Max Payne 3: Retrospective

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I was a dumb American, in a place where dumb Americans were less popular than the clap. 

Released: 2012

Publisher: Rockstar

Y/N? Yes.

Synopsis: 

8 years on, Max Payne 3 still provides heavy hitting and visceral entertainment. Its’ gun-play is smooth and snappy, the narrative gripping and dark, and James McCaffrey’s voice is as grizzled, tough and memorable as ever.

If you are after the short and sharp review, then yes, I would recommend this game. It still looks great, it plays great, the music is unique, the plot is gripping and the overall experience is stellar, as to be expected from a Rockstar release.

An even shorter version is this:

Gameplay: Y

Narrative: Y

Graphics: Y

Soundscape: Y

Experience: Y

But Retrospectives are all about diving deeper into games and seeing what makes them tick.

So here we go …

Game-play

Max Payne is known for its’ innovative use of bullet time and John Woo like experience. In this third iteration, it is expanded upon and made cinematic. The screen pulses whenever you activate bullet time, and the gore is ramped up to allow you to feel every impact that each round creates as it enters your foe.

Max is also slower, more realistic in how he perform these death-defying stunts in comparison to Max Payne 2. He runs slower, a subtle sign of his age, and you can hear explosive grunts as he desperately tries to contort his body in impossible pirouettes and dives to make the shots you want him to make.

Of particular note, is the final death cam that activates whenever you kill the final enemy in a particular section. Gory, bombastic and visceral, it allows you to pump round after round into the enemy, watching their body slump, and rag in glorious slow-motion. There is a cathartic relief in doing so, a gleeful moment to expel frustration, to counter the sensation of being pinned down by so many enemy NPCs earlier.

Subtle details like Max holding a primary weapon, instead of it disappearing into thin air, or the wisecracks Max provides whenever taking another of his iconic painkillers, are all welcome additions to the game. It generates immersion on a level rarely seen in other games, especially since Rockstar made exhaustive efforts to map out and create a realistic, lived-in Sao Paulo.

The gun-play itself, is unique. Having made significant strides in Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar attempted to really hone their formula, crafting a strange slow is smooth, smooth is fast mechanic to the gun-play.

Shots are easy to land, but Max’s movements are not typically quick or very snappy as seen in other third person shooters such as Uncharted. But it is not inexorably slow like Resident Evil.

Instead, Max Payne exists in between the two. Recoil is noted, the bark of each gun a violent kick, making follow up shots somewhat unwieldy and imprecise. Automatic long guns like the AK-47 or the G36V feel violent and strangely controllable in a unsteady way.

Where gun-play shines the most is when Max is armed with a pistol. Pistols have always traditionally been Max’s primary armament, especially the famous Beretta. They are precise, and fun, quick and rapid, allowing you to transition from target to target with ease.

Ammunition is oddly scarce at times, forcing you to scrounge for enemy guns to use. This allows for better exploration of the guns on offer, and of course encourage you to find the golden parts to get a better version.

However the biggest detriment to Max Payne’s overall game-play is its’ level design. Linear in the extreme, it is essentially a corridor shooter, with extremely little wiggle room to explore or see. Gorgeous backdrops act like matte paintings, there but never really in frame.

Max Payne offers a unique take on the third person shooter genre, forcing you to be precise with your shots, but fast on the transitions, to really excel at the gun-play. The bullet-time is always a blast, especially with its cinematic death-cam.

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Akimbo Uzis will never go out of style.

Narrative. 

Of the three games, Max Payne 3 takes obvious risks by taking the New Yorker out of his natural habitat and throwing him into the humidity of a Brazilian favela. While some derided the decision at the time of release, opinion has gradually grown to be in favour of such a decision.

As an avid film noir cinephile, I loved the presentation of the first two games, and their obvious tribute to classic films. However, I also adore neo-noir and this game represents that perfectly.

Max’s lines have never been better, with dozens of memorable quotes scattered throughout the entire story (even the bloody menu), and a great character arc in mind for our titular protagonist.

Also of importance is the brilliant use of language in story telling on display. The story allows for clues to be understood if you pay attention, but divert you elsewhere when you are as confused as Max is, whenever Portuguese is thrown at you. This allow you to piece together the truth alongside Max and draw you in further.

