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Gaming Review

'Max Payne 3' review (Xbox 360): A stylish, story-driven shooter

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Released on Monday, May 21 2012

'Max Payne 3' PC version screenshot.

© Rockstar Games


Also available on: PS3, PC (June 1)
Developer: Rockstar
Publisher: Rockstar
Genre: Third-person shooter

Max Payne 3 has been a long time coming, releasing nine years after its predecessor and more than a decade after the original game impressed with its bullet-time gameplay mechanic. The gaming landscape has changed dramatically since the noughties, however.

Shooters have become much more sophisticated and multiplayer modes are part and parcel of any new release. Even video game storytelling is moving forwards, occasionally matching the magic of the silver screen. With such a huge gap between releases, and with so many excellent shooters already on the market, can Max Payne 3 hold its own against its contemporaries?

The video game landscape isn't the only thing to have changed since we last visited Rockstar's third-person shooter franchise. Having lost loved ones and quit the Force, titular character Max Payne has turned to the bottle, drinking his way into trouble with a group of New Jersey mobsters.

Fleeing the States, Max now works as a private security for an influential São Paulo family. Of course, it isn't long before Max is called into action, running and gunning his way through the city in a bid to save one of his charges.

The storytelling in Max Payne 3 is excellent. Unobtrusive cutscenes are stylishly and seamlessly integrated into the single-player campaign, while a generous use of narration and inner monologue provide additional insight and occasional moments of dark humor.

The game's characters, despite initially appearing shallow and two-dimensional, are wonderfully realized, evolving beyond perceived class-based stereotypes. Naturally, Max Payne's own transformation is the highlight, a journey that involves both spiritual and physical change.

Max Payne 3 dual-wielding images

© Rockstar Games

Aesthetically, the series has also undergone a transformation. Traditionally the games have been very dark, both in tone and appearance. The latest release, while not short of grotty back-alleys and run-down interiors, features a wider variety of locations, some of which are even bathed in sunshine.

Rooftop parties, football stadiums, nightclubs and slums are among some of the environments in which Max can cause carnage. The level of detail found within each location is hugely impressive, especially when paired with the game's robust physics engine. In fact, smashing the scenery is almost as much fun as blowing holes in the enemy.

Those familiar with the franchise will be happy to hear that the fundamentals remain largely unchanged, which means that enemies appear with alarming regularity, but can be mowed down with a vast arsenal of weaponry and one or two special moves, including series favorite bullet time.

While bullet time isn't as revolutionary as it once was, slowing down time and racking up multiple headshots is no less enjoyable. Max can also dive around corners or launch himself forwards in scenes that look spectacular in slow motion, albeit a little odd in real time, with Max led prone on the floor as the action returns to normal. Set pieces add even more style to proceedings, with cinematic shootouts from falling water towers or sloped buildings.


In an attempt to keep up with its contemporaries, Max Payne 3 also adds a new cover system, a must for the modern day shooter.

It's not quite on par with the likes of Gears Of War and upcoming release Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, but it just about does the job, although the admittedly excellent physics engine and clever enemy AI, means that you'll likely take some damage regardless.

With a generous single-player campaign that stretches beyond the ten-hour mark, our only criticism is that the action can become a little repetitive, with the odd level outstaying its welcome. As with most third-person games, the camera occasionally proves problematic, leading to one or two cheap deaths at the hands of unseen enemies.

Max Payne 3 dual-wielding images

© Rockstar Games

Beyond the single-player campaign, Max Payne 3 adds a wealth of multiplayer modes, all of which prove more fun than anticipated. Individual and team deathmatches feature a perk system similar to Call of Duty and take place on a nice mixture of intricate and elaborate maps.

Advanced modes are unlocked by hitting certain targets, such as nailing a number of headshots, or looting bodies for upgrades.

In fact, Max Payne 3 contains a surprisingly deep multiplayer suite, with modes such as Gang Wars taking place over multiple rounds, with ever-changing objectives and a branching narrative. It's ambitious, and fails to introduce a compelling story, but is engaging enough to coax players back for more. Likewise, Payne Killer pits Payne and his buddy Passos against teams of human opposition.

Whether playing as Payne and co, or the rival gang, there's a nice element of strategy that makes playing as either team enjoyable.

Max Payne 3 is an excellent shooter, providing hours of entertainment in both single and multiplayer modes. While it does prove occasionally repetitive, and isn't as sophisticated as some shooters on the market, its compelling plot and stylish storytelling techniques make up for most of the game's shortcomings.

Throw in a surprisingly entertaining multiplayer mode, and you're left with a game that, like Max Payne himself, rarely misses the target.


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