Review

Max Payne 3 Review (PC)

Max Payne’s had a hard life. Ten years ago, after returning home to find his wife and child dead, he went on a roaring rampage of film noir-inspired revenge that lasted two successful PC games and sent developer Remedy into AAA-developer status. A decade later and he has both a publisher and developer change into the hands of Rockstar. A couple of weeks after the game premiered to a great deal of acclaim on consoles (boo, hiss) the series is back on the system it was created for.

Ten years is a long time for a game series to stay fresh, so what has Rockstar Vancouver (developer of Bully) done to update the gameplay? Added a cover system and cutscenes everywhere, mostly. Getting straight to the bullet point: for anyone who’s played and loved the first two games, this only just feels the same. The city of New York is gone along with America, as is the snow and the film noir atmosphere. So too are the graphic novel cutscenes, although hints at them remain, like multiple box-out shots that reminded me of Ang Lee’s Hulk. Even the ridiculous array of weaponry Max has at his disposal has been cut down.

The “beardification” of gaming icons starts here. Lara Croft and Master Chief are next

It’s been several years since the end of Max Payne 2, which saw Max finally avenging his family’s deaths but at the cost of losing literally everything else he cared for. He’s been recruited as private security for a spoiled rich family down in Brazil, and on his watch the family is attacked and his boss’s wife kidnapped. He goes after her, and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that things get steadily worse for Max after this point.

The action mostly takes place in Sao Paulo, although there’s also a couple of chapters told in flashback that fill in the blanks between Max Payne 2 and 3 set in New Jersey that hark back to the style of the first two games. Nevertheless, while I am shooting up the slums of a world I’ll never know outside films it is still fun to do so. The actual gameplay of Max Payne, the gunplay part, is much the same as it ever was – and that’s undoubtedly a good thing. No regenerating health, just a few painkillers between yourself and death. I was worried that the shooting itself would be ridiculously easy with mouse and keyboard, as that’s the way with most FPSs these days, but that’s most definitely not the case here as even on Normal I found MP3 to be a real challenge. Excellent.

The problem with that though is, to put it mildly and sans all the swearing I did while rage-quitting the game, the checkpoint system is terrible. It is most definitely the “artificial difficulty inflating” method of checkpoint design. There are plenty of times where MP3 will utterly fail to save after a big firefight, even when there aren’t any enemies and you have to go through a door to continue. MP3 is a tough game even on Normal, and having to redo a massive chunk of it isn’t particularly fun. Granted MP3 isn’t the only game to do this but if it’s not going to follow the basic checkpoint philosophy of “save after difficult fights and don’t piss the player off” then I will call it out.

Fortunately at no point did I ever consider rage-uninstalling since MP3 is just too damn fun and addictive. The run, shoot, and pop painkiller gameplay had remained pretty much unchanged for ten years and three games in and it’s still incredible amounts of fun, mostly because it’s so different from most other third-person shooters. There’s a couple of terrible turret sections, but thankfully they don’t last very long and aren’t too difficult.

Yes, there is a cover system which becomes more and more vital to use as you go along, but it honestly doesn’t impact the Max Payne gameplay (or more importantly, the fun) at all. It’s not just been crowbarred into the game, every encounter has been designed around its use, and even better there are believable places to take cover that will disintegrate under fire, not just handy metre-high walls in every room.

The lack of regenerating health means you have to press the attack, which is even more important than it sounds because enemies will do the same. Enemy AI is generally excellent, taking cover without exposing themselves (oo-err), rarely attacking from the same direction or location, working together to flank Max, and always being on the move so your cover never becomes a fortress. Granted at one point three guys blew themselves up by running towards a grenade one of them had poorly thrown a second ago, but I was having trouble doing that bit anyway so I’ll let it go.

