I am a big time Max Payne fan. Yes, we all know the movie sucked, but the first two games in the series were great. Developed by Remedy Entertainment (a team from Finland), “Max Payne” and its sequel, “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne” were Film Noir-inspired shooters for the PC that blended elements of The Punisher, John Woo films and “The Matrix”. Written by Sam Lake and released in the early 2000’s, they presented the events of a day in the life of Max Payne, a tortured New York City detective who avenged the murders of his young wife and child. Max (voiced by James Mccaffery) is a cross between Frank Castle (a.k.a. The Punisher) and a classic Hollywood Film Noir character. And in both games, he provides the narration which plays over comic book-like panels that appear between levels. The gameplay itself is quite simple (shoot at bad guys who are shooting at you), but “Max Payne” was the also first game that allowed players to activate “Bullet Time”, a concept introduced in 1999’s “The Matrix”.
After finishing “Max 2” in the year of its release (2003), I remember coming up with my own scenario for a “Max Payne 3”. Little did I know, the third installment in the series would not be out for another 9 years. Rockstar Games (of “Grand Theft Auto” fame) has always been involved with the series, but had not entirely acquired it until a few years ago. In June 2009, they released screenshots revealing a very different-looking Max Payne (bald and bearded rather than clean cut with hair) and fan reaction was highly critical. In addition, Rockstar’s press release stated that Max would no longer be a cop and would re-locate to sunny Brazil. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. But now that I’ve played the entire game, I can say it’s all good. While Rockstar’s “Max Payne 3” may have from drifted from its Remedy roots, it is arguably the best entry in the series.
Ever since the release of “Grand Theft Auto III”, Rockstar has been known to borrow ideas from American crime pictures and television shows. GTA III seemed to be derive from “The Sopranos”, while its 80’s based follow-up, “Vice City”, was clearly inspired by “Scarface” and “Miami Vice”. With “Max Payne 3”, it’s not too hard to see the influence of Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire”. The 2004 action scorcher starred Denzel Washington as a washed up ex-cop (with an alchohol problem) who provides security for a wealthy south-of-the-border family. In “Max 3”, the titular character is a washed up ex-cop who drinks too much and decides to accept a job protecting a wealthy South American family. The film has plenty of flashy techniques such as animated subtitles and freeze frames. And “Max Payne 3” also features a similar cinematic style with split-screens (replacing the comic book panels), freeze frames and…well, animated subtitles. The game’s plot is reminiscent of “Man on Fire”, but the setting is more akin to “City of God”. It’s mostly set in the slums (favelas) of Brazil.
Thankfully, Rockstar did not alter the gameplay in any major way. “Max Payne 3” feels just like the previous titles, but also includes a few new updates. For instance, Max can now take cover from enemy fire before unloading a few rounds himself. This “pop ‘n stop” cover system was significantly featured in 2006’s “Gears of War” and has been a part of every major third-person shooter since. Rockstar has also included a number of cinematic “Bullet Time” events which play out like a Hollywood action scene. But the biggest addition to the series is the ability to play online. “Max Payne 3” offers a robust multiplayer experience which is comparable to the online component of Sony’s “Uncharted” games. There is the usual assortment of deathmatches, but the standout mode is “Gang Wars”. In it, two teams battle through five rounds of various challenges on a single map. “Max 3” is also the first Rockstar game to include “crews”, a new social system that allows groups of players to build reputations and gain benefits throughout a variety of video games online.
While the story mode offers classic “Max Payne” gameplay, the online portion is reminiscent of today’s popular shooters. You’ll unlock tons of weapons, items and abilities as you rank up by gaining experience. Additionally, players can customize their character’s appearance (face, clothing, etc.) to give them a unique look. And you can also use “Bullet Time” and “Shootdodge” (jumping to the side while firing) to slow down time for a slight tactical edge. Overall, I find both the single player and multiplayer modes to be great addictive fun. Once you finish the story, you’ll unlock “New York Minute” and “Score Attack” which allows you to play the completed levels as arcade-like time trials. Rockstar has also included offline and online “grinds” (in-game achievements) to complete and hidden “golden guns” in the story mode. “Max Payne 3” is packed with content and its innovative multiplayer surprised me quite a bit.
Earlier on, I stated that I had come up with my own idea of “Max Payne 3”. If I had developed the game, it would’ve been entitled “Max Payne 3: In the City of Fallen Angels”. In it, Max would’ve re-located to Los Angeles and the game would’ve retained its slightly weird and depressing, over-the-top presentation. However, Rockstar went the complete opposite. This is a much more colorful and violent entry, but with less memorable dialogue. Nevertheless, it is still a classic “Max Payne” game and will satisfy anyone who likes great action and great storytelling. Grade: A –