Max Payne 3 Review

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Time to kill


A delirious blend of stellar storytelling, breath-taking visuals and explosive gunplay, Max Payne 3 is one of the few videogames that deserves the blitzkrieg of hype that’s heralded its arrival.

Relocating the outrageous ultra-violence from the grimy streets of New York to the bustling favelas of Sao Paulo, Max Payne 3 finds the titular nutjob still dwelling on past tragedies and relying on a mixture of booze and pills to keep his personal demons at bay. But while the grizzled ex-cop is still a preternatural gunslinger who can slow down time to pick off enemies and fling himself through the air like the hero in a John Woo movie, the relentless march of time means middle-aged Max isn’t quite as durable as he used to be, offering fans a fresh approach to the action as they use cover to protect their vulnerable hero and adopt defensive positions, bringing a modicum of strategy to the action as bullets criss-cross the air around you.

Yet while the gun-slinging is more considered than the balls-out blasting in previous Max Payne games, the shooting is still thrilling, unflinching and intense. Staged in fully-destructible environments, the anarchic action feels more excessive than ever, with windows shattering all around you, objects you’re hiding behind becoming ripped to shreds, and graphics so sharp you can see every bullet tearing through the air. The simple device where players are only permitted to carry a small number of weapons helps make for more streamlined battles, while Max’s signature Bullet Time moves still feel as fresh and exciting as ever, and stand head-and-shoulders above lesser games that have tried to use a similar mechanic. And while the shooting is sublimely simple and will allow even the most cack-handed player to feel like a gaming god in a matter of minutes, what will live with you longest is the adventure’s toe-curling brutality, with gunfire tearing gaping holes in enemies, blood spraying from fresh wounds, and time slowing to a crawl to showcase your final bullet in a fierce shoot-out finding its man in uncompromising detail.

Just as impressive as the shooting is the game’s Hollywood-style presentation, with a stunning performance by James McCaffrey who reprises his role as Max, graphic-novel-style cut-scenes that perfectly complement the game’s gritty atmosphere, and clever writing that makes the story richly compelling and will keep you hooked until the end of the 12-hour single player campaign. Luscious graphics that create a staggering sense of place – whether it be Sao Paulo’s labyrinthine slums or hedonistic nightclubs – also help make Max Payne 3 is one of the best-looking games on the shelves today, blessed with a plot so deep and twisted that it feels like the greatest action blockbuster you’ve never seen.

A huge variety of weapons, the best set-pieces this side of Uncharted and sound effects so punchy they feel like a kick to the stomach also help make Max’s third outing a blaster to cherish, but it’s the madcap multiplayer mode that’s most surprising, with a rich variety of blood-thirsty modes that will keep players returning to Max Payne 3 for months as they hurl themselves into barbarous cycle of fast, chaotic and downright addictive group battles.