Xbox 360
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
5 Stars

Max Payne 3

Street Date:
May 15th, 2012
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
June 4th, 2012
Game Release Year:
Xbox 360
Rockstar Games
Rockstar Games
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)


It’s been nearly a decade since Max Payne, the grief stricken, pill popping, steely voiced, noir-infused NYPD detective graced the console of gamers around the world and much has changed on both sides of the screen: gaming technology has advanced tremendously, for Max himself, the days of New York City streets are long gone, replaced by the chaotic world of South America, and one question is on the mind of longtime fans: why the hell does Max have a full beard and a bald head?

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

With such a longtime on hiatus, the return to a franchise many gamers have forgotten and many have never heard of is a risky proposition, but luckily, original publisher Rockstar, has taken the full reigns from Remedy, this time picking up development duties as well. With Rockstar’s phenomenal track record, it’s a pretty safe bet “Max Payne 3” is a game worth playing and I’m happy report that track record is fully intact. Gamers who chose to pick up “Max Payne 3” don’t just get a compelling, dark single player campaign, no, this time out, Rockstar’s upped the ante and offered players who stick around a technically accomplished third-person multiplayer shooter that does what “Stranglehold” tried and failed to do year prior: capture John Woo-esque bullet ballet efficiently and smoothly.

The core mechanics of “Max Payne 3” are relatively unchanged from the previous two installments, with the boost in gaming technology allowing for a more refined and distinguished game play experience. The game controls like a standard third-person shooter, with a few unique elements for newcomers. As Max performs more precise kills, an adrenaline bar fills up, allowing with touch of the RB button Max to leap into the air, slowing down enemy reaction time as he picks multiple foes off before landing on the ground. Max can also use the ground for protection providing a lower profile if necessary or to pick off stray foes without breaking the action to stand back up. Bullet Time also returns, activated by clicking the right thumbstick in and functioning like the aerial shootdodge, but leaving Max on his feet.

New to Max Payne veterans is a cover mechanic activated by pressing X near a wall or low-object. As with your standard third-person experience, Max can fire blindly or pop up for a quick shot or to unload an entire clip. This time out a Last Man Standing mechanic has been added, making usage of painkillers far less stressful; should Max take a fatal bullet, time slows down and Max faces his primary attacker; if the player scores a killing shot, a painkiller is used up and Max returns to action. Veterans may also notice, Max can’t carry an entire arsenal and is instead limited to two, single-handed weapons which he can dual-wield and a two-handed weapon. When carrying a two-handed weapon, should the player choose to go akimbo, the larger weapon is dropped, forcing players to fully think their strategies through and further grounding Max in a more realistic game world. Lastly, players have the option of standard free-aim or a more forgiving soft-lock option when it comes to aiming.

Tying this to-the-point and solid game play together is a story that could be easily written off as clichéd, but when viewed in the context of Max as a character is quite intense and at times introspective. While I won’t spoil why Max ends up bald and bearded halfway through the game, I will say his journey through a Brazilian underworld is far more gritty and nasty than his melodramatic noir experiences in “Max Payne” and “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.” The game starts out with Max firmly hooked on painkillers and booze, so much so, the game employs graphical flairs in cutscenes to show that Max is rarely fully “there.” Hired by the ultra-rich and decadent Branco clan, “Max Payne 3” wastes no time in allowing Max to do what he does best: kill two-bit thugs and rescue lost women. Tasked with tracking down Fabiana Branco, the trophy wife of employer Raul, Max is back to his old ways of saving the helpless, even if it means cashing in his own ticket in the process. He’s not entirely alone, as Raul Passos a former NYPD cop himself who recruits Max for the bodyguard work in an early game flashback mission, provides support against a number of antagonistic factions including common street gangs, mobsters, paramilitary troops, mercenaries, and an elite faction of the Brazilian law enforcement.

“Max Payne 3” works so soundly due to the sharp dialogue written for a returning James McCaffrey, whose voice work here is some of the best heard in years. He plays Max at the appropriate age in his life and there’s always a tinge of sadness amidst the take no prisoners bravado. The noir qualities of his commentary are dialed back a bit and when we do get “bald Max” it’s one of the game’s most rewarding experiences, as players get an evolution in the character from noble, flawed defender of the weak, to pissed-off and bitterly sober force of nature with absolutely nothing left to lose. The one-liners Max spouts will remain with you long after the game leaves your console.

The overall tone of the game is one of cruelty, with certain events occurring a third of the way through the game leaving you asking, “it can’t get any worse, right?” Oh yes, it can and it does, and it makes Max’s torrent of justice through Brazil all the more satisfying. This is not a game for the faint of heart: it’s bloody and relentless, sending Max through hellish abandoned apartment complexes to gang infested streets and a brothel deep in the heart of a violent slum. The game’s final levels approach levels of action that would put it in fair and proper company with a John Woo movie; to think of a game that teams Max up with Tequila Yuen, is an action fan’s greatest dream. The conclusion to Max’s story is satisfying and long coming, I won’t say whether it’s happy or sad, but I will say it’s morally conflicted as one might expect.

