After being missing in action since 2003, Max Payne is back with a new look and a new developer. Rockstar, the studio famous for games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, takes over the reins from Remedy, the previous developer of the series. A lot has changed since we last saw Max. He’s no longer a cop in New York. Instead, he’s a bodyguard for a rich family in Brazil. When we first see Max, he isn’t looking too good. The deaths of his wife and daughter have been too much for him to bear. He’s now a pill-popping alcoholic. Max Payne 3 is all about Max’s road to redemption. Max Payne 3 has a much greater emphasis on story than the previous two games in the series. Besides the emphasis on story, Rockstar hasn’t changed very much about the series. In some ways, this is a good thing. Bullet Time is just as much fun now as it was in 2003. Many would argue that there wasn’t any need to radically change the core gameplay of the series. In other ways, this is a bad thing. Many of the same things that worked in 2003 do not still work in 2012.
Max Payne 3 delves deeper into the character of Max Payne than any other game in the series. Max has some serious inner demons that he must confront. The game does a great job of really fleshing out Max Payne as a character. It’s easy to sympathize with Max. The guy has lost everything that was important to him. Max Payne undergoes serious character development throughout the game. None of this character development would have been possible without the remarkable performance by James McCaffrey. McCaffrey really brings Max Payne to life with his excellent narrations. The narrations allow players to feel much more attached to Max by allowing players to know what’s going on in his head. Although the story in Max Payne 3 has its fair share of problems, none of them come from the protagonist. Max Payne 3 establishes Max Payne as one of gaming’s better protagonists.
To say that the gameplay in Max Payne 3 is repetitive would be an understatement. The gameplay in the opening moments of the game is the same exact type of gameplay found at the end of the game. Nothing is added to the mix at any point in the game. Players are given Bullet Time and a stiff cover system and that’s it. Some games are able to have the gameplay change little from beginning to end without becoming repetitive, but Max Payne 3 is not one of those games. The gameplay becomes tiresome after a mere hour. After playing the dozen hours required to beat the game, the gameplay is bland at best. Rockstar tried to stay close to the source material of the series, but it honestly did too good of a job at that. The gameplay lacks enough variety to remain interesting for prolonged periods of time. Even using something as cool as Bullet Time grows tiresome during the game. It’s just not entertaining to do the same exact thing for a dozen hours. As much as I hate to say it, playing Max Payne 3 feels more like a chore than a pleasure.
As I mentioned earlier, Max Payne is a great character. Unfortunately, none of the other characters in the game are even close to being as good as him. All of the story’s focus is on Max. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it causes every other character in the game to be severely underdeveloped. The game’s supporting cast is honestly the worst supporting cast of any game I’ve played this year. Max Payne is a great character, but absolutely no one else is. There are some characters who have potential, but that potential is never even close to being realized. Max Payne may be a well-written character, but no character is good enough to carry the story by himself. A game needs a strong supporting cast to properly construct a good narrative, and that supporting cast just isn’t there in Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3’s story has the potential to be great, but the horrendous supporting characters keep the story from reaching that greatness.
Rockstar is famous for its incredibly polished games, but that polish is simply not there in Max Payne 3. I played the game on PS3 and ran into tons of game-ending glitches. There were well over a dozen times when Max would be in cover and then just freeze. The rest of the game would keep moving, but Max was permanently stuck. I had to either wait for an enemy to kill me or restart from the last checkpoint. Considering that this happened to me well over a dozen times and that the game has very unforgiving checkpoints, this is a crippling flaw. There is nothing more frustrating than to be finally advancing past the enemy after dying numerous times and then to just lose control of Max entirely. When you combine this with the several other bugs and glitches found throughout the game, Max Payne 3 is easily the most unpolished game Rockstar has ever released. What makes this stranger is the fact that Max Payne 3 is a small, linear game. Very few games of Max Payne 3’s size have similar problems. As an industry, we’ve moved past that (excluding Bethesda), yet Max Payne 3 fails to get this right even months after its release.
I want to love Max Payne 3. I really do, yet it’s just not possible. The game is crippled by flaws so serious that even a great protagonist can’t save this game from its mistakes. Max Payne 3 could have been one of the year’s most memorable experiences, but it ends up being nothing more than a rare misstep by Rockstar.
Review Platform: PlayStation 3