Guiding us along this blood-soaked, painkiller-filled journey is James McCaffrey’s brilliant acting. He gives it his all in this performance, expressing pain, rage and depression with ease and aplomb, his voice the perfect guide to Max’s angst, discovery and dry sardonic humour.

The plot itself is a constant delight, truly allowing us to explore all parts of Sao Paulo and even some limited scenes in New York. There is a deftness to the pace and plot of the story, that allows moments to breathe, to explore Max’s psyche and to really admire the work Rockstar put in to create such an immersive and realistic world.

This of course is punctuated by excellent level designs that allow you to keep moving, fluidly and quickly through scores of enemies and innovative use of quick time events, which actually work in a narrative sense, because bullet-time exists.

Then, there are the cutscenes. An incredible blend of neon, stylised short movies, sliced up to pay homage to the series’ comic-book strip format. In particular the way how certain phrases are highlighted the same way a speech bubble would.

Overall, the plot of Max Payne 3 is a worthy testament to classic neo-noir story-telling with brilliant use of language, a deeper exploration of Max and a conspiracy that unravels with precision.

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There might not be any doves flying around, but this is still a John Woo moment.

Graphics

If you take a look at the future of Rockstar, post Max Payne 3 release, you would know there are some seriously gorgeous projects they’ve created. Grand Theft Auto V is shockingly good looking for a game released a year after. Red Dead Redemption 2 is essentially Rockstar proving it could make a Netflix series if it tried, from its’ cinematography, its’ story, its’ acting and its’ tackling of mature themes.

But what paved the way for RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) true potential was Max Payne 3. Previously Red Dead Redemption was a step-up from Grand Theft Auto IV.

However Max Payne 3 truly allowed for a huge graphical increase. The textures, lighting and details in the story are almost so good, that you forget how good they are. No matter what it is, realistic bullet penetration or the tiny hairs on Max’s scalp, there is evident love to get things as authentic as possible.

No matter where you look, there is a photo-realism to the scale, behaviour and depiction of humans and the environments. Every level is insanely detailed, to the point you can’t help but wonder if Rockstar just grabbed a photo of a favela and turned it into a game level.

Of particular note is the lighting in the game. Sunset, darkness, morning, or afternoon, there is a particular way how RAGE’s dynamic weather conditions interact beautifully with the environments in Max Payne.

However some of the weapon models do lack certain details (rear sights and feeding mechanisms), and there are definite awkward movements in regard to Max himself, with clipping being somewhat of an issue.

Overall, the graphic fidelity of the game is astounding, still holding up well to today’s standards. A testament to RAGE’s power and the work Rockstar put in to create an authentic immersive experience.

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16x the detail ….

Soundscape

A review or look back at Max Payne 3 would not be complete without a ode to HEALTH.

Easily one of the best and most innovative use of music in-game, HEALTH delivered an eerie and tragic atmosphere to the game. Less soundtrack and more soundscape, Max Payne 3’s score is ambience similar to Trent Reznor’s work in David Fincher movies.

It’s strange, unnerving and uncompromisingly experimental.

It’s not music, but something more primeval and rhythmic, a truly narrative driven sound that only a noise rock band like HEALTH could conjure through twisted machinations with different sounds. It is thought provoking, hard hitting and utterly in sync with Max’s story.

It hits the high, it slams the lows and pays very subtle tributes to Max’s theme throughout the gameplay.

Of course, the highlight of the game is the iconic Airport sequence, in which HEALTH’s Tears hits you with all the force of a perfectly timed music video. Everything is synced, from the visuals, the gunfire, the gameplay, the triumphant way Max is overcoming himself, the music itself and finally you, yourself, knowing that you’ve nearly beaten the game.

It’s an iconic gaming moment.

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Imagine a club with HEALTH’s music.

Experience

Overall, playing Max Payne 3 is still a solid, fun experience.

The visceral, hard-hitting story coupled with the buttery smooth gun-play offers one of Rockstar’s best adaptation of third person shooting, that is arguably more nuanced and in-depth than its’ later releases.

The graphics still hold up, and continue to serve as a testament to RAGE’s ability to make anything seem photorealistic. And it will never be a bad thing, to re-explore HEALTH’s iconic soundtrack and listen to Max’s theme.

While I won’t cover the multiplayer, as it is currently has an empty population, the single player is definitely something I will recommend you pick up and enjoy.

Should you get it?

Yes.

~ Damocles.

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How do you even quit a game when you read something like that?

 

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