Accompanying the great single player offering is a third-person multiplayer mode that shares similarities with Rockstar’s previous efforts on both “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Red Dead Revolver,” with the obvious improvement of speedier game play and a host of enticing options. Player can choose from standard deathmatch (solo and team), as well as Payne Killer (two players play as Max or Passos who sport improved health and adrenaline levels; with opposing players who kill either filling the role) and Gang Wars. The latter is a near perfect “story” based, team option giving players five chapters, with each based around objectives such as standard team deathmatch, variations on capture the flag, bomb setting missions, and area control. The variety of different chapter options is enough so each foray is different. Players who venture hear will be forced to work together in a way other similar games try and don’t often succeed.

Customization ranges from modifying character avatars to arsenal loadouts, with a unique weight system that rewards players with lighter weapons increased speed and health regeneration. Players have a wide variety of weapons, armor, and perks to choose from including “bursts” which act as special abilities. The more kills a player racks up, the more their adrenaline meter fills, up to three “burst” levels. Players can use adrenaline for standard shootdodge or for these bursts, which include Bullet Time, increased weapon damage, all the way to health boosts for themselves and fellow teammates, depending on the level of the burst. All these options gradually unlock up to a level cap of 50, after which the players can become “Legends” which is akin to “prestiging” in a Call of Duty game. All in all, “Max Payne 3’s” multiplayer mode is not an afterthought and a nice change of pace from standard FPS mechanics, the John Woo flairs thrown in for good measure are executed soundly and leave a lasting impression on players.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

“Max Payne 3” doesn’t make any huge leaps forward in terms of graphical prowess. The game is best described as visually competent in categories, with a few technical hiccups, but a number of little flourishes to the presentation that make it standout in a sea of truly revolutionary visual experiences.

Character models are fluidly designed and Max in particular is animated proficiently; however, occasionally while in shootdodge mode, Max gets stuck on environments resulting in momentary animation errors. NPC characters aren’t as detailed and as a whole only varied depending on which faction you’re going up against at any given time. Death animations can suffer hiccups from time to time too. None of this is game crippling and infrequent as a whole, but when Max stops for a second or two on part of a chair, it does break the immersion factor.

The framerate of the game is absolutely astounding, holding up even with large numbers of enemies and in some cases intense scripted explosions and flame effects. Multiplayer does experience the occasional hiccup and its worth noting, things online, visually looks just a tad scaled back from the single player portion. What is most impressive though are those previously mentioned visual flourishes which are a sign of Rockstar going the extra mile to pull you in Max’s world. The most apparent visual flourish is Max himself, his clothing becomes damaged where appropriate, bullet holes and blood stains appear the more damaged he becomes and in one set of levels a wound to his arm bleeds more heavily after key set-pieces and when bandaged through a cutscene, there’s eventual blood seepage. It makes the player care for Max and particularly in the final levels, question whether our tired hero will make it out alive.

“Max Payne 3” represents what companies should do when they don’t have the time or prowess to reinvent the wheel. It takes what works, makes sure it works smoothly and finds a way to add a few key signature elements. The journey into the Brazilian underworld we follow Max on is heavily visual and the solid presentation on Rockstar’s part makes it a little more believable despite the stylized antics of Max himself.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

It’s easy to falsely claim “Max Payne 3” sports flawless sound design, since James McCaffrey’s pitch perfect narration dominates a large portion of the game, but one voice actor doesn’t carry the whole weight. McCaffrey aside, the other talent fit into their roles nicely, however, in the flashback sequences, the over-the-top hammy performances from those voicing members of the De Marco mob, while appropriate for the past two games, feel slightly removed from everything else here. Sound effects are realistic but with so much chaos, overall sound design can become an auditory jumble; thankfully surrounds are used effectively to try and track unseen assailants. The game’s dark, brooding score provided by the band Health is perfectly mixed, with an amazing electronic track making a final level set-piece make the game make a seamless leap into living action movie.

Replay Factor

After completing “Max Payne 3’s” campaign once, players can go back and finish collecting golden gun parts as well as any clues, which in turn allows players to utilize a variety of cheats including, unlimited bullet time, unlimited ammo, and the option for every kill to result in a kill cam, just to name a few. Additionally more intense difficulties are also unlocked, along with Score Attack and New York Minute mode. Long time Max Payne fans will recognize the latter mode which gives the player one minute to complete individual chapters with kill qualities resulting in time bonuses: three seconds for standard kill, six seconds for a headshot, and a healthy 10 seconds for a melee takedown. Score Attack is similar but without a time limit and rewards player who take minimal damage and perform more stylish kills; both modes award players with medals for their performance, the highest of which, platinum, unlocks in-game NPCs for use in multiplayer. It goes without saying that the previously mentioned multiplayer mode will provide gamers impressed with the overall package many hours of unique, frantic game play.

Final Thoughts

“Max Payne 3” is a dirty, mean, and intense third-person action epic. It’s the rare sequel that surpasses its predecessors in every fashion. It’s quite fitting for the series to evolve as much as this entry has, given Max’s own nature to try and reclaim the past. It’s refreshing to experience a thoughtful, multi-hour single player campaign, even though on repeated playthroughs the lengthy cutscenes can grow tedious as many mask level loading times. The game is simply put, a living action movie and a fitting close to a series many gamers have either not experiences or sadly forgotten, but one that will hopefully stay alive through its unique online multiplayer experience.

Tech Specs:

  • DVD

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p
  • 1080i
  • 1080p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Motion Controls

  • No

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