It's been nearly a decade since gamers last had an opportunity to step into the shoes of tormented detective Max Payne. While it becomes immediately clear that the years haven't been kind to the iconic character when we meet him again in "Max Payne 3," Rockstar Games' latest creation shows that the franchise itself has aged quite nicely.
Still haunted by the events of his past, Max has slowly plunged further into his own personal hell. Through the series' trademark of use of inner monologue and some slick cutscenes, we experience Max at his lowest--drinking heavily and popping pills in an effort to dull the pain. With his life in ruin, Max accepts a job providing personal security for a wealthy Brazilian businessman and his young wife in Sao Paulo.
But unsurprisingly, the change of scenery can't keep Max out of trouble. When the woman he is charged with protecting gets kidnapped while on his watch, Max soon finds himself running through a hail of bullets in order to save her--and just maybe a small piece of his own fragile psyche.
The overall tone of "Max Payne 3" is every bit as dark as its predecessors, but Max's sarcastic noire-style self-narration is even more biting this time around. James McCaffrey, who voiced Max in the previous "Max Payne" games, turns in another stellar performance here, capturing the subtle nuances of a deeply flawed character.
While this may not be the same Max series fans are accustomed to seeing--his black trench coat replaced by designer suits and colorful flowered shirts--the gameplay remains true to the roots of the franchise. This includes a heavy reliance on Bullet Time and Shoot Dodging, two design elements that the series introduced to the gaming world all those years ago. Combined with the significant addition of a cover mechanic, the core gameplay of "Max Payne 3" offered some of the best pure third-person shooting I've experienced.
It's a good thing the shooting mechanics work so fluidly because "Max Payne 3" is also hands-down one of the most difficult shooters I've played in quite some time. Challenging enemies attack in waves and from all angles, forcing Max to constantly shift from one position to another. Ammunition is limited, as is your available pool of Bullet Time. And the game's unforgiving checkpoint system forced me to repeat challenging sections of the game more than once. At least the game recognizes when you suck and gives you additional painkillers when you repeat a section multiple times.
The main campaign will keep you busy for at least a dozen hours depending on your skill level, but for the first time the series introduces competitive multiplayer modes in addition to the single-player story. In addition to straight up deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, "Max Payne 3" features the King of the Hill-esque Payne Killer mode in which players compete to become Max himself and his sidekick, Passos.
But the true star of the multiplayer suite is Gang Wars, which uses key moments from the campaign to frame a series of objective-based games that change dynamically based on the outcome of previous rounds. Regardless of which game type you choose, you earn experience and cash that can be used to purchase new weapons and upgrades that carry across all modes.
Gameplay in multiplayer matches utilizes all the features of the single-player game, including Bullet Time. Admittedly I was somewhat apprehensive about how such a powerful mechanic could be incorporated into a multiplayer setting, but Rockstar pulled it off flawlessly.