|System: Xbox 360*, PS3, PC|
|Dev: Rockstar Vancouver|
|Pub: Rockstar Games|
|Release: May 15, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol|
by Josh Engen
Those of you who made it through Max Payne 2 (and happen to possess a particularly well-focused memory) might recollect a hint of optimism in our hero's closing line: "I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was alright."
Well, nine years later, life has proven to be far less sunny than Max Payne might have hoped for. But in a franchise whose primary gameplay mechanic is a tortured metaphor for lost time, we certainly can't expect our protagonist to have recovered from his past.
Actually, Max's pain actually seems to have grown deeper over the last decade. He's has traded his Detective's shield and crappy New York City apartment for a private security job and an even crappier apartment in São Paulo. Payne spends his days playing babysitter to the socialite family of industrialist Rodrigo Branco, and spends his nights downing pills and drunkenly stumbling into a bed that makes a wooden sound when he collapses.
His new digs are the product of an old Police Academy friend named Raul, who thought it would be a slick way for Max to take a Brazilian vacation. But when Branco's trophy wife is kidnapped by an army of ski mask-wearing, AK47-toting goons, Max's vacation is evidently over in favor of yet another damsel in distress story.
Thematically speaking, Rockstar Games is really playing to their strengths; some might even say that they've found an interesting storytelling niche. While developers like Bethesda are focusing on spells and dragons, and companies like Activision are preoccupied with military-based narratives, Rockstar places their characters into a universe that borders on our own. Sure, it's darker and more disheveled than most suburban white kids are used to, but they've managed to blend the storytelling of L.A. Noire with the composition of Grand Theft Auto to shape Payne's particular purgatory. But even as we're becoming reacquainted with the franchise, it's immediately clear that this is an entirely new game.
When Max Payne showed up on the scene in 2001, the gaming masses were quick to latch onto Rockstar's newfangled Bullet Time mechanic. However, as with most good ideas, developers managed to quickly overuse the feature, turning it into an industry cliché and relegating it to the same category as most Law and Order episodes.
And this was my biggest worry when I sat down to play the game. See, even though the Max Payne franchise practically has a responsibility to utilize Bullet Time, they also need to create an experience that's altogether different from the dozens of copycat titles that have surfaced over the last decade; just because you invented something doesn't mean you're exempted from the stereotype. Just ask U2.
But Max Payne has certainly aged well. Even after a decade off the job, the Detective still has enough finesse to casually place round after round into the forehead of any approaching enemies. If anything, it feels like he's been practicing.
In fact, in the first two titles, the transition between bullet time and standard time always involved a bit of clumsiness. Players were constantly forced to reacclimatize themselves to their surroundings before reengaging their enemies. But in Max Payne 3, the process is silky smooth. There's a bit of video lag from time to time, and the auto-aim mechanic always manages to lock onto the most inconvenient enemy. But you really shouldn't be using auto-aim anyway, so hopefully that'll teach you to turn it off, cheater.
The transition actually seems to downplay the Bullet Time mechanic, and this is a good thing. The Max Payne empire may have been built on a singular atypical effect, but Rockstar Games has managed to find ways to make it feel like just another feature. This allows players to focus on the game as a whole rather than reliving what made the original great. (Are you taking notes, Duke Nukem?)
And, whereas the original beat us over the head with its distinct lack of subtlety, Max Payne 3 manages to do just the opposite. In fact, subtleties are the name of the game in Max Payne 3. Players won't find themselves being screamed at by a drill sergeant or having to diffuse a suitcase nuke. This story is told in the twitch of Max's hand as he unscrews a bottle and the broken frame on his coffee table that contains a beer-soaked picture of his deceased family.