Max Payne 3 Xbox 360 Review

May 31, 2012 by Simon Wigham  
Filed under Features, Reviews, Xbox 360

Publisher - Rockstar – Developer – Rockstar Vancouver – Genre – Action – Players – 1-16 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, PC

On occasion, a fresh developer tackling an established series can be a good thing, with the possibility of them breathing new life into familiar mechanics and perhaps bringing their own ideas to the table and such, though there’s also the risk of a team unfamiliar with a series not getting what made the series what it was in the first place.

Max Payne 3 is the first time that the series has been out of the hands of original developer Remedy and in the clutches of Rockstar instead, but it’s really quite surprising with just how little has changed, all the more so when you consider that it’s been a long time since the second game.

Max Payne 3 begins in a miserable fashion, with the titular Max telling us of his woes: his painkillers and alcohol addition, spurred on by the death of his wife and daughter in the original game. His tortured musings, like the rest of the dialogue, are of course, with Rockstar at the helm, better written and more profanity-laden than previously, and it’s great to see the gravelly voice of Max, James McCaffrey, back, largely in fine form and once again bringing so much heart to the character.

Max is no longer a police officer and is instead a bodyguard to a rich Brazilian family. The story flits back and forth through time, displaying how he got to this point and of just how he manages to look like some sort of John McClane wannabe. True to the series and indeed to Rockstar’s considerable talent in this area, the story is relatively strong, whilst Max himself is as fascinating as always, though the somewhat unique comic book style storytelling of previously has been discarded in favour of the more generic method of cut scenes, which will disappoint many a fan.

If nothing else, Rockstar has undoubtedly ushered in a fresh feel for the series, so its setting is no longer just dark nights and snow, and there’s much more variety this time around. The sun is not an uncommon sight and the action is not just restricted to New York. Some will feel this is a change too far for the overall mood of the game, but thankfully its sunny skies hasn’t made Max be of a more cheerful disposition and he still has a good old moan incessantly.

Mechanically, there’s a rudimentary cover system that allows for blind fire, but this isn’t to say that Max Payne 3 has done away with the signature action of the series. Stylish John Woo esque gunplay is still emphasised. To get an edge over enemies, Max can employ Bullet Time to slowdown the action, he can also dive through the air to dodge enemy bullets and can stylishly fire away with his guns at the same time, and it’s here where the true strength of Max Payne lies as opposed to the mundane act of hiding behind cover.

For once there’s no recharging health and instead you must seek out painkillers to restore lost health. Providing you have at least one painkiller, you’ll automatically enter Bullet Time whenever you run out of health, giving you one last chance at survival, offering you limited ammo and a brief amount of time to kill an enemy to trigger revival.

The environments often feature a high level of destruction, which in tandem with Euphoria has allowed for much more satisfying and dynamic shootouts than previously, allowing the possibility for many grisly contortions and tumbles of bodies as a lovely reward for your kills, whilst there’s a sense of weight to Max’s dives, and diving into objects will see him react accordingly, twisting his body to cushion crashes into walls and such. Euphoria is just a part of the visual goodness on offer though, as Max Payne 3 is largely an impressive looking game, with lovely lighting effects and immense detail in its environments and character models.

The structure is essentially much the same as its always been, so you’ll face off against waves of enemies, wipe them out and then move on and do it again, a lot. You’re given a breather from the bloodshed by occasionally having to seek out switches or plant explosives and such, whilst some on rails, escort sections and scripted slow motion segments manage to grant at least a smidgen of variety.

Unfortunately, unhelpful checkpoint placement can cause frustration from time to time, too often forcing you to take down masses of enemies again and again, though it’s a testament to how enjoyable the action is that it never quite frustrates in the same way that some other games can.

There’s a fair bit of longevity to what is already a reasonably sized game. Each stage has clues and golden gun parts to be found, whilst there’s also an arcade mode that features a score attack mode that rewards additional points for more skilful play such as headshots, and New York Minute which tasks you with clearing stages in the quickest time possible, both have online leaderboards vying for your attention.

Unsurprisingly, there’s also multiplayer support, and Bullet Time has granted a certain degree of freshness to this area, whilst it’s pleasingly comprehensive in its options, offering the expected challenges and rewarding XP system that sees you unlocking new weapons, modes and items as you amass XP.

Modes consist of the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch, which is disappointing. More worthy of explanation is Gang Wars, an objective and team based mode, and Payne Killer, which has one player playing as Max himself and another taking charge of his friend Passos, whilst everyone else hunts them down.

In spite of the change in developer and brighter skies, Max Payne 3 doesn’t bring anything tangibly new to the series and some are likely to be disappointed with just how conservative it is, but it does feature the most spectacular action yet for the series, whilst slow motion is still used surprisingly sparingly as a gameplay mechanic in shooters, leaving Max Payne 3 as a game that still manages to be at least moderately distinct in the most crowded of genres, helped along by a hero that remains memorable and a brand of action that is a thing of beauty.

8/10

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