After nearly nine years Max Payne has returned. In the first game Max was a cop on the edge, bent on revenge. The events of Max Payne 2 took Max over that edge as he lost another love right in his arms. As you start Max Payne 3 you see the broken man Max has become: a drunk that can’t stay sober on the job. That job now is private security for the wealthy.
Max’s new security gig has landed him in Brazil, protecting a very wealthy Brazilian businessman and his hot, young wife. Max’s journey takes him from the Brazilian high life all the way down to the slums of Sao Paulo. For those that are a bit nostalgic for the dark, cold world of the first two games, don’t worry; there is plenty of that via flashbacks that explain how Max got to Brazil in the first place. You’ll go from shooting up high end night clubs, to having shoot outs in whore houses, to adding extra bodies to a graveyard in Jersey.
The game’s visuals are incredibly detailed. The environments feel very authentic, not just because Rockstar did an incredible job with the textures, but because of the interaction with the environments. When fighting through an office building, expect to see papers and other loose items flying through the air as you tear through cubicles. While blasting through the slums of Sao Paulo, you’ll see the locals (the ones not shooting at you) running for cover and closing their windows. The world feels alive, and areas that would be populated in real life are also populated in the game.
There were a few things that stunned me visually in the game. The first is the accuracy of entrance and exit wounds on both Max and your enemies. If you get shot with a bullet that goes through you, both the entrance and exit wound will match up. Adding to that, you can see the bullet go through you, and then about a second later you will see the stream of blood coming from the wound. I found it extremely impressive that there were no preset wound patterns. If your bullets catch someone in a fucked up way, that’s how it looks. I shot a guy that was turning to the side and it went through both hips. After I cleared the room I found him wallowing on the ground in pain, holding the wounds. As executed him I discovered the blood splatter is also pretty accurate.
Bullet damage is really shown off when you shoot someone in the face. Shooting out someone’s eye socket will leave them looking like a T-1000, while shooting someone in the nose will leave them looking like Michael Jackson. Since bullets are moving through a skull instead of soft tissue, you will also see pieces of your late enemies’ skull breaking off. It’s visceral, it’s bloody, and it’s one of the most accurate displays of what bullets do to a human body I’ve ever seen in a game. To help you appreciate the carnage more, any time you kill the last standing enemy in an area the view will switch to “Kill Cam”; a slow motion view of your last bullet. During this time you can continue shooting the poor bastard, making his day even worse.
Even more detailed than the bullet damage is Max’s movement. While moving at normal speeds you will definitely notice how realistic Max’s movements are. If you’re prone you can get a full 360 degree view of the area, but Max’s body will roll around naturally to view the direction you’re aiming in. If you’re running left and then want to move right, instead of Max instantly changing directions, he will pivot on his left foot to change directions. Even while Max is running and gunning he never turns his body unnaturally. Once you hit a certain angle he will have to turn his entire body in that direction. Some movements are automatic reactions based on the situation. If Max is in the air, as he approaches the ground he will brace for impact. If a bullet passes an enemy’s head they will react naturally to it and go to find some cover, since you just spooked them.
Weapons and their weight affect your movement as well as how you aim and reload your weapons. You can carry three weapons in total: one for each hand (that can fit in a holster) and one that requires both hands. If you decide to dual wield you will drop your large weapon. Since you don’t have a holster for a larger weapon, you will always carry it in one of your hands while aiming the smaller weapon. You will also see that Max actually tucks the larger gun under his arm while reloading the smaller weapon.
The detailed movements and physics of Max Payne 3 really shine during “Bullet Time”. For those not familiar with the mechanic, Bullet Time slows down the action and gives you the ability to place shots with pinpoint accuracy. During Bullet Time you’ll see individual shell casings flying through the air, each with their own trajectory. Pieces of wood, concrete, or other materials fly around after a bullet impacts them, moving in different directions based on which direction the bullet made impact.
Another visual element that had some upgrades is how the story is told. The story was originally relayed through storyboard panels; Max Payne 3 uses more of a motion comic approach, but not 100% of the time. The story is constantly being delivered through the motion comics and Max’s thoughts, even while he’s fighting. Rockstar did a great job weaving the story throughout the game, allowing you to seamlessly transition from blazing guns to cinematic sequences. There were a few parts that caught me off guard because I was given control at a time I thought a cinematic sequence was going to continue.
These smooth transitions have a lot to do with the lack of loading time. After the initial loading, which can be quite hefty (at least on the 360), there will be no loading after that. I found myself playing the game for very long sessions because you get wrapped up in the story and there is no loading to break up the game. The one negative to this, however, is that at some points the cinematic sequences seemed too frequent. It felt like I would have a fight, then a cinematic, another quick fight, yet another cinematic, and so on, and so on. These parts were sometimes frustrating because all I wanted to do was split more wigs. Also, if you die during some of these stretches, you’ll start back at the beginning of the sequence.