Max Payne 3; Grade: 3.5; System: Xbox 360; Published by: Rockstar Games; No. Players: 1; Genre: Action/Adventure; ESRB Rating: M for mature.
When you give a child a name like Max Payne, you've probably set the boy up for a world of hurt. You don't see people with a name like that cutting hair for a living. No, he's going to be a rough-neck, hard and tough. He's either going to feel a lot of pain or he's going to deal a lot of pain. In Max's case he's going to do both.
Max Payne 3 from RockStar Games continues the story of a New York City cop whose wife and daughter were murdered by drug dealers, sending him into a drug and alcohol-induced depression. He leaves the NYPD, serves a short stint in the Drug Enforcement Agency and then resigns himself to a life of drunkenness and debauchery. He spends most of his time sitting at the bar sinking the hurt deep into a bottle of scotch. But that was a couple of games ago. In MP3 Max has taken a job as a body guard in Sao Paulo, Brazil, playing baby-sitter to a rich man's wife and his socialite brother. He seems a bit out of place, sort of like a cowboy in a ballet. He still likes the scotch a whole bunch and he usually enjoys it with a side of painkillers.
The game is a story-driven narrative. The whole thing feels like you are watching a movie instead of playing a game. Instead of book-ending the action with cut-scene animations, the action is used to fill the gaps in the story. The only time a player takes control of the avatar is when bad guys need to be shot. There isn't a lot of gathering loot, money or dropped weapons and there isn't a lot of thought that needs to go into the play. Mostly you're going to shoot and keep moving as time is always of the essence.
Not only do you have to pull off a daring rescue you have to do it in a determined amount of time or the mission fails. There's no time to hide behind cover and take your time aiming for the perfect head-shot. Its a run-and-gun style and it keeps the game moving at a fast pace. The only downside is that Max runs about as fast as a nice stroll in the park and there isn't a button for sprinting. So, although he's always in a hurry, he never seems to be. Sure, he'll tell you how little time he has left but does he pick up his pace?
As expected with games about drugs and crime, the weaponry sticks mostly to the sidearm and a few automatic weapons. The occasional shotgun makes an appearance but with such a small capacity for ammo you'll mostly use the handgun. When it comes to shooting, the game follows a similar style to Call of Duty and others. Aiming automatically locks onto the nearest bad guy and you simply have to toggle a button to shoot and click to the next target. So you do a lot of click, shoot, click, shoot repeat ad infinitum. You can set it to Hard Lock which targets the next guy closest to your reticule within a certain radius, Soft Lock which narrows that radius considerably or you can turn the shot assist off, which means you have to be really good.
One of the most fun parts of the game was watching the Final Kill. As you enter a room full of gun-toting thugs and start firing, you know when the fight is over when you see your Final Shot up close and in slow motion. Blood splatters and the thuggie slumps to the ground in a rather realistic fashion. It's easy to recognize the bad guys as they are all wearing ski-masks.
Another fun feature is Bullet Time. Pressing a button will slow down time so that Max can aim for a faster, deadlier shot. He can only do it if the meter isn't empty but when he can it adds a little extra pop to the combat. Health is replenished when Max is out of fire or when he swallows a couple of painkillers. When he pops pills the initial effect is a blurry-eyed view of the world, but it doesn't last more than a second or two. The substance abuse doesn't overshadow the story but is prevalent. It's an unfortunate trend when developers can't find any other way to make a game "edgy."
The in-game graphics were fine as they were merely an extension of the cut-scene animations, which are usually better than the in-game graphics. But those cut-scenes were somewhat frustrating. Frequently someone would bellow out laughter but their face wouldn't crack a smile. They'd slap a knee or wave a hand to gesture that something was funny but acted as if their jaws were wired shut. Facial expression was poor but body movement was pretty decent.
The audio and voice acting was well done. Rarely did it feel like anyone was reading from a script or phoning in the work. There also wasn't too much overused or cliche banter being tossed out by the run-of-the-mill baddies as in other games. The voice acting is one of the reasons that you overlook the visual inconsistencies. If you don't look the characters in the face, they almost seem real.
Max Payne 3 is a good sequel to continue the story but it's likely not going to be mentioned in the same sentence as "game-of-the-year." If you like the titles that focus heavily on the seedy side of humanity you'll have a good time with this one. If you're just a shooter fan you'll probably find a few other titles that will top this on your list of favorites.
Contact Tom Fisher at: firstname.lastname@example.org.