He’s back, after a long hiatus. Rockstar’s tragic anti-hero Max Payne has finally made his return – for the first time on the next-gen consoles. For those new to the series, you take control of Max. He’s a washed up ex-cop from New Jersey, mourning the death of his wife and daughter. He’s hooked on whiskey and painkillers – usually washed down together. He’s a real train wreck of a guy.
Unlike the previous games, we find Max in Sao Paolo. He has been contracted as private security for a super-wealthy family of Brazilian industrialists. It’s one long series of parties, nightclubs, helicopter rides and limos to meetings for Max, lurking in the background. In the evenings, he returns to his dingy apartment and pops open two bottles – one of painkillers, one of bourbon. And he downs the lot… It’s a pretty grim existence.
This all gets shattered when, one by one, his family of principals starts getting kidnapped. This leads our hero Max on a trail of investigation and revenge from the boardrooms of Sao Paolo, through football stadiums, the favelas and more. The action starts and the bullets start to fly. Boy, do they fly… This game is very much about “bullet time”. Remember it from The Matrix? Time slows down and our hero balletically leaps across the screen, spraying hot lead in his wake. This is one of the major mechanics of the game. Take cover, shoot bad guys, accumulate enough bullet time to use and then pull off as many stylish and graceful kills as you can.
And it’s pretty satisfying stuff – the guns are varied, the action is exciting and compelling, it’s all good. The storyline is very strong. A real tale of misery and woe – a modern detective noir tale. It’s arguably more noir than Rockstar’s previous game, L.A. Noire.
The graphics are beautiful and detailed – there are environments such as the favelas that are absolutely state-of-the-art in terms of their scale, detail and vibrancy. Max’s voiceover lends a tragic edge to proceedings – a miserable, self-loathing narrator. But damn, he’s compelling and charismatic.
The campaign is long and challenging – there is at least 15 hours of solid fun to be had. After that there are modes such as Arcade Mode, that encourage replaying favourite sections for high scores and the Multiplayer Mode. This is great – it is possible to play a large number of modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and more. It is also possible to join a clan – a Crew in this game. In this game they consist of thousands of people with league matches and more.
So what’s my reservation here?
It’s wonderful… but it’s very linear at the same time. The campaign is so polished, exciting, full of content and yet – it is nowhere near as open-world as L.A. Noire, let alone previous Rockstar games such as Red Dead Redemption or the Grand Theft Auto games.
I know it isn’t meant to be that kind of game – it’s not meant to be a sand box, to be explored at leisure. There are levels, missions and objectives. Get them completed as best you can and move on to the next one. Some of the wonderful detail remains – such as flicking on a TV in an apartment and watching television in the game, but within a couple of minutes this gets switched off by Max automatically. I remember when GTA IV launched, my wife and I watched the TV programmes in the game for nearly two hours one night! (sad eh?) So – there it is. Linear brilliance. It does everything right, but it is a fundamentally different style of game to GTA, Red Dead and L.A. Noire. Go into this with your eyes open and you will find enjoyment and value here. It’s just not the kind of open world we often expect from Rockstar Games…
Max Payne 3 is out now for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3