Max Payne 3 review for PS3, Xbox 360

Platform: PS3
Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Games
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Max Payne 3 brings the gritty, anti-hero cop of Remedy?s first two titles kicking and screaming into the modern era, with a pretty big shift in style that might seem a little off-putting at first. It?s less urban noir and more Tony Scott, with a visual presentation that seems to be ripped entirely from Scott?s Man on Fire remake, or even the less popular film Domino. But you know what? It totally works.

Like a few others, I was a little disappointed in the initial Max Payne reveal. Bald Max? Hawaiian Shirt Max? It just seemed odd and out of place. But again, like most, as more and more info, images and details leaked out I slowly but surely found myself getting on board the Max Payne 3 hype train. And Rockstar hasn?t disappointed here, not in the least. I?d venture to say that Max Payne 3 is right up there with this generations top-tier 3rd person shooters, like Uncharted 2 or Gears of War 3. It?s a very different style of shooter, but certainly isn?t lacking in quality.

It?s also not lacking in difficulty. For anyone that thought taking the game out of Remedy?s capable hands would result in some type of dumb-downed, washed out experience is sorely mistaken. Normal difficulty provides a fair enough challenge, but there?s more tiers that?ll bring the game in line with its old-school difficulty that?ll give experienced players a run for their money.

Max comes equipped with his familiar repertoire of moves, including the coveted Bullet Time mechanic that so many other shooters have borrowed from liberally since the original Max Payne was released. Max also retains his mid-air slow-mo dive, dubbed Shoot Dodge here. Even the targeting reticule feels pretty familiar, offering up no more than a small white dot as opposed to a larger, gaudy target marker found in other titles. You can also opt to choose between a Soft Lock style of aiming or Free Aim, which takes the training wheels off of the experience and forces you to line up every shot, once again bringing this 3rd entry in the series more in line with previous experiences.

But while a lot of elements certainly feel similar here, there?s just as much that comes off as different from before. The presentation is definitely one of those things. Gone is the black and white, noir infused comic-book imagery that made up the majority of the narrative in the previous games. Instead Max Payne 3 goes all out, with full cut-scenes, a fairly eclectic class of characters and scum, and a fun revenge story to boot. The game is very, very heavy on narrative, which can be off-putting to some, but the tale told here is extremely entertaining.

With Max?s dependency on booze and painkillers in full swing here, there?s also a visual flair given to a lot of scenes, and some of the gameplay, that involves a bright flashing, or blur effect to temporarily swipe across the screen. This particular effect does tend to get a little overused in my opinion, and can often be distracting when you really don?t want to be distracted from either the on-screen action or story. I suppose it?s there as a filter for us to view the world through Max Payne?s eyes, but it does go a little overboard on occasion.

But whether you enjoy the visual flair of the game or not, it?s hard to deny that the actual shooting portions of the game are absolutely fantastic. The level design here is incredibly varied, and filled with a number of memorable sections that?ll have you restarting stages because you actually want to, and not because you?re simply dying over and over. The game begs to be replayed a number of times, whether that?s just to experience some of the excellent design again, or to try out the optional Arcade or New York Minute modes.

There?s a Zen-like fluidity to some of the shoot-outs that might take a few rounds to really click, but when it does you?ll find yourself wanting more and more. And while Max Payne 3 is a fairly lengthy shooter in this era of 5 to 6 hour action games, I could have easily done with another 5 chapters and wouldn?t have felt at all like things were dragging on. Diving behind cover, popping up and triggering Bullet Time, focusing on one, two, or three headshots, and then quickly jumping back to cover again while a rain of gunfire slowly heads your way is one of the best experiences I?ve had in gaming all year. Combine that with some of the awful situations Max gets into while in said firefight, like running around the crumbling rooftop of a building that has just had its support beams demolished, and you?ll have hard time tearing yourself away from this one.

And that?s just the single player portion of the game. Max Payne 3?s multiplayer feels just as great as the single player game. The multiplayer modes are divided between players that prefer either Free Aim or Soft Lock styles, so you?ll always be matched with players using the same aiming mode, to cut down on any imbalances. When multiplayer starts you?re funneled into beginner modes, consisting of just standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, which have a level cap to keep higher level players out and give rookies a chance to get their feet wet.

After obtaining 50 kills you?ll unlock the standard playlists, which include the above two modes with no level restrictions, but also the excellent Gang Wars playlist, Payne Killer, and larger versions of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch that allow up to 16 players instead of the standard 8.

Of these modes, Gang Wars is the stand out winner. Gang Wars takes place over five rounds, where you?ll have a series of objectives to complete in four rounds before going toe to toe with the other team in the final round with a standard Team Deathmatch battle. Round objectives will involve destroying enemy locations or defending them from bombs, wiping out a certain number of enemies to uncover the player marked as team leader, and then assassinating him, or deliver a bag to your home base location before the opposing team does the same.

When it comes to the last round, the team that?s won the most rounds prior will get an advantage tacked on to their score. Instead of a timer that counts down to the end of the round like the other Deathmatch modes in the game, each team gets a set number of lives to use up before the round ends. If your team has won a number of rounds prior to the last, you?ll get your lives boosted, giving you a big advantage over the other team provided you?ve dominated up to this point. However, if the other team manages to eliminate you in the final round, they can still win the entire game of Gang Wars, even if they?ve lost all the previous rounds.

Payne Killer, another non-traditional mode, takes two players in a round and makes them Max Payne and his partner Raul Passos, with the rest of players hunting down those two. Like similar modes found in other games, the two marked players will get enhanced abilities to up their survivability, and killing one of the two will cause another player to get selected. Scores are based on kills, and generally a single match will see most players getting a turn as one of the two characters featured.

Outside of the actual gameplay, Max Payne 3 uses an experience and leveling system popularized in other shooters nowadays, along with a hefty avatar and loadout system that gives you a lot to spend in-game currency on. Custom loadouts allow you to equip anything you want for the most part, but loading your character down with weapons does have drawbacks, including reduced stamina for running and an increased wait time to recharge health.

If you?re at all a fan of shooters, then I urge you to run out and pick up Max Payne 3. It?s a great follow-up to one of the best third person shooter franchises around, and while it certainly changes up familiar elements of the series, pretty much all of the changes work out really well. The shooting is, bar none, some of the best you?ll see out of this generation of consoles, and really begs to experienced. So do yourself a favor and pick this one up, it really shouldn?t be missed.

Grade: A