Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Review: Max Payne 3

Here we are again doing another review for another third game in a series only this time its a much darker game compared to Saints Row's more lighthearted approach to the world of gang violence, drug running and murder.

Max Payne 3 is the latest instalment in the much loved film noir third person shooter series formerly made by remedy studios, who are currently more notable for their work on the recent Alan Wake franchise.  The original two games saw the titular Max Payne run and gun his way through armies of new jersey mafia thugs punctuated by bullet time and comic style exposition in a film noir style.  They where brilliant shooters for the time and also famous for introducing the bullet time feature to gaming.

Enemies with body armour won't go down from body shots easily
Max Payne 3 is a different beast altogether with development being taken over by Rockstar Vancouver and the film noir being reduced drastically to create a different kind of story.  Rockstar have previous experience with the titles being they published Max Payne on the playstation 2 and later the sequel on PC and consoles, they have a pretty good understanding of the product unlike say EA who would completely gut a cult favourite in favour of a broader audience appeal.

Max Payne 3 sees Max now working for a rich and influential Brazilian family as a bodyguard in Sao Paulo after having to leave the United States due to actions revealed in flashbacks throughout the story.  Max is still the same drunk, waxing lyrical about his life being worthless and how his only redeeming feature is ability to shoot lots of people.  Naturally things go from bad to worse for Max as he suffers double crosses and corruption within the city and the rampant gang violence with him trapped in the middle trying to do his job as a bodyguard.  A story that seems akin to Man on fire with far more gun violence.

My copy of Max Payne 3 is on the PC the series rightful home and I am really happy with the work Rockstar have done.  Gameplay is nothing massively different from the previous titles, but the few additions I felt really helped to improve the experience.  For those new to the series heres a quick rundown of the controls.

Movement is assigned to the WASD keys while the mouse handles aiming and shooting.  Other actions such as picking up weapons and shoot dodging are assigned to the F and SPACEBAR respectively.  Using just these keys will get you through the basics, but the game has a nice tutorial through the first level or so to gradually introduce the elements of gameplay.

Gang wars previous rounds effect the map in subsequent rounds
New to Max Payne is a cover mechanic, something I have been wanting to see since Max Payne 1 years ago.  Pressing Q will stick Max to walls, pillars, cars, low walls etc. and allow you to blind fire, throw grenades or pop out and fire as any other shooter with these mechanics.  This feature works so well because the enemies can sometimes mob you and without a means to avoid gunfire properly would make the game alot more frustrating and difficult.  The bullet dodging mechanic has been given a new set of parameters based on the euphoria engine.  Basically this means that if Max uses his bullet time and bumps into a piece of the scenery such as a wall or desk that kind of thing, you will leave slow mo and be left lying on the floor.  While prone you can still shoot in all directions but now you need to be aware of your surroundings before leaping, unlike the previous games which would see you hovering in the air firing after making contact with a wall.

Max is addicted to his painkillers also as these act as a kind of medkit in game.  Taking his meds will remove some of the damage taken and keep Max going a little longer, but Rockstar have added a new feature based around the magical pills.  If you lose all health and still have a painkiller available, you will enter a grace period where time slows and you can shoot the guy who hit you, giving you a gory kill cam.  When you kill him you will be healed by the amount a single painkiller would heal and be on the floor prone so quickly getting to cover is a must.

Max Payne is a very tough game even on easy if you are not careful.  Enemy bullets do a fair amount of damage and painkillers aren't in plentiful supply in game so you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings in case you get jumped from behind.  Ammunition can also be scarce so switching weapons regularly is a must to keep your ammo supply healthy.  The enemy AI is smart enough to flank, use covering fire and try to flush you out with grenades.  Even on easy the AI will aggressively move in on you due to superior numbers, so staying in cover and waiting for them to run at you single file is not an option.

Its cool to play as New Jersey Max for a level or two
Being that Max Payne has always been a dark series covering the seedy world of politics, drug running, prostitution, murder, gang violence and revenge, Max Payne 3 is a very graphical gory spectacle.  Shooting the last enemy in any "arena" so to speak will give you a kill cam as your killing shot flies through the air and into your target, even allowing you to slow the bullet down as it hits.  Exit wounds are shown and basically any area of the body can be hit showing a realistic level of damage.  Subsequent shots will hit the poor sod adding more holes as he goes down.  Its a completely unnecessary addition but it still fits the game perfectly.

There are some really nice touches to the animations and the way Max holds his guns.  I know that may seem weird, but its the way Max will carry a two handed weapon like say the AK 47 like any other game.  Switch to a one handed weapon like a pistol and he will carry the AK in his off hand will shooting with the other.  Its not like other games where the gun will magically attach to the characters back with no visible means of doing so.  Max doesn't have a sling on his back and the guns don't have slings on them so he carries it.  Its a minor thing but a really nice touch all the same.

When you are done with the singleplayer Max Payne has more gameplay in its multiplayer a first for the series.  I think many expected this to not be any good, looking at it as something developers simply add to tick a box for investors, but Rockstar have really worked hard here to.  After playing a few introductory modes with smaller teams you unlock the full set of features, allowing a maximum of 16 players in modes like team deathmatch, capture the flag and traditional deathmatch.  The best (and most original) mode though by far is gang wars.  This mode sees teams fighting over five rounds of varying objectives until a winner is decided in the fith round.  Victories in the previous rounds will give teams extra respawns or a higher starting score for round five.  Every map is framed with a story between rounds as characters talk about the events dynamically depending on who won, its really good and helps flesh out the story of the gangs in the game.