Obviously as we’re talking about the PC version of MP3 I have to mention controls, and fortunately they work pretty well, if a little bit differently from the previous games. Max’s trademark “Shootdodge” is by default assigned to Space, so let’s change that back to the Right Mouse Button… oh, that means the genre-standard default for Aim is now unassigned. Hmm. You’ll have to do a bit of tweaking to decide on the setup you like, but if you’ve not played the previous Maxes the default works pretty well... although whoever stuck Roll on ‘G’ needs a good slap.
He should become a priest. He’s looking a little hole-y

Nevertheless, while a console control pad was obviously Rockstar’s focus the game’s just as good with mouse and keyboard – although a tiny bit more sluggish during shooting. It’s more annoying not having the crosshair in view at all times (it only appears when you start shooting), making your precious first shots wildly inaccurate. I’m also not crazy about the new “Last Man Standing” moments that occur when Max is near death (if you have some painkillers) where if you can kill your attacker before you die you can carry on playing. It’s far too frustrating, as a) you often don’t know which enemy to target, b) Max can take an age to turn in his direction, and c) you only have the bullets left in your previous round to take him down, so often you’ll hear a pathetic “click click click” and just have to wait for death.

What is most annoying however is the over-abundance of cutscenes. Story is very important to Rockstar, however being as movie-like as possible is obviously more important. It often goes 5-10 minute cutscene, one room of gameplay, cutscene, one room of gameplay… after you’ve finished shooting just a few bad guys there’s a cutscene before you even get a chance to pick up their ammo.

Now, I grant that this is a personal issue that not everyone agrees with me on. I believe that I came here to play a game, and the overwhelming barrage of sitting doing nothing disgusts me. Especially when the game suffers from what I call “Cutscene Incompetence Syndrome”, where the main characters suddenly loses all his abilities and weapons for the sake of drama. In-game Max can take on a whole army, but in a movie he can’t even take four guys down when he has them by surprise. Also he regularly loses all his weapons for no apparent reason.

Okay, I’ve whined, now let’s continue with the good. When you’re actually allowed to play (fine, I’ll shut up about that now) the attention to detail and the polish in Max’s world is amazing. Max comments about many things in the game as you approach them, and the way he waves his hand in front of his nose while surrounded by sewage or physically holds his two-handed gun while using a one-handed weapon. Characters berate him in contextually appropriate ways. The world Rockstar have created is rich, packed with detail, and is a joy to explore.

Graphically it’s pretty excellent too with some slight improvements over the console version, although it’s the detail in each scene that makes it such a feast for the eyes. The Euphoria physics engine so beloved of Rockstar it allows every enemy to fall in totally unexpected (yet realistic) ways that I’ll never get bored of seeing. Finally a nod to the voice actors – this is a Rockstar production, so as expected the acting is movie-quality. I’m personally most happy to see James McCaffrey returning to voice Max, his excellent world-weary angry drawl making the game still feel like a proper Max Payne despite the change in style.

In terms of extras, there’s an Arcade mode that either allows you to replay any chapter in the game for points or do them as quick as you can, and rather wonderfully even allows you play as “old-school Max” – complete with flat Sam Lake face! The Worldwide Leaderboard scoring system however is a little borked at the moment (which is, unfortunately, endemic to PC), as I don’t think it’s possible to get 999999999999999999 points on a single map.

Then there’s the multiplayer, which is fun enough if not particularly inspiring for the most part. There’s a few variations on Deathmatch/Team DM, Payne Killer (where two people become the more-powerful Max and sidekick Passos and the rest have to take them down), and the more interesting Gang Wars. I was rather distressed to discover that you can only unlock Payne Killer and Gang Wars after getting 50 kills in Deathmatch. That may not sound a lot, but I’m not sure you should force people to only play boring old Deathmatch until they’ve just levelled-up enough to afford a better hat. Still, Gang Wars is pretty good, offering simple missions based on traditional multiplayer modes (King of the Hill, Capture The Flag/Bag) over the course of five levels that really begins to feel like a war after a while.
The story goes to some pretty dark places. Like a graveyard at night

Levels have been pretty well designed, even offering variations like fog which completely obscures everything outside, and the ability to climb over the environment is something that hasn’t really been done in multiplayer outside of Uncharted and Brink (although it isn’t as smooth as either game). The customisable perks called “Bursts” add a layer of spice to matches, offering occasional bonuses like See Enemy Locations, Paranoia (enemies see members of their team as your colour), and health boosts. There’s a lot of levelling to be done and plenty of items, weapons, and bonuses to buy, so you can’t say the game doesn’t have longevity. Still, it’s currently a bit of a chore to find a game on PC, and more than half the time I’d get booted for random connection issues. I lost count how many times I clicked ‘Playlists’ just trying to get a game of Gang Wars going.

