A miserable hero makes for a perfect protagonist. There’s nothing better than a gold-hearted, reluctant swashbuckler forced into survivalist mode; plowing down faceless rows of thugs while muttering endless grunts and catchy one-liners under his breath.
Max Payne is such a guy. Since his introduction as a video game star in 2001, Mr. Payne has undergone his fair share of suffering and baddies, slaughtering his way through two extremely successful game installments.
The first gave gamers only a brief glimpse of his pre-avenging routine: a happy family man whose life would soon be turned upside down in a New York minute after his wife and newborn daughter were killed by junkies out on a drug-fueled rampage.
Max, a former New York police officer, transfers to the DEA and becomes an undercover agent whose bitter smile does little to hide an intense desire for revenge. Players loved his attitude, and they loved playing him; Max was aggressive, sometimes fatalistic, but never careless. He was the perfect modern game character: a killing machine with heart.
Max Payne 3 stays true to what has made the franchise so successful: it is unabashedly violent, showing kill shots as if they were works of art. Blood splatters out from characters’ torsos, limbs and faces, like wet paint on an untouched canvas.
There is even an option to watch all that bloodshed in slow-motion every time Max guns down the last sorry evil minion in a gun battle. And the series’ famous “bullet-time” mode has grown into a kind of brutal art: enhancing the bullets as they fly out of your weapon and showing in beautiful detail the targets — limbs, windows — smashed to pieces.
The optional targeting controls make the game accessible to everyone from novice players to hard-core devotees. “Hard lock” is the “easy” option, with the targeting dot snapping on to the nearest enemy, while “soft lock” means players have to aim for themselves before the dot sticks to the tagged thug. “Free aim” is the hardest, leaving all the work for players.
The story finds Max shedding his last shred of dignity by working security for a wealthy, insidious family in Sao Paulo. This gives the game a chance to show a lot of revolver-assisted scuffles in exotic and unorthodox settings, such as a nightclub filled with hedonistic human targets and, of course, a Brazilian football field.
What makes the game great is its character depth. With three installments, there was the danger that Max’s miserablist routine would tire, creating a gun-toting drama queen in the process. Instead, Max’s weariness has only been enhanced.
Through a perfect mix of emotionally believable storytelling, wonderful voice acting and splendidly presented cut scenes, Max Payne 3 is an immersive gaming experience that succeeds where many others have failed: creating a nuanced game that never bores, with delusions of cinematic grandeur.
While there are a few minor drawbacks, Max Payne 3 is an action game not to be missed.
Max Payne 3
Rated M for profanity and violence
Available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation 3