It has been nine years since the release of Max Payne 2, and Max has undergone significant changes in that time. He’s a broken man. He drinks the pain away, passes out, and does it all over again. He’s just killing time until someone takes his life. However, throughout the course of the third Max Payne game we see him transition from having no reason to live to having every reason to live. His transition from anti-hero to asshole and back again is portrayed so inelegantly that it's actually more authentic and believable, humanizing Max and rendering him a flawed but relatable man.
Max Payne 3 opens in Brazil, but the story really begins in Hoboken, New Jersey. Max spends his time in a Jersey bar, doing the same thing he does day in and day out, until an old friend appears claiming to know Max from their days at the Police Academy. Max doesn’t remember Raul Passos, but then again, he drinks so much that he’s never sure exactly what he remembers. Passos offers Max a job working private security down in São Paulo, Brazil, but Max isn’t interested. He doesn’t care about anything, let alone another job. During this conversation, the son of the local mob boss, Anthony DeMarco, storms into the bar harassing Max and everyone in sight. Passos tells him to get lost, but DeMarco Jr. doesn’t appreciate that much and returns with weapons to confront the two. When DeMarco Jr. hits a random woman with his pistol, Max shoots him straight in the chest, taking things to a whole new level of intensity. Events in Max's life escalate at an exponentially violent level and Max, finding himself in desperate need of a place to lie low, finally agrees to take Passos up on his offer.
When they arrive in Brazil, everything seems fine; it should be an easy job. Unfortunately for Max, things rarely go smooth when he’s around. Tasked with protecting the Branco family, he doesn’t do a great job. The wife of the wealthiest Branco is kidnapped and later killed, as it most of their family. The situation goes from Max trying to save someone so that he can keep his job, to him attempting to make things right for once in his life. I won’t spoil it, but it gets pretty great.
The Max Payne series has always been known for its smooth gunplay, which is why Max Payne 3 can be incredibly frustrating. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the gunplay, it’s solid. But it’s also painfully difficult, almost to an unfair degree. There’s three aiming modes: free-aim, soft lock, and hard lock. You have to choose up front which one you are going to use and if you change in the middle of the game, you don’t get any achievements. Not that you’re going to anyway, as almost all of them require free-aim to be use and that’s near impossible. This is all on top of the difficulty selection that you also make at the beginning of the game. Max Payne 3 doesn’t follow the same guidelines that most games do when selecting a difficulty. Normal isn’t normal at all, it’s the equivalent of a hardcore mode in any other game.
If there’s one thing that stands out as different from the first two games, it’s Max’s painkiller trips. They’re twitchy, almost like we’re watching him on TV and the cable isn’t plugged in all the way. As his mind rambles, phrases and key words are emphasized on the screen, making sure that you see them. It's an immersive trick; the words aren’t all important, but they made me pay more attention to the random cutscenes that I otherwise would have.
Perhaps the best part of Max Payne 3 is its stellar soundtrack. HEALTH made something so interesting and new-age sounding that fit perfectly with the evolution of Max as a character. It adds an ambiance to the horrid situation taking place throughout the game and the gritty nature flows well with the overall tone. It is one of the best game soundtracks in recent memory.
Rockstar usually has trouble with multiplayer, so I wasn’t expecting much and was taken aback after spending some time shooting my friends online. Max Payne 3 offers all the typical multiplayer game modes –though with clever drug-related names– but Team Deathmatch stood out the most. There’s no compromises, and you still have access to bullet time. That’s an extremely difficult feature to implement in a multiplayer setting, but in this case, it’s simple. If you’re in the same vicinity as an enemy who's moving in bullet time, then time will slow down for you as well. The further you are away from them, the less time slows for you. The weapon progression and ranking system is standard for an online shooter, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad in any way; it's just exactly what you expect. Max Payne 3 offers an above-average take on popular multiplayer scenarios that, when coupled with the bullet time feature, works extremely well.
Max Payne 3 isn’t for everyone. It’s a tad long, excruciatingly difficult at times, and very mature, which is what makes it so great. It doesn’t try to be for everyone, and the game is better for it. Max is a messed-up guy, but you can relate to him and that helps ease the pain of vicariously living such a tragic life. Everything flows together exceptionally well and (despite it's flawed difficulty) makes Max Payne 3 one of the best action shooters to date.