It’s been a long wait, but overall I am definitely satisfied with my time in Max Payne 3. It was addictive and entertaining to play from beginning to end, and after a brief stint on Arcade I realised I could easily play it again and still enjoy it – and the multiplayer’s pretty damn fun too, if sadly lacking in co-op. While I would have preferred an American Noir setting I can’t really fault having something different, and Sao Paulo makes a disturbing new world to explore. The cutscenes are too abundant for my tastes, and the bad checkpointing artificially raises the difficulty (not to mention the frustration), but otherwise this is a well-polished and challenging shooter that’s at home on PC. And frankly after nine years that’s all I could ever have wanted. Welcome back Max, you’re an unlucky bugger but you’ve got a great trilogy of games.

Top Game Moment: The shootout in a graveyard in New York, with Max taking cover behind the gravestone of his loved ones. Cheery game, this.

Platform Played: PC

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Comments

By nocutius (SI Elite) on Jun 11, 2012
nocutius
Oh how much I hate it when you get your ass kicked in a cutscene moments after you've piled up an army worth of bodies all by yourself :(.

Unlocking SP modes in MP sucks a lot too, the guy that came up with this way of artificially pushing the MP game-modes deserves a voodoo doll to be made in his image.
Well at least it's not as bad as in ME3 where the crappy MP has an effect on the story in SP.

Other than that the game seems to have turned out quite ok. I will get to it eventually for sure.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 12, 2012
herodotus
Hear the pain about the checkpoint system - all the "MP" games are tough, and often battles require a puzzle-solving approach which beg for a quick-save option. Also there's been many a time in "MP 1" that I just flat-out got lost.
What IS a shame is Rockstar's continual focus on consoles ("Red Dead Redemption" is still a sore point) so sluggish M&K controls won't be appreciated by PC gamers. I'll never play any other way, and if anything this combo should be more refined and easier to use than a controller (that requires auto-lock) in a FPS/TPS.
Thanks for the review Chris, but I won't be picking this up anytime soon ($90 for digital download, $70-80 for a physical copy). Just not worth it.
By Chrissstrahl (SI Veteran Member) on Jun 11, 2012
Chrissstrahl
Excellent review, detailed on the important parts.
Thanks for sharing this!

Only thing that makes me have doubts about buying is the Checkpoint system, I hate those.
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Jun 12, 2012
The_Tingler
Mouse and keyboard does most definitely work fine after a bit of getting used to, and better than gamepad, but you will have to do a bit of tweaking and adjusting to get it running like the old games.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Jun 13, 2012
FoolWolf
I'm struggling to get somewhere in MP - but the game is riddled with cheaters and the matchmaking system is absolute rubbish - I got into a bunch of ppl from level 5 (that's me ;) ) to lvl 20 - one guy was lvl 42 and had the nicest equipment - heavy armour and a one shot kill sniper rifle...
Fun? Not likely...

Fortunately - they have some modes for us oldies too - the arcade option is fun - you replay and get scored on your performance. Nice - unfortunately - you have to see all those damned cutscenes again - and again - and again - and *drool snoore*

I hope the next round of patches will be out soon - seems like Rockstar at least are patch happy this time...
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Jun 13, 2012
The_Tingler
Yeah, I really don't understand why we have to watch all the cutscenes again in Arcade either.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Jun 13, 2012
nocutius
Having to watch the cutscenes the second time without the ability to skip them is annoying yes. It doesn't make much sense to force people to watch them again.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 13, 2012
herodotus
Toilet/coffee break time for me when this happens (rarely) in a game. Hopefully Rockstar will work out what the "Escape" or "Space" keys are for and fix it.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Jun 14, 2012
FoolWolf
@herodotus - if you would have to use the cut-scenes in Max Payne 3 for toilette/coffee breaks....

Seriously - the cut-scenes are bad business! Really bad - It annoyed me to no end actually how little of the game you yourself actually plays and have to sit idle waiting for it to start...
By HenoKutus (SI Elite) on Jun 14, 2012
HenoKutus
Finally Its The Payne to the Max,excellent!
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Jun 16, 2012
The_Tingler
The one plus side abount having all the cutscenes in-engine in Arcade is you can play all of the game as Old-School Max!
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Jun 19, 2012
FoolWolf
After you finish a lot of the cutscenes since it is locked in the beginning. Just finished the SP campaign and totally lost most of my interest in MP3 right now. Will see if I can muster some hope for it again later on. Would like to try the old-school moves but right now I have had my fill.