No Payne, No Gain

It’s been more than ten years since Max Payne burst onto the scene with his gritty urban nightmare of corruption, betrayal, and sweet bullet time mechanics. A long time has passed for both us and Max, and a lot has changed in that time, but some things, like watching a bullet bore its way through a thug’s eye socket in slow-mo, never gets old.

In Max Payne 3, we see Max has moved from the familiar streets of New Jersey and NYC to Sao Paulo. There, he is a bodyguard for one of the wealthiest men in the city. And although his job title may be different, there is a seedy underbelly just teeming with nasty lowlifes who want to make Max’s life more difficult, even if he doesn’t have the emotional ties to the new people he finds himself rubbing elbows with. And things are only harder for Max now as he is older and not much wiser as his diet consists mostly of cocktails comprised of hard liquor and painkillers, constantly weighed down by the crippling depression of the events that happened in the first two games.

Max Payne 3 continues in the footsteps of its predecessors by telling an enthralling story with one of the most dynamic characters we’ve ever had the pleasure of controlling. Max’s dedication to the people around him, even if he has quit on himself, is admirable and pitiful at the same time and the brilliant voice acting by all those involved, including the returning James McCaffrey as Max, can’t help but pull you in. Not to mention the game looks great and the new physics system takes into consideration every bullet you fire and move you make. If you dive into a wall, expect Max to be jerked out of bullet time and into real time as he crumples up and if you shoot an enemy in the kneecap while he’s balancing on a high ledge, there’s a really good chance he’s going to go splat.

There are some flaws to Max Payne 3 though that also rattle you right back out of the immersive illusion the game creates. The most notable is the pacing of the story. A lot of mid-level cut scenes seem to pop up out of nowhere just as you really start to get into a groove with the action and bullet time. It’s great to be the person triggering the special scene as you fill a South American gang member full of SMG bullets, but it seemed like every time you moved into a new room, a short scene was triggered that almost always put you at a disadvantage at the start of the ensuing gunfight. And if you die, the game’s haphazard checkpoint system could send you a lot further back than you’d prefer, forcing you to do over some frustrating sequences multiple times and sucking you not only out of the story, but the fun out of the action.

Max Payne 3 also suffers with its cover mechanics. Clunky and slow moving, Max rarely seems to be in a rush to get down behind some boxes or against a wall, even with a hail of gunfire aimed for his face fast approaching. When compared to the premiere third-person shooters out there, this is one mechanic that Max definitely falls flat on.

If you can get past these few blemishes though, there is a lot to bring you back to Max Payne 3. Aside from the golden gun and clue collectibles in each single player level, there is also an arcade version of the campaign and the multiplayer is something that fans will easily get into. Forcing your friends to slow down whenever you initiate your bullet time as you line up that perfect head shot is satisfying, especially if you’re like me and prefer the Free Aim controls option. And with a bevy of modes ranging from your standard Team Deathmatch to some interesting takes on Capture the Leader, and the ability to create your own crew that gives you special bonuses, there is more than enough there to keep third-person shooter fans coming back for a long time.

When all is said and done, if you can get past the couple of control blemishes and don’t mind the trial and error feel to some of the action sequences, Max Payne 3 is a story chock full of action that both old fans and newcomers to the franchise should enjoy.

SUMMARY:  The unique storytelling and charismatic narration will pull you into an enthralling experience, but glitchy cover mechanics, poor checkpoint management, and off-putting pacing will rattle you out of your gaming reverie more often than you’d like.

  • THE GOOD: Dark, gritty, and action-packed
  • THE BAD: Glitchy cover mechanics, questionable story pacing
  • THE UGLY: Bald Max Payne looks like Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad

SCORE: 8.0

Max Payne 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.