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The Game Effect Review

Max Payne 3 Review

A Symphony and Triumph of Death and Violence For Max Payne

By Nick Schneider on 5/22/2012
The road to Rockstar's latest Max Payne title was a dark tale for the titular protagonist, and in Max Payne 3 the development studio has once again invited gamers into the misery of Max's twisted and deadly life. Set eight years after the events of Max Payne 2, the player takes the role of Max as he is working private security for the Branco's, a wealthy political family, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Like most of Max's life, what is supposed to be a simple job as a bodyguard for the rich and famous, quickly turns into a nightmare of corruption and double crosses.

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When the opening credits hit, the familiar violins play, and James McCaffrey offers the opening lines of narration, players are immediately thrust into a world as dangerous as the beauty surrounding Max. Rockstar took over much of the development, including the writing from series creator Sam Lake, and provided a mix of gameplay and storytelling that will instantly ring true for fans of the series, and provide an excellent point for newcomers to enter the fractured mind of Max Payne. Throughout three acts Rockstar provides a beautiful cacophony of sound, visuals, and action that creates one of the most compelling and satisfactory action titles in recent memory.

That New Familiar Feeling

For fans of the first two titles, Rockstar offers an easily recognizable package, but also added enough tweaks to the formula to separate this title from the limitations of last generation. Bullet time, slow motion kills, pain killers, and shoot dodges all return, and what has been added to each manages to redefine the series and the genre. While shoot dodges, and bullet time still work as expected, it's the added benefit to saving painkillers and the extra effects to slow motion kills that establishes Max Payne 3 as the pinnacle of cinematic storytelling.

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In the past players had to manage their supply of painkillers and use them to restore their health before their life ran out. This time around Rockstar has added a last man standing event that allows Max a chance to take out the person who fired the deadly shot. Time slows down as Max falls to the ground, and if players can line up the shot before they hit the floor then they are free to continue the frantic shoot out. This opens up a new level of strategy to the player as health management becomes an issue, but also allows them to take more risks during the game's amazingly devised battles.
At the end of many of the gun fights, players will be greeted by a final bullet kill cam, and while these serve the same function to show off the impressive physics of bodies flying after being hit by a gun, a simple press of a button turns these kills into instant satisfaction. Players now have the ability to slow down the kill cam, and at the same time continue to pump bullets into an unfortunate enemy. What follows during one of these segments highlights the new level of brutality that Max Payne 3 unleashes during the course of the campaign.

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Bullets in the Max Payne series have always been dangerous, but in the third entry the graphical representation of damage adds a new level to that danger. Ammo tears holes through enemies and leaves blood spraying. During the slow motion bullet kills, and last stand moments the portrayal of damage is both brutal and beautiful. The level of satisfaction after a tough battle, and watching a bullet tear a hole into a soldier's head, is without comparison, and this level of detail seems to permeate nearly every aspect of the game beyond just the battles.

The Face of Death Is Riddled In The Details

Whenever details are mentioned in a video game, it's usually in the way that trees move in the wind, or water ripples when disturbed. In the city of Sao Paulo and Max Payne's fight to kill those who have wronged him, those details elevate Max Payne 3 to classic status. Doing a shoot dodge into a structure will have Max instinctively attempt to cover his head before the impact. Firing a bullet into glass doesn't simply shatter the glass into pieces, the pane cracks and prepares for something to free it from its frame. Bullet holes appear on Max's clothing, and the graphics carry the details into a surreal level of gritty realism.
During the course of the campaign visual distortion carries through to represent the drunken and fractured state of Max's mind. While some might consider this to be a tad jarring, the visual effect plays perfectly into providing a visual clue for checkpoints. Certain words spoken will be emphasized, and while not necessarily always important, these moments add a cinematic style that makes Max Payne 3 it's own unique entry. These same distortions also appear when using a painkiller in the heat of battle, and make the use of the medicine as dangerous as it is healthy.

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Scenarios involving fire, and through the slums of Sao Paulo, greatly benefit from this level of detail. Fire twists and swirls in dangerous patterns that reflect realistically on the awe inspiring and deadly beauty of the flames. Civilians run and hide from danger in a realistic nature, and the conversations between NPC's, if you understand Spanish, are fluent and add the perfect touch to creating a breathing world. As in the previous two entries, radios and televisions provide parodies and information on the events unfolding, and overall Rockstar is at the height of their ability to create a complete experience.

