gun down enemies, but if you want to grab cover, you generally can and you won’t get punished for it. Just be advised: most of it is not going to last long if you don’t start shooting, and the levels are not laid out for you to just turtle through the entire game. You’re supposed to be running and gunning, and as you get to the later levels, it’ll often be the only option. It makes all the shootouts intense and challenging, since if you don’t act fast, you’re going to die.

And you are going to die. A lot. While the game isn’t quite as dependent on memorizing every nook and cranny as the last two games, it’s still pretty unforgiving and a stiff challenge.

Most gratifyingly, the single-player campaign is very much its own beast, complete with a detailed and well written story that’s actually a bit more grounded, instead of a tutorial for the multiplayer mode. Max genuinely struggles with addiction and his own failures, as the opening cutscene makes very clear, and the timeline of this game stretches across nearly a decade. He also, however, gets off a lot of sardonic one-liners.

The problem, though, is that shooting dudes is the entire game. There’s really not much strategy here; shoot dudes, look for painkillers and ammo, go to the next area, shoot dudes. It’s intense and it’s fun, but it’s also often very linear, although some levels will have enemies coming at you from all directions, and you’ll find yourself needing to take a break because it gets repetitive. There’s little strategy and the only gameplay variety comes from the occasional scripted bullet-time set-piece or sniper rifle moment.

There are collectibles lying around: you can find golden weapon parts in each area which increase damage and ammo capacity, and you can also find “clues” which mostly serve to fill out the story a bit, occasionally inject some levity (you keep running into an idiot tourist) and unlock kill cam bonuses. But there’s just not enough variety here.

That, presumably, is where the multiplayer comes in.

I’ll give Rockstar credit: the multiplayer works, and works well. There’s problems in the sense that as you level up, you get better guns, perks, and other bonuses that mean newbies get chewed up and spat out if it’s the first thing they play.

The game, though, does a good job of balancing it because as you play through the single player, you collect Grinds; little achievements of a sort that give you XP, and that generally revolve around shooting enemies in various body parts or in various positions. You can also replay levels in “Arcade” mode, which is basically you attempting to get a perfect run through each area of the game. Earning medals in Arcade mode gets you a lot of XP very quickly…but you can only play a level in Arcade once you beat it in single player, and if you want to revisit New York Minute, you’ll also have to beat the game.

The result is the exact opposite of your typical shooter: a game that drives you towards the single-player mode, not the multiplayer, while making sure both are equally rewarding. The single-player game is your meal: the multiplayer is dessert.

In terms of technical work…graphically, it really has to be said this game is stunning. The game never tries to draw attention to itself, aside from the “Man on Fire” moments, but damn is it pretty.

So is it a buy? At $60 that’s a hard call. It’s undeniably a fun game…but it’s also a somewhat shallow one. Once you finish the single player campaign, unless you get into the multiplayer, you’re probably never going to play it again. It’s definitely a game you should play at some point, but if you’re not a Max Payne fan, or looking for an old-school challenge, waiting until the price drops might be a good idea.