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Final Thoughts on Max Payne 3

I’m not going to call this a review of Max Payne 3 even though my time with the game is finished. I played the single player, on easy, and completed it. I didn’t touch it on the harder modes, nor did I attempt New York Minute mode or arcade mode. The former was not unlocked due to my meager difficulty setting, the latter may have been unlocked, but I didn’t check. I also didn’t touch the multiplayer for even a second because seriously, why would I do that? Other people may be interested in new multiplayer experiences, but not this guy. We can take it as a given that I’m going to suck at multiplayer, regardless of the new bells and whistles implemented therein, so why waste everyone’s time?

Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty strong opinion of the game, I’m just not comfortable calling this a review given that there’s so much of the game I didn’t touch. That being said, let’s get to it.

I played the previous Max Payne games on the PC and while I remember loving the hell out of Max Payne, there is very little about Max Payne 2 I remember, save for the cover. I know there was someone named Mona although that may be a lingering memory of that terrible Max Payne movie. I have a feeling that the new setting and the diversion from the noir-heavy feel of the previous Max Payne games may hamper long time fans’ appreciation of the game. For me, though, all I remembered was bullet time and James McCaffrey’s excellent voice acting.

Both of these things are back in spades, so if all you want is slo-mo shooting and gruff, sarcastic delivery, there’s more than enough of both here to keep you entertained. If what you want is an excellent story and deep character development, prepare to be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, there is a story here, and it is thankfully devoid of the larger thematic attempts that traditionally dog Rockstar narratives but by the time the big twist is revealed, a story element that is as trite as it is financially untenable, you’ll likely be looking to see things through just to give Max something to be successful at, and less because of some sense of moral outrage.

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Despite the narrative stumbles, I still really, really enjoyed this game. Half of that has to do with the portrayal of Max and the game choosing to get away somewhat from the noir roots. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good noir tale, but I seem to remember Remedy choosing to make the game noir by giving Max a mouth full of noir phrases, each one more clichéd than the last, a choice that wore on me as the series moved on. This game has noir elements, certainly, but Rockstar chose to tone it down, instead portraying Max as less of a noir anti-hero and more as a guy who completely screws up everything that he touches.

Any by everything, I mean everything. There’s a reason Max was chosen to come and protect the Branco family, the roots of this choice explained via flashback missions that have Max and his new friend Passos shooting up beautiful Hoboken, and while Max’s ability to wield pistols has something to do with it, his constant state of drunkenness makes up the rest of it. As the game progresses, everything Max touches turns to shit but he persists, doggedly chasing the notion that if he keeps at it, maybe he can fix the next thing, or the next thing, or the next thing. By the end of the game, I wanted to finish it because Max wanted to see it through and I thought that maybe if he could do something right, he’d find some measure of peace. The fact that Max understands why he was chosen for the job, and he sees that as coming back to bite those responsible on the ass gave me an incredible sense of satisfaction. As Max says, “Say what you want about Americans, but we understand capitalism. You buy yourself a product and you get what you paid for.”

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The game’s use of Tony Scott style, “Man on Fire” cuts and drawing spoken words on the screen may further push away those looking for the noir angle, as will the bright streets of Sao Paulo but for me, it worked. I admit to being sometimes enamored with style over substance, and in this case, I think that’s a fair criticism but at the same time, it allowed the environmental artists at Rockstar to flex their technical muscles and create the best looking Rockstar game to date. When your main character is only good at one thing, killing bad guys, you can’t rely on a steady progression of powers or abilities to keep your player interested, interest has to be maintained via a selection of excellent set pieces and gunfights.

It is here that players of the previous Max Payne games will feel right at home. Max can still enter bullet time, charging up his ever dwindling meter with precision shots, as well as perform shootdodges, slo-mo dives for bite-sized chunks of ballistic mayhem. Max still chokes down painkillers to restore health, but with the added twist of Last Man Standing, by which you can automatically restore some health via painkillers provided you can single out whoever fired the last bullet with your name on it and kill them before you bleed out. All of the combat elements combine to form glorious, violent dances where men crumple where they stand, drunken heroes dive for cover and the last enemy is dispatched with a slow motion symphony of cold steel, cordite and exploding brain matter.

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I have a feeling that your enjoyment of the game will come down to whether or not the excellent gunplay and voice acting is enough to make up for the lack of story or supporting characters with real depth. Plenty of other games have excellent gunplay. Plenty of other games have excellent voice work. I’m having a hard time coming up with a game that had both in the same amount as this game does, but I’m sure there are some out there. For me, it was more than enough. For others, particularly those that have a deep affection for the series, it may not be enough.


Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

11 thoughts to “Final Thoughts on Max Payne 3”

  1. Max Payne’s employer’s surname is Branco, not Blanco. It means the same (white) but Branco is Portuguese, while Blanco is Spanish.

      1. Sweet!

        Max Payne 2 had a great, great story. One of my favorite stories in videogames ever, by the way. However, I can see why most people would almost completely miss its undertones – the gameplay was so good that, for many, the story was but a distraction, and the subtler themes were all but lost.

        I have a copy of the Max Payne 2 script, and I read it every once in a while. It has so many layers… and in a way that’s exceedingly hard to find in games nowadays. Metaphors abound, and everything is connected by very subtle threads. It’s brilliant, but easily missed if you’re not looking for it.

        Now, that’s the thing – that kind of subtlety, of strong stories told in metaphors, is typical of Remedy. Rockstar just can’t handle that kind of subtlety, and its attempts on it have been failures to say the least (GTA 4 comes to mind). For many people (you, Brandon, included), Max Payne was all about the bullet time and the shooting. For me, it was about that subtlety behind your typical action movie plot. Max Payne 2’s story touches on so many themes – like the frailty of conciousness, fate and determinism, the subjectivity of time, the relativity of moral values/constructs, and most of all, how we deal with grief, with our own mortality, and what life is all about after all. It’s really well written, and I fear that all that has been utterly lost in MP3. I had no doubts that the bullet time and shooting would come back in great form, but knowing Rockstar, I was pretty sure that kind of storytelling wouldn’t.

        I may play MP3 anyway sometime in the future, as I liked the shooting and all that. But I’ll have to deal with the fact that Max Payne, as I knew him, is gone. And I might as well learn with Max Payne 2 how to deal with that and just move on.

        1. You are absolutely right in regards to the story. It’s not subtle, there aren’t varying shades of character development. It’s funny, I loved the story of Alan Wake, a Remedy game, a lot more than I liked the gameplay. I liked the gameplay of MP3 a lot more than I liked the story. If only Rockstar had made a MP3 game that Remedy wrote, this thing would been out of the park with awesome.

          Still, I enjoyed every minute I played it.

          1. I gotta play Alan Wake… I almost bought it when it came out on GOG earlier this month (and it was on my wishlist for my birthday), but I ended up not buying it or getting it as a gift, for a variety of reasons. I’ve heard so many people say that, story-wise, it’s a sort of spiritual sequel to Max Payne (or Remedy’s view of Max Payne), and some of the similarities are strong enough to get me interested. I’ll get it eventually… I just don’t know exactly when right now.

            Also, the standalone expansion for Alan Wake is out, and I heard it feels like you’re inside an episode of “Address Unknown” (from Max Payne) in the Alan Wake universe. I’m really intrigued by that, and I’ll probably play that one as well. When I do, I’ll let you know. 😉

  2. You haven’t addressed my most pressing question!

    Does Lords & Ladies make a re-appearance? Loved that show.

    1. There are two instances where you can watch a TV. One has Demon Baby, a Brazilian soap opera and one has Captain Baseball Bat Boy.

  3. It’s funny. I’m about half way through the game, also on Easy, and I’m finding the gameplay to be the worst thing about the game. The overblown story, graphics and overall presentation are really fun and stylish. But I’m finding the actual gameplay very frustrating. On the PS3 version locking onto targets is very hard even with auto-aim and I find the cover system very clunky.

    The worst part is I keep running out of ammo! This is Max Payne, the ultimate shooting game and I find myself conserving ammo like I’m playing Resident Evil 2.

    I also played and loved the first two games on the PC. And I do remember the great plot of the second one and loved every mission (except for that awful escort mission protecting a wise cracking mascot with a death wish) and I find myself wishing MP3 was a film. I love everything about this world except for running up to melee dudes because I have four guns and ammo that fits none of them.

  4. Ok, people, fair warning: while Brandon was very careful about the plot twist, in order to keep this article spoiler-free, Tom Chick wasn’t nearly as careful in his review of Max Payne 3 on Quarter to Three, in which he reveals the plot twist without even caring (and with hardly any notice, so you might read it by accident even if you don’t want to). So if you don’t want to have your Max Payne 2 story spoiled, don’t read that review.

  5. I really enjoyed the game. Played it through on Hard difficulty, and I do not want to try the harder ones.
    It did seem that when he shaved his hair off, he shaved his brain off, too. After that the game just turns ridiculous. Still fun, just…out of this world somehow.

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