It's 9 years since the events of Max Payne 2 and Max, still haunted by the death of his Wife and Child, has moved to Sao Paulo to work personal security for the wealthy and influential Branco family. Apparently Max's luck rubs off pretty easily though, as soon enough his Boss's wife has been kidnapped, several attempts are made on the rest of the Branco family, and Max has to work out what the hell is going on.
The story in Max Payne 3 is undoubtedly in the true traditions of Neo-Noir. Max is the typical Anti-hero in a modern setting, and while Sao Paulo doesn't fit the 1940's American archetype of traditional Film Noir, it's the tone of the story as well as the presentation that give it the unmistakable feel that was also present in previous Max Payne titles.
The first thing you'll notice about Max Payne 3 is the style of presentation. The camera effects are similar to those found in portions of Manhunt, flickering and discolouration on screen leave you with the impression that you're watching these events unfurl on CCTV, while words from the on going conversations appear on screen to punctuate what's being said. In a way Rockstar are ensuring that you pay attention to the right thing by highlighting them on screen, and it's a natural and fluid style that works well with the setting. The whole effect is very strange at first, but it makes for an extremely memorable experience and certainly sets MP3 apart from the likes of Red Dead Redemption and GTA4.
Something that makes a welcome return to the series is the voice over by Max himself, it's audio cues like this that help tie this game to its predecessors even though they are strikingly different to look at. It also helps guide you through the level if you get a little lost and again lends the feel of a neo-noir detective story to the game.
Another welcome return is that of the comic strip style plot points, although Rockstar have done something a little different from Remedy Entertainment's games. While Remedy used them during cut scenes to get plot points over to the player, Rockstar use the comic strip to show the player where they are in the story while the saved game loads up, easing you back into the experience while also giving you something to look at as you wait. Cut scenes themselves are full motion, in game animations. This is something that has, understandably, become the modern day standard and I'm happy to say that the voice acting and animation is superb throughout. Perhaps in tribute to Remedy the first in-game cut scene is presented in "24" style panels.
While we talk about audio it would be a great time to mention the soundtrack for this game. The music doesn't ever really take your attention away from what happens on screen, much like Red Dead's soundtrack. In the traditions of great film and Game making, the music helps frame the action without distracting you from it. It's a fantastic soundtrack all told, it has the flavour of Brazil, thumping club land tunes and of course variations on the original Max Payne theme, that I've had in my head all week. The Audio design is well thought out and employed throughout, a big thumbs up to everyone responsible for it.
Level design for Max Payne 3 follow the franchise tradition of fairly linear level design, but that shouldn't be looked upon as a bad thing. By keeping Max Payne focused on the task at hand and not allowing him to wander off track, the games narrative which is easily the best part of this title is much better served. Sandbox games are all well and good but when you a well scripted story, like Heavy Rain, level design can and should be used to keep the player on point.
Gameplay will feel extremely familiar to anyone who has played the previous entries in the Max Payne series, but also for those who have played Red Dead and GTA4 thanks to the inclusion of the new, much vaunted cover system. In fact this is probably the biggest change to the franchise and I have to admit that at first, I didn't quite get it. If you approach this game like you did the previous entries you'll get your arse handed to you (unless you're extremely good at shoot dodging). Bullet time is a useful tool, and can help you pop a few rounds in your opponents head, but enemies in this game are tougher and more numerous than in either of the previous games. If you are to have any hope you'll need to use all the cover you can find.
Don't stick to one spot for too long though, because Rockstar have programmed different types of cover to have different damage tolerances. So for example, an office divider will take a few rounds of handgun fire before it splinters and leaves you exposed, while a filing cabinet will take all the flying lead you can throw at it.
|Destructible cover works both ways in Max Payne 3|
Enemies are fairly intelligent in this game too, they'll take advantage of cover just as you do so it's vital not to get pinned down as more opponents file in to the room. Luckily there's not a magical spawning point for enemies though, so once you take them all down that's your lot until the next area, and you'll know when you've cleared the room thanks to a gruesome slow motion camera shot of the last enemy going down after a well placed slug to the face.
The improved damage that both you and your opponents take is thanks to the "Euphoria" dynamic animation engine which featured in Red Dead and GTA4, allowing for more detailed and unique gunfire damage to character models. It really is impressive seeing bullets rip through your enemies as you pull the trigger.
|The Euphoria engine in all its gory splendor|
Another useful new feature, and certainly one that I've needed a few times is the "Last man standing" mechanic. If you have a spare painkiller in your inventory and are taken down by the enemy AI you have a short window of black and white bullet time during which if you take out the guy who shot you, you'll get some health back and live to blow another blokes face off. It's Useful and adds to gameplay without gimping the game, the perfect addition to Max Payne.
It would be very easy to say that Max Payne 3 is Red Dead re-skinned, and in part I suppose that this could be true, but it's more than just the engine that makes a game, and frankly Red Dead was such a great game that I don't care if it is. There's more than enough difference in how they play to differentiate the titles. Dead eye might be a bullet time mechanic, but it's not the same as the one we get to play with here, and that's important.
Max Payne 3 successfully integrates the old with the new, and re-invigorates a franchise in doing so. Non regenerative health is a rare thing these days in a shooters whether they be 1st or 3rd person but Rockstar have managed to retain it without making the game feel infuriatingly difficult or like it belongs in the last decade. New mechanics like last man standing and the inclusion of the Rockstar standard cover system allow for more enemy AI's and therefore a greater degree of challenge but ultimately the game is designed in a way that you can play it as you see fit.
Fans of the series should find this enjoyable and refreshing while those who have played it's stable mates, Red Dead and GTA4, will find the controls familiar enough to jump in and have some fun.