Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: Max Payne 3

“When you’re stuck in a foreign country, don’t know the words for “reverse charges” and you’re in some lonely skin joint in the middle of some poor slum and just had every last cent robbed from you and you call yourself a bodyguard... then you know you’re a loser.”

Yes, everyone’s favourite alcoholic, addicted, depressed ex-cop Max Payne has blasted his way back onto the console scene, and has done so in style.

Max Payne 3 is a well-balanced, enjoyable shooter with a fantastic multiplayer offering, truly enjoyable shooter gameplay and a cutting sarcastic wit. Sure, the singleplayer plot is pretty weak and predictable, but it more than makes up for it with sheer cinematic fun.

Longtime fans of the series will be glad to see that the core dynamic of the gameplay – hurling yourself through a window while shooting two guns in slow motion – is all present and accounted for. As in previous Max Payne games, Max is somehow capable of pulling off bullet time-slowed action leaps while mercilessly blowing away bad guys without breaking a sweat. He’s a veritable walking arsenal as well, able to go gung-ho with a gun in each hand, and a rifle or shotgun if he fancies a change of pace.

The bullet-time dynamic is still great fun, even after all this time, and in its current iteration even moreso. The only difficulty arises when you accidentally jump into a filing cabinet, or water, or a stripper’s breasts, and Max is left flopping like a fish as his foes pump bullets into him. The wise gamer, then, picks off a few enemies before hurling yourself forwards like Jackie Chan in a John Woo movie.

The game offers two modes for the shooting – free aim and assisted. While I initially went with free aim, expecting my gaming skill to shine through, I quickly discovered how difficult it is aiming a reticule while hurtling over a balcony railing, and quickly swapped to assisted.

The main problem with this is that the assisted aim has a habit of going for the enemies’ chest, so you kind of have to ‘flick’ the reticule up in order to put them down quicker, which is a bit irritating. Another annoying trait is the way Max always draws a one-handed weapon for every cutscene, forcing you to have to reselect the assault rifle you pulled off a dead drug runner every...bloody...time.

These minor annoyances aside, on a whole Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable romp, which sees the gritty New Yorker transplanted to Sao Paolo, Brazil, working security for a rich family in a city of gangs, drugs and slums.

Beforelong things to to Hell in a handbasket, and Max has to shoot his way through a number of set-piece moments, stadiums, hospitals, police stations and favelas, all the while dispensing his own brand of crude, depressing commentary: “It was Monday afternoon and I’d already been thrown out of a party, been to a strip club and got into a bar fight. This latest mid-life crisis was certainly ticking all the boxes.”

Max’s characterisation is excellent, and though all he does is sprout sadness, he’s still a very likeable anti-hero. That said, I did occasionally want him to cheer up a bit. The whole dead wife and kid thing was years and years ago...

After you’ve finished the campaign, which comes in at a comfortable seven hours or so, the game’s multiplayer suite is there to keep you busy. Following the same style as the singleplayer, the multiplayer sees two gangs fighting for dominance in a variety of well-designed maps, in modes including stalwart ‘domination’ and team deathmatch. Also included are a mode called ‘Payne Killer’, which offers gamers a chance to play as Max and his sidekick Passos, and ‘Gang Wars’ - the standout mode for me.

Gang Wars pits two groups against each other in a series of smaller games, such as bombing a site, team deathmatch or assassination, with the victors in each game adding points to their total. These are tied together with a small storyline, usually a bar story or a documentary voice-over, which is a nice touch.

The multiplayer offers the usual suite of weapons, perks, unlocks and skins, so there’s plenty to work for. Max Payne’s bullet time is also cleverly included in the multiplayer, as when you enter the slow-motion state, only people who can see you slow down in sync – it’s a very clever addition, which adds the game’s cinematic flair to an already enjoyable, intense blast.
As Max himself puts it: “The way I see it there’s two types of people, those who spend their lives trying to build a future and those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past. For too long I’d be stuck in between, hidden in the dark. What was I really doing walking in there with my bad haircut and ridiculous shirt?”

Hopefully buying a copy of Max Payne 3.
Reviewed on Xbox 360