The checkpoint issue is a serious fault, and one that nearly gets Max Payne 3 docked points, yet it’s worth persevering for the simple reason that, the more the game goes on, the better Rockstar seems to get at staging the action. What you do doesn’t actually change that much, but where and how you do it, and the challenges and limitations these place on your shoulders, do. There are some truly fantastic sniper sequences, a great hostage rescue mission in a rain-soaked jungle village, flashbacks to New Jersey and more goodies we wouldn’t want to spoil.
Throughout the action is expertly interspersed with cinematic material, whether the close-ups that reward you for a particularly spectacular shot, or the occasional staged sequence which sees Max tumbling through a window or sliding from a roof, and you trying to kill everyone you can before he hits the ground.
Another thing Rockstar has got right is making all this violence feel physical. Having done a slowmo dive, Max will be prone and unable to move for a short period, meaning you have to think carefully about where and when you use it – particularly in the later stages of the game. Bullets and wounds seem to have a real impact, and Max also feels a little middle-aged and tired.
Max Payne 3’s deployment of Rockstar’s Rage engine, and particularly the Euphoria animation system, wins the game a lot of credit, because the way characters look, move and react during the gun battles is often uncannily realistic. You’re not looking at rag-dolls shooting at other rag-dolls, but at convincing human figures.
Most surprisingly, Max Payne 3 even packs in a strong multiplayer mode. At first you’re limited to straight deathmatch and team deathmatch modes and it all feels slow and a little second-rate, but carry on playing and it soon wins you over.
Bullet-time makes all the difference, with its use balanced by the same post-slowmo movement issues as in the single-player game, and by the fact that it also affects line-of-sight targets, not just your character. Gain enough kills in the boot-camp scenarios, and you can also join in a Gang Wars mode. This sees two teams running through objectives in a themed mini-campaign. It’s another example of a game that can start off on the wrong foot, but that works hard to turn your initial impression around.
Max Payne 3 isn’t up there with Rockstar’s best work, and there are signs of a great developer working just outside its comfort zone. Yet what Rockstar brings to Max Payne 3 – style, personality, cinematic cool – make it a more exciting and memorable experience than some other, more accomplished genre games. Like its hero, Max Payne 3 isn’t perfect, but when the bullets start flying that’s the last thing on your mind.