A Task Of Survival Against All Odds

Despite the lack of Sam Lake on the writing end of the story, Max's time in Sao Paulo is beautifully crafted of a man seeking redemption for past crimes, and an escape from future danger. The tale of the Branco's is riddled with political intrigue and double crosses that fans have come to expect, and the dialog is top notch. Striking a chord between dark humor, and depressing noir Max's internal monologue is at its finest in this entry. I found myself laughing at the parts that felt right, and completely sobering during the moments when laughter was nowhere to be found. The dialog is brought to classic levels when Max is working with his partner, Passos, and the buddy cop feel to the delivery of the lines is surprisingly refreshing for a video game.

Luckily for Max, he does have a partner through some of the sequences in the three act story, as the gun fights can feel quite overwhelming at times. Fortunately, however overwhelmed the player seems they are also never under powered. Enemies fight and react to player movement and actions in extremely deadly and intelligent ways. Flanking cover, and forcing the player out from cover through carefully placed grenade tosses, the AI provides a daunting challenge. With the right tools and patience players can overcome these odds, and become an action star that rivals performances in even Hollywood's AAA summer blockbusters.

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Spread liberally throughout the campaign are bullet time sequences in which Max is given ample opportunity to overcome the opposing force. One sequence has players riding down a hallway on a cart as they take out soldiers on an adjacent building, and these sequences add a layer of excitement that other quick time events just can't capture. There are some sparse moments with "normal" quick time events, but even these never lose the excitement from the bullet time sequences. The world of Max Payne has never been this dangerous and satisfying at the same time, and Rockstar has pieced every bit of detail between plot and gameplay together perfectly to form a true cinematic experience for video games. Add to these puzzle pieces one of the best soundtracks in modern video games, and Max Payne 3 is equally as beautiful.

A Symphony of Sound And The Music To Kill By

In some instances sound design and soundtracks for a video game are merely there to add mood and heighten awareness of events transpiring. In Max Payne 3, the soundtrack again adds that level of realism and cinematic splendor in ways that never seemed imaginable for a video game. Utilizing tracks from various musicians, Latino and American, plus their own original score the music throughout the campaign is hauntingly beautiful and dangerously melodic for the chaos on hand.
While the familiar Max Payne theme runs throughout various parts of the game, nearly every encounter offers a unique score to the battle. The selections not only add an adrenaline shot to the player at needed times, but also tell the story of the situation at hand. In short the lessons Rockstar has learned from the soundtracks to the Grand Theft Auto series are well at hand in this title, and the player becomes immersed and hooked into each and every moment of the game. The team strayed away from guitar riffs and a classic orchestration, and kept the soundtrack uniquely Max's while utilizing licensed tracks combine with their own score to create an audible bliss for the player.

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Gunshots and voice acting follow in the same vein of music selection, and while not as ear popping does provide further levels of authenticity to the game overall. Hearing empty shells bounce against concrete and floor is a welcome sound, and the impact guns have all provide a unique sound for their respective surface. Given the soundtrack, these details can be overlooked, but once again Rockstar has painstakingly crafted a living world for Max to destroy.

Taking Payne To Others Around The Globe

The online side of Max Payne 3 does suffer in some areas, mostly in play balancing. After shoot dodging and feeling like an unstoppable force in the single player campaign, taking the online portion for a spin does have some grievances laid out for the trouble. Primarily is that the feeling of power is completely stripped away, and while this helps balance the game so that every player can't just bullet time their way to victory, the overall experience just feels shallow in straight up deathmatch scenarios. Rockstar has taken many of the ideas in popular online games, and found a way to creatively implement a touch of Max Payne to the experience, but overall the matches feel flat and dull.
There are two exceptions to this rule, with one being the mode Gang Wars. During this mode two teams of up to eight players, participate in a story driven match between two sides. The story plays out in five separate events, and each time the objective changes to accommodate the action from the previous event. Rather than a best out of five situation, each team is given an allotment of points from winning the previous events as a starting point for the final showdown. This showdown is a straight up team deathmatch event, but given the amount of points or a well balanced set of teams, this match doesn't suffer from the same boredom from other deathmatches.

