Max Payne. The dude seems to cause a big ol’ ruckus wherever he goes. It’s no different here at Castle NAG. Max walked in, said two bitter words and all the NAG staffers immediately dove slow-motion sideways (it’s instinct, you see) into critic alley while firing opinion-bullets at each other. Since balance is what keeps the world from spinning off its axis or something (science says it’s not), we’ve decided to deliver two reviews of divisive Max Payne 3 exposing the wildly differing perspectives of two bullet-riddled reviewers. Enjoy!

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Up first is Miklós, who happily admits to having “played the SHIT out of” the original Max Payne and its sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne,and has buckets of love for them.

Miklós’ review

There’s probably a restaurant that you frequent with your significant other. You keep going back because you know that it’s a consistent place that serves good food. It might not have changed in months, years or ever at all, but you still go back and you order off the same menu you always have. Max Payne 3 is a lot like your favourite restaurant: it doesn’t change all that often, but it’s reliable and consistent in what it does.

Right off the bat, that would be my biggest criticism of Max Payne 3: it very rarely does new things. There’s no continual trickle of new abilities or enemy types; it’s the same thing from when you fire that first bullet into a thug’s cranium, to when you fire the last bullet and the credits roll. However, Max Payne 3 is a “bigger picture” kind of game – if you analyse each of its components on their own then sure, it’s a good game. But look at the game as the sum of its parts and there’s no denying that it’s utterly fantastic.

Max is a serious downer to be around. He’s probably the most depressed and cynical video game character in history, but the guy’s got a good reason for that. Since the end of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, our eponymous character has pretty much popped painkillers and boozed his way into oblivion. Fortunately an old colleague called Raul Passos finds Max and persuades him to take a security job in South America. So instead of sitting in the snow-swept streets of New Jersey, popping painkillers and drinking scotch, Max moves to the sun-kissed streets of São Paulo to, well, pop more painkillers and drink more scotch. Still, he’s now got a job protecting the ridiculously wealthy Branco family, but thanks to Max’s addiction and steadfast ability to find himself in trouble, he allows the wife of Rodrigo Branco, Fabiana, to be kidnapped. So starts a gritty, noir-infused plotline that sees Max and Raul attempting to save the kidnapped trophy-wife.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the plot than that, and indeed the overall story of Max Payne 3 is way above average. The writing is, quite simply, excellent. Add to that the most superb voice-acting since the Uncharted series, wholly convincing camera angles, trippy filter effects and cut-scenes that have been so obviously story-boarded to perfection, and you have a game that’s more akin to an action film than the average third-person shooter. Rockstar needs to be applauded for the level of polish in this game’s presentation. While there’s been somewhat of a departure from the series’ drab noire settings, there are moments that are still set in the dreary New York underbelly, and Max’s self-consciously angst-ridden monologues ensure that the fun and sun of São Paulo don’t dilute the franchise’s original tone. And that gloriously depressing Max Payne theme tune comes slinking into the game’s score on numerous occasions; if you keep an eye out, Max will fumble his way through a piano rendition at some point in the game; a nice homage to the fourth-wall breaking moments from earlier games.

As I stated earlier, gameplay rarely gets mixed up. There are occasional on-rails bits and some really exciting forced Bullet Time sequences, but other than that the game sticks to its third-person shooter roots. And it’s glorious. The Euphoria physics engine, coupled with the series staple Bullet Time, means that the game’s frequent gunfights are stylish and cinematic affairs. I can’t think of a third-person shooter that pulls off a shooting mechanic with quite as much flair. A cover system has been introduced, but it can be a little sticky when things get really intense.

You can make Max Payne 3 as hard or as easy as you want to. If you want to blaze through the story mode and watch balletic displays of gravity-defying gunfights, then you can turn on two variations of aim-assist (Hard Lock or Soft Lock) as well as moving target tracking. Alternatively, if you want an old-school experience that’ll kick your ass, you can turn on Free Aim and completely remove all targeting assistance.

There’s a lot to keep you occupied in Max Payne 3. The story took me about fifteen hours to complete, but I was trying to find all the collectibles and golden gun parts that are hidden in each chapter. There’s a robust checkpoint system and chapter select screen that will help you return to previous areas in case you missed a collectible. Satisfying a list of requirements (like finishing the game in Hardcore mode, or finding all collectibles) will allow you to replay chapters with unlimited ammo, unlimited Bullet Time etc. On top of this, Rockstar has added a full suite of Grinds for you to work towards. These include challenges like firing 25, 000 bullets; getting 750 kills while dual wielding; spending 50 minutes in Shootdodge; etc. Completing these grinds gives you XP towards your multiplayer character.

Arcade Mode

Once you’ve played through the main campaign you’ll unlock a mode called New York Minute. This mode sees whether you can complete each chapter of the game in a minute. Killing enemies adds seconds to your clock, but headshots add even more. It’s pretty tricky because if you die then you start from the beginning of the chapter.

There’s also a standard Score Attack mode for each chapter, complete with global and friends list leaderboards. Kills earn points but taking damage and using painkillers subtracts points. You can also earn multipliers to boost your score.

