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Max Payne 3 was released on May 15, 2012 for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 and on May 29, 2012 for the PC. The game serves as the third entry in the Max Payne series, taking place after the events of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The following review is based on the Playstation 3 version.
The game begins with Max Payne, now serving as private security, leaning on a rail overlooking the slums of Saõ Paulo. Surrounded by him are some of Sao Paulo’s wealthiest, to whom he pays no attention to as he sips his scotch. Max's concentration (or his lack thereof) is suddenly broken by his partner, Raul Passos, who introduces him to the rich socialites when suddenly, the elevator dings. BANG. The guard besides the elevator is shot in the head. With everyone dazed, confused and horrified, the kidnappers grab your employer Rodrigo Branco and his wife, Fabiana. The Payne and Passos team then leap into action, saving Fabiana from a risky hostage situation and narrowly saving Rodrigo by shooting out the tire of the kidnappers' van.
A few days later, as if nothing ever happened, Max accompanies Fabiana, her sister Giovanna, and her brother in law, Marcelo Branco, to a high end VIP club. With the sisters living it up on the dance floor, Max continues past them with Marcelo to a room overlooking the dance floor; where he once again takes advantage of the bar. As Max tries to drown out the "robotic music" with scotch, once again, we hear an all too familiar sound: BANG BANG BANG. As everyone begins to panic, the same kidnappers from before snatch Fabiana and Giovanna and attempt to take Marcelo but the latter is thwarted with a nearby Max.
Thus begins Max Payne's journey into the depths of Sao Paulo and as time passes, these kidnappings become the least of his problems.
The characters are absolutely brilliantly written. All of them are downright awful people including Max Payne. The game does not let you forget that fact by constantly dragging each and every character through the mud metaphorically and sometimes, literally.
For example, Payne's employer, Rodrigo Branco is the owner of a large and extremely profitable company, Fabricas Branco. Generally, he seems to be mostly concerned about the kidnapping of his wife but when he questions why, he makes certain quips about having bribed people.
Another example is Max's partner, Raul Passos. While he seems to be helping you, he also has own vices like being in love with Fabiana's sister, Giovanna. At first this little affair seems harmless, but once Max gets into the thick of things, the affair begins to backfire on Max.
Even the titular character isn't free from this. Max Payne's addiction to alcohol and painkillers affects him while he's working as a bodyguard. The worst part of it is that he constantly acknowledges his problems and reminds the player through his constant narrations. He mentions his addictions. He mentions how many people he's failed and let die. He mentions the hundreds of people he's killed. He mentions his role as a middle class bodyguard that protects the rich by shooting the poor.
However, despite all this, you find yourself rooting for him because, while he may be a bad person, the things going on around him are far worse. He is the lesser of two evils. Despite all of his faults, he shows that he desperately wants to make things right.
Another great thing is that just about every character embodies a certain quality or theme and none if it is shoved down your throat. Da Silva, the small cop, takes on a guardian angel role for Max. He's never really involved in any of Max's adventures towards the end, but he is the one guiding him to a path of redemption and opens his eyes to the harsh reality the drugs and alcohol have hidden from him.
The story itself is something I haven't really seen before in a video game. It's not just a simple search and rescue plot. There is no big reveal at the end. The special police unit, the regular police, the paramilitaries, and the different slum gangs are all battling it out on the streets of Sao Paulo. With Fabiana's kidnapping, Max is sucked into the middle of all of it. So throughout the story, the player is put into Max's world of tragedy. Despite how well you play, despite how hard Max tries, a tragedy is almost always certain and in that moment, rather than being a complete dead end, it opens a series of questions. Each passing cutscene makes you ask: What is next? How can this possibly get worse? Approximately every three levels you have a new enemy and it progresses naturally. Almost like a detective catching a drug user. You caught the drug user, but its bigger than him so you find the drug dealer. Then you find the supplier, then the distributor and it goes on and on. So as I mentioned before, the game starts out with a kidnapping but by the end of the game, that's the least of your worries.
Regarding the technical aspects of this game, it is damn near flawless. A big negative is the frame rate drop. This is Rockstar's first time at not using loading screens between sessions, making use of cutscenes as active loading screens. This makes the gameplay far more immersive because it is seamless. However, you can easily tell what cutscenes are loading cutscenes because the frame rate drops pretty nastily. It is not terrible but when the rest of the game runs smoothly, you notice the small sudden frame rate drops.
