Review by Dark_Epathy

"A thrilling, polished experience powered by great characters and great gun-play."

At the conclusion of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, the titular hero had fought his demons to a standstill, losing much in the process in his quest for both vengeance and justice. Almost ten years have passed for both Max and series' fans since his last crusade in the night, and while the omnipresent dark of New York has been overtaken by the sweltering sun of Brazil, Max's personal darkness has only grow wider and deeper.

The original Max Payne was a low-budget title, and it showed. Despite compelling gun-play, driven by "Bullet Time," and a decent story, the game was hampered by cheesy, B-movie presentation and suffered from a general lack of polish. It was a good game, but with many rudimentary features. The aforementioned sequel remedied many of the first game's problems, polishing the presentation and atmosphere and strengthening the story and game mechanics.

If Max Payne 2 was a maturation of the concept, then Max Payne 3 is a realization. Although not developed by Remedy--both the game and script were handled by Rockstar--everything feels natural and organic coming from the last game. Max has taken up a job as part of a private security detail for Rodrigo Branco, the patriarch of the wealthy Branco family situated in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Of course, Max has only switched one proverbial hell for another--Sao Paulo is host to horrible gang wars and dirty politics, and soon after his arrival the Branco family is quickly caught in the maelstrom, with Rodrigo's wife Fabiana being kidnapped by a notorious local gang. Max's efforts to save the girl are complicated by other interfering factions, from paramilitary units to the city's corrupt police--as well as conspirators close to home.

The story is strong, if straightforward, and in no way predictable. The game does a terrific job at making the player care for the cast; the well-intentioned Raul Passos, the fun-loving but conflicted Marcelo, and the hapless but innocent Fabiana are only a few examples of wonderful characters that feel real, despite relatively low screen-time. Max Payne, of course, takes center stage as a man haunted by his past experiences and the dreaded glass of liquor and evil bottle of pills. Max's latest battle is desperate and brutal, with ever-increasing stakes. One gets the sense that Max is waging a one-man war against not just a crime-ridden city but an entire society, an entire world built on the same rotten, unchanging principles, no matter the time or place. And, obviously, he is always on the losing end.

The game eschews the graphic novel panels of the original for traditional cut-scenes, but this is not a criticism. The game's cinematics are well-animated and gorgeous to look at, and they flow seamlessly with the rest of the game, with no loading screens. The presentation has this same level of polish and detail across the board; the characters and environments look fantastic, and they give off a real, authentic vibe that establishes a powerful, gripping atmosphere. Occasional blurring and other assorted visual effects drench the scenes at times, but they are never very intrusive or annoying. Rather, they empower the game visually, making it all the closer to portraying Max's state of mind and state of place.

Sound-wise, the game is also terrific. The score, composed by band Health, is heavy with percussion, a great complement to the many gunfights Max finds himself in. The voice acting is also without much fault. The characters sound believable, real, and Max Payne himself still carries the same wonderful gravelly, beaten performance as always. This is a good thing, too, for Max's narration is almost always present, accompanying the player through each level. Max's quips are hammy at times, but they are never cringe-worthy--there's an inherent cynical, disgusted sarcasm to Max's words, just as there's always been. He knows this is all a joke, bordering on the absurd, and he resonates with the player as they struggle together.

Combat is typical third-person-shooter fare, but with the additions of Bullet Time and the Shootdodge, it takes on a life of its own. The implementation of a cover system also works well; Max can dive in and out of cover, slow down time, and make short work of his enemies. At least in theory. The enemy AI is thorough, with opponents smartly taking cover or flanking the player. At times, the game can feel almost cheap, with large, open areas and relatively small enemies popping in and out. Usually, though, these times are rare, and the player always has an option for recourse. Painkillers return as Max's go-to for health, and a new feature, "Last Man Standing," allows Max to take out the enemy who would otherwise be his killer, should he have at least one painkiller left in stock. This feature is hit-or-miss, no pun intended--sometimes enemies are obstructed by the environment or too plentiful to even discern whom fired what. Still, it works well consistently enough to be only a minor annoyance.

Max Payne 3 is relentlessly paced, with combat almost always happening. Exploring the game's beautiful, if mostly linear locations is both simultaneously encouraged and discouraged. Collectables and clues lay hidden, but the game's hurried pace, along with both Max's narration and the frantic cries from other characters, make it hard to stray off the beaten path. However, this is a little grievance, and no real fault of the game's.

The game also offers its own take on multiplayer. While I have not played it, personally, it would follow that the multiplayer is strong, though the game was obviously not intended for multiplayer. The main draw is the single-player campaign, and various difficulty modes exist to buffer playing time. Whatever your choice, there are many options to draw out Max Payne 3 beyond its campaign.

With all this in mind, Max Payne 3 stands as an excellent title, certainly more than worthy of the ones that preceded it. Despite some little nuisances and a wearing-out of the story near the end, the game is otherwise fantastic with no major and hardly any minor flaws. Those looking for more than just a compelling narrative and polished, fun third-person shooting may be disappointed, but Max Payne 3 never tried to sell itself as anything but. It does what it does exceedingly well, and nothing more can be asked of it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/05/12

Game Release: Max Payne 3 (US, 05/15/12)

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