Bullet dodging is still awesome
The objectives in gang wars range from assasinating a player from the opposing team while his team try to protect him.  Carrying drugs or money bags to drop off locations, seizing turf, planting bombs, or trying to escape the map by capturing points sequentially.  You can tell this was the mode the developers intended most players to regularly play as it encourages teamplay and works well for clan matches.

Customisation is available for your multiplayer characters, allowing you to choose a male or female gang member, unlocking new clothing as you level up to make them stand out more from the rest of your team.  Its smart how they managed to keep a similar enough colour palette within the clothing that players will recognise each other despite the clothing combinations on offer.

Speaking of levelling up, Max Payne's multiplayer has the regular level up mechanic of other shooters.  Kills award extra experience along with bonuses being added for killstreaks and achieving objectives such as dropping off bags etc.  Nearly anything in a match will award some small experience amount so its pretty broad what you can do to keep the levels coming.  Using weapons regularly enough will level them up also, allowing you to add extra attachments such as scopes, magazines, muzzle breaks the usual stuff really, but its something else to do.  Matches also award money which can be used to buy new weapons and perks.

Team tactics are a must in gang wars
Perks act in a similar way to max' bullet time bar.  Getting kills allows you to store upto three bars and pressing shift activates the selected perk.  Some of these will grant you better weapons, armour piercing ammo and grenade launchers.  Others will highlight the enemy team on the map or switch friendlies to appear as foes.  There are several to unlock and all used tactically can swing a round in gang wars easily.

The most surprising aspect of multiplayer though is the fact that bullet time can used by any player online and it has the same in game effect as singleplayer.  The previously mentioned bar for perks can be used for bullet time and benefits the entire team when used.  If an opposing player uses their bullet time you will be far less accurate and more likely be killed, while using it yourself will make you more accurate and capable of dodging shots.

Other modes after completion of the main story are arcade mode which sees you replaying levels to try and achieve the highest score possible.  Completing these gives you experience for multiplayer.  The other mode is New York minute which challenges you to complete a section within sixty seconds, a tough challenge to say the least.

DLC is on the way for multiplayer adding new maps, weapons and gangs.  Currently the local justic pack adds the 66th police division as a playable faction, a new M4 assault rifle and three new maps using locations from the story such as the police HQ and palace hotel.  Other map packs are on the way although Local justice is currently delayed on the PC until early august.

The Punchinello's return as a playable gang in multiplayer
There are some odd and slightly annoying aspects to the single and multiplayer though.  In singleplayer there are at times some pretty unclear objectives that will result in you dieing or a NPC being killed that will force a reload, while at one point in the late game a quick time event will rear its ugly head.  Its weird that rockstar decided to do this since its the only QTE in the game and seemed completely out of place to see Max fighting someone hand to hand.  Max Payne solves his problems at gunpoint not with his bare hands.  Multiplayer can suffer from some annoying loading bugs, that can see you waiting to exit or join a match for upwards of twenty minutes unless you log out of Rockstars servers and log back in.  Respawn errors can prevent you being able to respawn entirely, forcing you to either leave or wait until the end of the round.  This wouldn't be so bad but since you are forced to watch a killcam of your death, if it bugs out you cannot spectate the match and be stuck on the killcam screen.  There are no dedicated servers for multiplayer so lag is entirely dependant on the host player, but there are no options to pick where you want to search for games, so sometimes you will link to european hosts, the next north american and sometimes even east asian hosts.  Rockstar have patched some elements, but the problems highlighted above are still in game at least on the PC version. 

Graphically Max Payne is a gorgeous game to look at.  Every level is amazingly detailed from the mundane items that populate a night club to the graffiti on the walls of a labyrinthine favela.  Characters animate very realistically, while the detail on things like clothing and character models is really high quality.  The lighting and ambient effects in game give it a real atmosphere fitting its dark subject material and I was surprised at how well the game ran on the higher settings with my system not being the most current setup available.

Some crazy bullet time moments can occur in multiplayer
the audio is high quality with a moody soundtrack and great voice acting all round.  Max is voiced by series veteran James McCaffrey who was initially off the card for rockstar until fans voiced their displeasure with this decision forcing them to hire him for the third game.  It was a smart decision as McCaffrey is a brilliant voice over artist and for all intents and purposes is Max Payne.  The rest of the voice cast really add to the experience and put in great performances.  I was happy that a majority of the enemies speak Portuguese and not some hokey slightly racist english voice with an accent, which many titles do such as Uncharted which detracts from the experience.  This language barrier really helps to further compund Max' problems in a foreign land since he doesn't speak any Portugeuse himself.

Overall Max Payne 3 is one of the best games I have played all year without a doubt.  The gameplay is engaging, the story is good, the characters are well written and the spectacle is well worth the retail price.  Fans of Max Payne may be divided on the change of setting and character redesign, but the gameplay is the same as always.  New players will find something really enjoyable here is they like third person shooters that will keep them coming back for more over the years until the next title.

SCORE: 9.0/10


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