Max Payne is simultaneously a super-human killing machine, and an underdog. He can do amazing things like slow down time, dive headfirst down a flight of stairs unscathed, and shoot two Uzis at the same time, but he’s still always about to die. For just about every level in Max Payne 3, Max is either drunk, hung over, or hopped up on goofballs to the point that he’s seeing double. Plus he’s constantly surrounded by heavily armed goons, and any time he gets the upper hand, his luck turns sour. Max is one sorry bastard who just can’t seem to catch a break.
Players don’t need to have played the previous two games in the series to follow this story (Although gamers should play the first two). Max’s backstory is explained through cutscenes and flashback missions, but fans of hard-boiled cop stories should be well familiar with guys like Max.
He’s a washed-up ex-cop who drinks too much and has had some serious problems with dames (They’re nuthin’ but trouble I tells ya). He runs afould of the mob, and has to leave the country to keep on breathing.
This brings him to Brazil where he works as a bodyguard for a wealthy businessman/ politician, and it isn’t too long into the game before Max screws up bad and has to go up against just about criminal in South America to get his employer’s kidnapped trophy wife back (See, nothing but trouble).
The gameplay fomula hasn’t changed much since Max last appeared in 2003. He still uses slow-motion “Bullet Time” to take on groups of bad guys, and still dives across the battlefield in Hollywood style.
He also has to rely on power-ups to replenish his health meter, foregoing the modern regenerating health bar system. Keeping with the dark, mature themes of the setting, Max doesn’t use First Aid kits or food to heal; he uses “Painkillers”, often joking about mixing them with his scotch.
The big addition to the mechanics in the third game is the cover system. At the touch of a button, Max will press against any nearby object, and can shoot around corners, even using bullet time when doing so. This deviates from the usual Max Payne gameplay by encouraging gamers to play it safe, but when used in combination with the rechargeable bullet time, it gives players a way to stay alive while their bullet time meter builds back up.
When Max does find himself about to die, there’s another new feature that gives players a second chance. If Max has some spare painkillers, he’ll pop some, then the Player has a few seconds to take down the bad guy who shot him. If the Player can manage that, Max will continue on. Again this combines the feeling of being unstoppable, yet nearly dead.
Max dishes out a lot of hurt in this game too, and the new developer, Rockstar Vancouver, has improved the classic “Kill Cams.” When Max brings down the last bad guy in a group, the camera switches to a close up of that enemy as Max’s bullet rips through their body. Now, players have the opportunity to slow down this footage, and to continue pumping more bullets into the sorry son of a bitch.
There are also lots of scripted sequences to depict Max blasting his way out of unfortunate situations. Max often finds himself in predicaments like hanging upside down from a helicopter, or standing on a water tower as it tips over, dumping right into the middle of a group of enemies. When things like this occur to our hapless hero, bullet time will kick in and players lose control of Max’s movements, then are given a limited time span to blast all of the enemies in what is essentially a stylized “On rails” shooting sequence.
Third person online shooters are becoming something of a trend this year. Starting with Mass Effect 3, and now there’s Max Payne, with Ghost Recon and Spec Ops right around the corner.
The multiplayer mode for Max Payne 3 is no quickie add-on, and it manages to keep many of the distinctive features of the franchise.
The bullet time is there. This is a tricky feature to add in a multiplayer environment. The PC zombie shooter Killing Floor used this to a fairly good result, but it’s a much more integral part of the Max Payne franchise. Here it can be used in a limited fashion that allows players to slow down time for players within their field of view, while not interfering with the rest of the map.
The dive move is especially well-implemented. While there are several other third person shooters that let players hurl themselves to the ground, the feature is much more fun here. Levels are designed with railings and ledges that are perfectly placed for leaping over, and the sort of emergent gameplay that comes from these opportunities is every bit as exciting as a being inside an action movie shootout.
Players can deliberately charge into dangerous situations, taking pot shots at enemies, then dive for safety over a railing for cover, and thus get a few “Assist” points when someone else finishes the job. The dive can also be a big life saver when players are in normally hopeless situations against multiple enemies, and a well-timed dive can take them to safety, or give them an edge over a single opponent.
It’s the sort of move that’s fun to use, and infuriating to have it used against you! This mechanic lets finesse and situational awareness trump traditional shooter reflexes in many situations.
There’s an extensive system of unlocks, including new classes, avatars and game modes, so players will have reason to stick around with the multiplayer for quite a while. The single-player campaign is almost as long as the first two games combined, and it’s filled with collectible items that will require multiple playthroughs to find, so Max Payne 3 provides a bigger bang for the buck than the previous games in the series. Just don’t mix scotch and painkillers while playing it.