Multiplayer

The multiplayer in Max Payne 3 is a substantial offering and is vastly removed from the tacked-on multiplayer modes that a lot of contemporary games ship with. There are numerous modes to choose from but you are initially locked to Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes until you level-up to a certain point. Level-up enough and you’ll unlock Gang War and Payne Killer modes. Gang War is a story-based multiplayer mode played out over numerous matches, the objectives for which alter depending on the outcome of the previous round. It’s an interesting approach to linking the game’s single-player campaign with the multiplayer, as the plotlines in Gang War are based off the events of Max Payne 3’s story.

Payne Killer mode starts off with a showdown similar to those found in Red Dead Redemption’s multiplayer. The first player to make a kill becomes Max Payne, and the first player to die becomes Raul Passos; the remaining players become gang members who have to hunt down and kill Max and Passos. If you kill either of the characters then you become whichever character you killed.

Central to all multiplayer modes are items called Bursts. These range from the ability to activate Bullet Time, to boosting your weapon’s damage. There are plenty of Bursts to unlock as well as items such as helmets and flak jackets.

As is the norm, you have a persistent character to level-up and numerous loadouts to customise and unlock. Each weapon levels-up as well, which allows you to further customise your favourites. There’s a host of multiplayer-specific Grinds to complete for extra XP as well. Loadouts are based on weight and mobility. Your character has a fixed amount of weight so balancing your loadout between firepower, items and armour is integral. There are, of course, pre-defined loadouts you can opt to choose if you couldn’t be bothered with this level of customisation.

Finally, you’re free to make your own online gangs (called “crews”) with you and friends. You can customise tag lines and logos and then compete against other crews on a global leaderboard.

The competition is pretty fierce in Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, so don’t be put off if you find yourself being obliterated in the first couple of rounds. If you’re really battling, you can opt to play in matches with Soft Lock aiming assist, although the hardcore online players will likely pooh-pooh this.

I loved this game. It wasn’t without some annoyances (such as cut-scenes switching your equipped weapon to a single-handed gun, and then you having to switch it back once the scene ends and before you’re shot to pieces) but those are easily overlooked thanks to the terrific gameplay, dialogue and overall presentation. Max as a character is more human than he’s ever been, and his persistently depressed yet self-destructive attitude makes for an excellent narrative experience that is found far too seldom in video games.

Next up, we’ve got Tarryn’s thoughts on the game. Tarryn has never played the previous Max Payne titles and therefore had zero predisposition towards the third game in this beloved series.

Tarryn’s review

Max Payne is doing hard time. Not the regular sort of hard time behind bars, mind you, but hard time at rock bottom. After retiring from the New York Police Department, Payne has moved to New Jersey, where he spends most of his time dropping pills, boozing, and wondering where it all went wrong. Then a former cop buddy of his from the academy turns up, looking to recruit Payne for a private security job in Brazil. Although Payne is somewhat resistant to the idea at first, destiny makes an (in)convenient intervention when a bar fight puts him on top of the state mob’s hit list. That’s when things go from bad to much, much worse – and not just for our miserable protagonist.

Because about two hours into this game, I realised something. Max Payne 3 is basically a series of self-consciously cynical monologues, with a lot of shooting bad guys in corridors in between. Of course, that describes about 99 percent of the gaming industry’s top 100 catalogue today, but the difference is, most games are somewhat more subtle about it, and also – perhaps more significantly – somewhat better at the guns ‘n’ guts bits.

Almost every aspect of the gameplay is infuriatingly cumbersome. I’m sure the developers could try to pass it off as the gritty and authentic experience of a perpetually intoxicated ex-cop whose metaphorical baggage is dragging him down in reality, but I’d like to think the average gamer is more clever than that.

The controls and movement are sluggish, the cover system is more like a copy of a copy of a copy of a cover system where something really important was discarded with each iteration, and while I get that bullet time must look tremendously exciting on a feature list, nobody actually wants to play a twelve hour game in super slow motion. Add in the erratic checkpoints and bits of geometry that were apparently slopped with industrial strength glue, and you’re forced to replay entire scenes – in super slow motion, remember – sometimes four or five or twenty-six times over, because the difficulty is also completely inconsistent.

The game makes up for that last complaint by boosting health and painkiller supplies after several failed attempts, but I can’t work out why that’s preferable to simply not being so ****ing frustrating in the first place. There’s challenging, and then there’s just lazy design.

What’s maybe most tragic about it all is that Max Payne 3 demonstrates extraordinary potential in parts. The plot, while rather predictable, isn’t altogether awful, and the backdrops – in particular the grimy slums of São Paulo – are refreshingly unconventional in a genre predominated by sand-blasted Mogadishu clones and/or a post-apocalyptic New Angelesington. And quite in spite of his almost preposterously depressing biography, Max Payne himself is an immensely likeable, credible character.

Ultimately, this is a mostly leaden, drearily repetitive action game that sells itself almost entirely on its spectacular presentation. That said, without the “Max Payne” name and the Rockstar logo on the box, I’m convinced this game would have bombed. Instead, it’s just kind of… forgettable.