The visuals however for a game that is already a few years old, still looks great and screen captures from the PC version look better yet. Everything has been carefully modeled and has an extreme amount of detail. Some of these extra details are actually easy to miss. One example, is when Max is in the favela and two kids are playing soccer. The kids are well modeled and Max even has a line of narration if you notice them long enough. The enemy models repeat from time to time but it's hardly noticeable unless you study their faces. Rather than having different enemy models, a lot of them have different attire from one other, so unless you study their faces, during gameplay, every enemy appears distinct from one another. The levels are also extremely beautiful and meticulously designed. The purple hue of the nightclub feels realistic, the dirty poverty and squalor in the favela feels real and adds to the overall theme of Max Payne 3. They captured the feel of the poorer districts of Sao Paulo and it speaks to the theme of shooting the poor for the rich. In addition to the look, the design of the levels are awesome. Every level is point A to Point B but somehow it doesn't ever feel like that. Each level feels different and makes the overall play through a lot more fun and diverse.
The audio of Max Payne 3 is another great aspect. The gravely voice of Max is done so well. The pain and overall tiredness of Max is evident with every word and grunt uttered. But Max isn't the only star of the show. Rodrigo Branco has a certain pomp and circumstance to his voice and Serrano, the favela crime lord, has an element of powerful disgust in his voice. There is not one character that has poor delivery of their lines. Even the NPCs are believable as they yell at Max in Portuguese. The dialogue isn't the only plus either. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. HEALTH truly delivered the world of video game soundtracks onto a whole new other level. Their song TEARS is rightfully among many top ten lists of greatest video game music tracks of all time. The music perfectly complements the gameplay and at times greatly encapsulates the themes of the game. In the track, DEAD, which plays during a Max Payne flashback at the cemetery where he visits his dead wife and child, you can faintly hear the sound of a baby crying. Nothing is stocky and nothing was made just for the sake of it. It is obvious that HEALTH took their time composing the soundtrack. From the faint maracas as you walk through the favelas to the airport alarms blaring as you blast your way through the airport, it all adds to the experience.
As for the gameplay however, it is very standard. Max running around, taking cover, shooting and aiming all feel great but there is nothing special about it. If you've played a competent third person shooter, this game is no different. However, there is one gameplay element outside the core elements that shake up the gameplay and that is Bullet Time. Bullet Time is essentially slow motion and it works for you just as much as it can work against you. One good use of it will help you clear out a room of enemies but if you dive in slow motion and you land where you’re susceptible to gunfire, by the time you get up, your enemies will have drilled you. Another interesting little element is that you revive your health through the use of painkillers which really speaks to the overall theme of addiction. There are other gameplay options as well to better your experience such as hard lock and free aim depending on how you like your aiming style and if you prefer to replay the game at a far faster rate, you can play a mode called New York Minute where you have only one minute to play the game and you can rack up more time with kills, explosions, and the like.
Considering the game is a few years old and a part of the last generation at the time of this review, the multiplayer community is pretty much dead which is unfortunate because as much time and effort went into the single player experience, the same went into the multiplayer experience. The levels are taken from the single player campaign but the maps were reworked to be more fit as a multiplayer arena. Somehow they also worked the Bullet Time mechanic into the game and it was done well. In my opinion, it was one of the best multiplayer experiences I've ever had. Nothing ever felt overpowered, everyone felt like equals and the things you earned through experience helped but it never tipped the balance unfairly. It was a simple and effective multiplayer. All the DLC was great and added to the experience by adding newer weapons and modes like a new Co Op mode that I literally spent entire nights on at a time with my brother.
Having never played Max Payne 1 or 2, I was wary of preordering Max Payne 3's Special Edition. The only reason I did buy it was because of the Rockstar seal of quality. I'm glad I did because I can honestly and proudly say that this is one of my favorite games of all time. It looks great, it plays well and it told a story like no other. A lot of people complained that it took a different route from the first two Max Payne games and other people have complained that it was too dark for them to finish. I think it is for those reasons that this game spoke so much to me. Max Payne 3 was a new phase in Max's life which let people like me join the Payne Train without knowing much else to full enjoy the game. Furthermore, the tone of this game gave this story and Max Payne far more depth than it deserved. There's enough games that show the triumph of the human soul but for Max Payne 3, showing the complete opposite spoke volumes. I actually felt what the game intended and that on its own is a success. It bothers me when people complain about it being too depressing. Max Payne from the beginning was the literal embodiment of "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong." The only negative is the standard third person gameplay that felt formulaic with only the bullet time feature setting it apart from the others.
If you haven’t played it yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not doing so. If you tried and thought it was too depressing to go on, you really need to go on to the end.
So from me, Max Payne 3 receives a 9.5 out of ten.