'Max Payne 3' takes gritty in a new direction
'Max Payne 3' puts the familiar hard-drinking, pill-popping eponymous anti-hero into a new, unfamiliar situation. Stunning visuals and engrossing main character drive the film noir story you’ll want to see through to the end.
No, it's not Walter White from Breaking Bad. It's Max Payne, sporting his new look.
It's been said that a bad movie can ruin a video game franchise. Fortunately, that's not the case with Max Payne - the 2008 stinker starring Mark Wahlberg has nothing on the latest instalment in the game series.
Max Payne 3 is essentially a reboot. Although it stars the same hard-drinking, pill-popping eponymous anti-hero from the past two games, it's a brand new take in several ways.
Firstly, Rockstar Vancouver has taken over developing duties from Finland's Remedy Entertainment. Secondly, and more importantly, the third instalment puts Max in an entirely different setting, which has far more importance than just aesthetics. The new look has a profound effect on the action and feel of the game.
When we first meet Max, he's just moved into a shabby apartment in Sao Paolo, Brazil. As usual, he's drinking heavily and popping painkillers. He's a little older, but he's still full of self-loathing, as we learn from the narration by Max's long-time voice actor James McCaffrey. In an early scene, he drinks too much, vomits in the sink and passes out on the floor. That's the Max Payne we all know and love.
The grizzled ex-cop, we soon learn, has been forced to relocate and work as protection for Sao Paolo's rich Branco family after an altercation with a mob boss back home in New Jersey. The action picks up as a group of mystery assailants kidnap Fabiana, wife of family patriarch Rodrigo Branco. Max, naturally, must retrieve her.
The first half of the game feels familiar - Max pursues Fabiana's kidnappers through a variety of dark and grimy settings, including a nightclub and soccer stadium. Although the action takes place in Brazil, it still sets the same film noir atmosphere as the first two games. The tone is helped by a chapter that flashes back to the New Jersey incident that forced Max's relocation, not to mention his running narration.
The game really starts to come into its own during the second half, when the protagonist undergoes something of a transformation. Frustrated with his own downward spiral and his inability to save the people he's been hired to protect, Max shaves his head, dons a colourful Hawaiian shirt and delves into the favela slums in search of some missing Branco family members, the subtext being that he's also looking for personal restitution.
Max Payne 3 thereby takes on a very Breaking Bad vibe, with Max looking and feeling very much like that TV show's anti-hero Walter White. Both are on a dark mission to save their souls and both are straddling the edge of insanity to get there.
As far as the action is concerned, Max Payne 3 is pretty much a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. The series' stock in trade has always been the John Woo-like "bullet time," which Max can activate to slow down time. While in bullet time, he can line up shots and take out multiple opponents, all while diving dramatically through the air. The only thing missing is the flock of pigeons behind him.
Bullet time works best in the set pieces sprinkled throughout the game, which are automatically activated. Early on, the action shifts into bullet time as Max slides down a roof - he has to shoot a hostage taker in slow motion before landing in a pool. Later on, he does the same while riding a collapsing water storage tower. It's cool stuff that would make Woo proud.
The ability to take cover, which is now standard fare in third-person shooters, is also new. The addition is a good one because it allows Max to be a little more strategic in taking out the army of goons he inevitably takes on.
As in the previous games, Max regains health by taking painkillers, which he finds in various bathrooms and kitchens. The pills are also integrated into the combat in a smart way - if Max's health runs out but he has at least one bottle left, the game shifts into slow-mo and the camera orients to the last person who shot him. Provided that Max can take out the assailant, he gets an automatic health boost from the pills and lands on his back, ready for action.