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This is due to the idea that previous events have influenced the map, and means that the changed battlefield adds a slightly unique variant for each complete story. These variances are usually one of two outcomes, however they do add just enough to keep the matches fresh. Individual players wanting to avoid just a deathmatch or random assignment to team can check out Payne Killer. In this variant mode players begin in a free for all match, with the player who kills first taking the role of Max Payne. The other players are tasked with killing Max, who has most of the abilities from the campaign, and is just as deadly in a skilled player's hand. Other players take turns killing Passos to help balance the side slightly into the heroes favor for large groups, and similarly Passos is slightly easier to kill, but just as deadly.

As far as progression is concerned, each action during the course of an online game will grant a small XP bonus. During my time online XP seemed extremely hard to come by, and leveling up seemingly takes more than most other multiplayer experiences. Couple this with an unlock system that requires players to spend earned cash in the game on new equipment and abilities, which is equally as rare, and the online portion could take months for a player spending only an hour or two at a time to fully unlock everything. While not necessarily a negative, it does detract from a player's ability to be successful without fully understanding the ins-and-outs of acquiring XP and cash to spend, or without dedicating severe chunks of time online.
Other troubling factors for online play include terrible spawn points. I've spawned several times in front of enemies who had no problem picking me off before I had a chance to react, and similarly enemies, and myself, have spawned behind opposition members for cheap kills. This is particularly troublesome, as it doesn't seem that much movement on the map is occurring given the pop and shoot nature of the gameplay, and usually should signal a more intelligible respawn system. Hopefully in future patches Rockstar can remedy this problem, because it has driven me to the point where I refuse to even attempt a standard deathmatch mode.

You Can Never Escape The Past

Outside of the replay factor in the online portion of Max Payne 3, Rockstar has included extra replay potential through the Arcade mode. Rather than make "New York Minute" a difficulty, it has now become an entirely new game in of itself. The objective is simple in nature but difficult in execution. Simply get through each level from the game in under a minute, and players will be given various unlocks for multiplayer. While the word "simply" is an understatement, players can have time added to their countdown by killing enemies. What makes this especially fun and challenging, is that during my playthrough of the campaign I was content with pop and shoot cover mechanics, but playing "New York Minute" forces a bit of recklessness from cautious players. Rather than saving bullet time, I found myself shoot dodging and going for broke throughout the couple of levels I played.

Not only did I experience the levels in a new way, but the mode is perfectly played with a perfectionist attitude. Trying to best my time, or find new ways to handle each room kept me going for several hours. I imagine that this mode will offer players slightly more replay time then online, but that really relies on player experience. The final mode offered is simply a score attack mode, and while playing for points is fun, it doesn't quite level the same excitement as "New York Minute." However players look at the online and arcade modes, Rockstar has ensured that they are given ample opportunity to keep playing well past the end credits, and at the same time done so with a Max Payne spin.

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Overall Impression

At the end of the day, Max Payne 3 is the closest thing players have to a Hollywood action blockbuster. In every instance from start to finish Rockstar has created a cinematic masterpiece that is a joy to play, and a title that will not let your mind go. From the opening cinematic to the outrageously epic finale, Max Payne 3 is interactive storytelling at its finest. The soundtrack haunts, elevates, and hits all the right moods in the perfect situations, and not once did I ever feel like I was being cheated from enemy AI. Max Payne is a completely deranged individual, and the well crafted plot is one that compliments gameplay in ways that few others have managed. Max Payne 3 isn't a simple sequel, Max Payne 3 is the new gold standard for the action genre, and a masterpiece of storytelling.  
The Good
  • Beautiful Soundtrack
  • Exciting Gun Fights
  • Smart Enemy AI
The Bad
  • Multiplayer Lacks Excitement In Key Modes
9.7
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USER COMMENTS
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mitkenski on September 03, 2012
Really good game !
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ragexxkiller1458 on July 06, 2012
best looking game of the year
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RabeetAhsan on June 19, 2012
The most brutal real life game i ever played and felt.

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powermead on June 17, 2012
Oh man see itss sizeeeee    26gb reloded & 11 gb blackbox

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viktor13jaar on June 05, 2012
cant wait when i get him 0_0
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quantifier on May 23, 2012
High praise for the game, and by what you say here it does look good. It's too bad about the multiplayer though, that could have been the real kicker. Maybe they'll be able to implement some key fixes to shore up that part of the game. But really, Max Payne is known for it's excellent campaign/story, so I'm happy to see that take off.
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Elleyena on May 23, 2012
Great article. Thank you for reviewing!
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