Despite having all of the polish and pizzazz that everyone now demands from a Rockstar game, it’s a pleasure to observe that Max Payne 3 is a Max Payne game first, and a Rockstar game second. The multiplayer is a Rockstar-patented tour-de-force that builds upon the suites featured in GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption – and it’s the finest of the three, almost certainly – but what impresses most about the overall package is that it was clearly made with long-term fans in mind. Max Payne 3 is every inch the game that those devotees have spent the best part of a decade patiently waiting for, with technical flash, replay value and rousing set-pieces in rich abundance.
So Max hasn’t gone soft, unyielding difficulty options are everywhere (if you want them) and the fundamentals of play remain almost entirely unaltered. One of Rockstar’s most galvanising design choices is also one of its smartest: true to series form, there’s no self-replenishing health bar. At first this is totally disorientating – action games today simply don’t do things like that any more – but once you’ve adapted, it becomes a genuine thrill to be re-introduced to the way that we all used to play videogames before Halo came along. If you want to be ceaselessly gung-ho, knock it down to Easy. The first Max Payne wasn’t a pushover and neither was its first sequel, and Max Payne 3 offers up discretional punishment by the menu-full.
In addition to that, a fantastic mode called New York Minute – first introduced in the original Max Payne – makes a triumphant return. In it, kills equal seconds on a timeout clock that’s stuck on perpetual countdown, and the mode brilliantly strips the game right down to its frenzied core. The addition of collectibles adds yet more replay value to the story mode, though it’s a tad strange that they weren’t locked out until you’d finished your first playthrough; several sequences are time-sensitive, and if you spend too much time perusing your environment, Max will gruffly insinuate that there are more pressing matters to attend to.
Though Max Payne 3 confidently ditches the contemporary must-have that is self-replenishing health, conversely its combat is now periodically cover-based. This may well have been implemented to strengthen the multiplayer side of things – where it’s basically essential – but your AI assailants are so aggressive in the campaign that proceedings never feel remotely formulaic. Enemies are exceedingly fond of using both hand grenades and flanking manoeuvres to draw you out of hiding, and choosing the right second to retaliate – which is usually when you catch one of them reloading – gives several skirmishes an antsy, knife-edge frisson.
The multiplayer is every bit as successful as the campaign, if not more so. Amongst the bevy of standard (and highly enjoyable) deathmatch options are two new game types that stand right out: Gang Wars and Payne Killer. The former is essentially a five-part, team-based story mode in which the consequences of each round carry through to the subsequent ones, with a tie-break deathmatch capping off each set. Payne Killer is a free-for-all until the first two players score kills; then they become Max and his partner Passos, and have to utilise their heavy weapons and painkillers to score as many kills as possible before they’re taken down, at which point their roles are immediately taken from them.
There are shades of Battlefield in Gang Wars, and Payne Killer is no slouch either; smart tactics always win out, and using your environment cleverly – and co-ordinating closely with your team when possible – are two notable keys to success. These are the sort of multiplayer game types that can’t help but create the kind of stories that gamers love to enthusiastically share with one another, and the promise of new downloadable content should ensure that its (already exorbitant) online shelf-life is extended even further. Max Payne 3 is the best-looking and most technically impressive game that Rockstar has ever made, and either half of the bundle is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a proper blockbuster.
Max Payne 3 is out now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The PC version is currently due for release on Friday, June 1st 2012.
Watch the launch trailer for Max Payne 3 below: