Drastic Times Call for Drastic Changes
Max Payne 3 takes place nine years after the events of the second game. Without getting into spoilers, the events of the previous games have left Max a broken man who’s wasting his life away in dive bars drinking alcohol and slamming down painkillers. He then befriends Raul Passos who offers him a job in Brazil working as a bodyguard for businessman Rodrigo Branco and his trophy wife Fabiana. From there, things go from bad to worse.
The game makes a lot of changes from the original games. Aesthetically the game is much more colorful than the previous two, owing that to its new location of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Instead of comic style cutscenes, all cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine. A lot of the game also occurs during the daytime, rather than at night like the previous games.
Max is also somewhat more limited than he was in the previous games. He doesn’t take anywhere near as much punishment and can only carry around three weapons. To make up for this Max can now take cover and perform his signature shoot dodge maneuver even when his slow-motion bar has been depleted. Finally, he is also able to perform a ‘Last Stand’ where if he is to take a fatal blow whilst retaining a painkiller, he can shoot the last enemy who wounded him and recover.
I feel a lot of these changes were made for two reasons. The first is obviously to appeal to modern gamers. The cover system is similar to that popularized by the Gears of War series, and many modern games force the player to use a limited amount of weapons.
The other reasons is a response to action movies at the time. Around the time of Max Payne 3’s development you had the release of movies such as Taken and Elite Squad, both gritty, and somewhat more down to earth action flicks. Story-wise this is the most down to earth Max Payne game and is also the most brutal. With that said, this game would easily have the highest body count of any of the games in the series. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s certainly a lot more enemies you have to deal with which does clash with the new tone to a degree.
Overall I think these changes make Max Payne 3 an incredibly interesting game. It’s stuck between the past of its previous games and more modern mechanics.
Bring the Payne
The shooting in this game is incredibly smooth. Shooting is responsive and feels powerful. Enemies will stumble and fall in pain as their wounds ooze blood, and the bullets that miss will often spray glass or concrete around once it impacts with the environment. Once you fire the final shot, you’ll get a slow-motion display of your target’s demise.
Weaponry wise, Max has access to various pistols, machine pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and rifles. As mentioned before Max can only carry three weapons, two pistols and a rifle. He can also dual wield but this means he’ll have to drop his long gun.
Unfortunately, the balance isn’t ideal. See to be the most effective in Max Payne 3, you really need to score headshots, especially once enemies begin donning body armor. As most weapons are quite accurate, machine pistols prove to be extremely effective. Pistols are also quite useful although the limited capacity can be an issue. Submachine guns aren’t bad, but share the same ammo pool as machine pistols, so an assault rifle is much more effective. Shotguns, unfortunately, suffer from an extreme lack of range and even at short range require multiple shots to kill enemies.
That being said the variety of weapon models is impressive. Every weapon is modeled with a high level of detail. There are also some fairly unique weapons such as the .38 revolver which is challenging and fun to use, and the sawed-off double barrel shotgun which whilst ineffective can be dual wield which is a lot of fun. A lot of weapons are also unique to Brazil such as the PT-92 pistol and MD-97 assault rifle.
To begin with, you’ll be dealing with low-level thugs armed mostly pistols. As the game goes on enemies will begin to don body armor and tool up with high-powered weapons. This forces the player to be quick and accurate in combat, less they want to die.
The challenge enemies present really makes the gunplay intense. They aren’t afraid to get aggressive and they know they have superior numbers. Combined with the smooth controls and powerful feeling guns this makes for one hell of a shooting experience.
It’s Just Like the Movies
I’d define Max Payne 3 very much as a cinematic shooter. This is a very linear game driven by action set pieces and lengthy cutscenes. There are many moments where Max is diving through the air or doing something ridiculous as the game goes into slow motion and you begin nailing headshots.
Visually this game is amazing. Not only does the game look great, but the animation is fantastic. The way Max manipulates weapons, recovers from a shoot dodge or the way enemies take injuries adds a dynamic flair to the game that has yet to be matched.
Accompanying the visuals is the fantastic audio. Guns shots are beefy and enemies shout and swear at the player. Every character is voice acted well, although being fair I’m no expert on Brazilian accents as the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil is a food stall at a country fair.
The soundtrack is composed by the rock band Health and is for the most part very effective. The only time I felt the soundtrack didn’t quite work is when during the final level the song ‘Tears’ begins to play. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad track, but I feel the vocals clash against the mayhem that’s occurring. I think if the vocals kicked in during a more quiet moment it would have been much better. That said that’s really a minor complaint on an otherwise great soundtrack.
But At Times It’s Also Like Watching a Movie…
One of the biggest complaints leveled against this game is its lengthy cutscenes. These are used to conceal the load times, but it definitely can be a drain at times. What doesn’t help is the fact that some of them don’t really drive the plot forward, or force you to watch Max’s interactions with some of the most obnoxious characters ever. Much like Grand Theft Auto V, I find a lot of Rockstar’s attempt at ‘humorous’ characters come across as annoying and tedious. The character Marcello is the biggest offender in this regard.
With that said, the story itself is still very engaging. What makes it is Max himself. Without spoiling anything watching him trying to save a situation that is rapidly getting worse is extremely engaging. As much as it’s hard to like the characters around him, Max himself is very enjoyable with well-written dialog. You want to see him succeed, if only just once, no matter how small that victory may be.
The Worst of the Worst
Setting wise, Sao Paulo is a drastic change from the rainy nights Max spent in New York City during the first two games. I have to say the setting is one of my favorite parts of Max Payne 3. There’s something so grimy about the environments that give this game an authentic feel. This is most apparent in the seventh level ‘A Hangover Sent Direct From Mother Nature’, where Max is stuck in a favela and ends up in a seedy strip club.
Many characters also have a very low value for human life. Not only does Max kill enemies by the dozen, but civilians are often on the receiving end of violence. In a lot of ways, this is an extremely violent game. Sure a game like DOOM (2016) or Mortal Kombat might have over the top blood and gibbing, but Max Payne 3 is rather brutal in it’s own way, showing how low humans can go to serve their own self interests. The more realistic setting also makes it that much more gruesome, considering a lot of what happens in this game probably happens all over the world in poorer countries.
Max Payne 3 is an atmospheric experience that is a white-knuckle ride from start to finish. It may have done things differently than it’s prequels and to some that makes it the black sheep of the series, but in my opinion, that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s by no means perfect, but I’d highly recommend it as I would the other two games.