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Critical Reception: Rockstar's  Max Payne 3

Critical Reception: Rockstar's Max Payne 3

May 16, 2012 | By Danny Cowan

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Rockstar's third-person shooter sequel Max Payne 3, which reviews describe as "a game built out of remarkably implemented, masterfully presented parts." Max Payne 3 currently earns a score of 88 out of 100 at

Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann gives Max Payne 3 4.5 out of 5 stars. "The shooting is a revelation," he praises. "It's so good it evokes a worrisome existential crisis: Yes, it's another eight-to-ten hours of killing everyone in the world, but what if this is, and will always be, what games are best at? Max Payne 3 nearly makes you roll over in defeat, knowing that Rockstar has harnessed impeccable technology to make people die real good."

"It's a simple process served up with peerless presentation," Kietzmann continues. "You enter one side of the room and the henchmen, who rarely differentiate in their plan of attack, dutifully show up to be blown away. As a grizzled grump who reeks of alcohol and sweat, your movements are rugged but reliable -- and you can forget about the frantic momentum of Vanquish, or the nimbleness of Drake in Uncharted. Max is an expert at falling down with style."

A new recovery mechanic adds significantly to the experience. "Rockstar's Max Payne [...] thrives on second chances," Kietzmann notes. "Take an unexpected shot to the back, for instance, and Max will slowly twist his body around as he falls and take one last shot. Nail your attacker and you'll make a stylish return journey from the brink of defeat, provided you've got some painkillers in pocket.

"It's a gratuitous gimmick, but it preserves the relentless pacing in Max Payne 3. The level design always pushes you forward in a hurried pace, giving you an urgent target or a compelling (see: excessively perilous) reason to escape. The unobtrusive heartbeat of a fantastic soundtrack keeps the whole campaign alive, from beginning to end."

"Max Payne 3 [is] a game built out of remarkably implemented, masterfully presented parts," Kietzmann observes. "Video games live or die by the mechanisms that lie underneath. That's why the graveyards are always full."

Ryan Davis at Giant Bomb gives Max Payne 3 4 out of 5 stars. "Rockstar Games faced no small feat in taking on Max Payne," he begins. "With nearly a decade since Finnish developer Remedy -- long since busy exploring the dark wilderness of the subconscious with Alan Wake -- parted ways with the series, the challenges were manifold. After that much time, did the John-Woo-inspired gun ballet still play? And what of the comic-book-noir aesthetic, which leavened Max’s blackstrap pathos with fleets of self-reference and absurdity?

"Rockstar, of course, addresses both of these issues with no small amount of its own usual panache, discarding large swaths of Max’s established aesthetic and asserting its own set of influences in the process."

The result is a game that feels markedly different from its predecessors. "There’s still plenty of internal monologue from Max, but like the rest of the game, the language is less flowery and more nihilistic than Remedy’s work with the character," Davis notes. "It’s a distinct look and feel [...], but there are times that it overindulges in its own sense of style, distracting from the plot’s serpentine double-crossing and Max’s near-constant self-flagellation."

"In bringing the action of Max Payne into 2012, the addition of a cover mechanic is perhaps both the most subtle and significant change in Max Payne 3," Davis continues. "Aside from the addition of some hard- and soft-lock targeting options, the actual gunplay doesn't feel too radically different, and yet for all of the chaos around you, it's an experience that feels much more controlled."

"Rockstar has taken a lot of risks in the ways it has reshaped the series with Max Payne 3, and there’s something to be said for opting out of the easy route," Davis writes. "The aesthetic overhaul is certainly the most noticeable, though there's no understating the impact that certain gameplay modernizations have had on the experience. While fans might have a hard time processing the dramatic change in tone, it’s approached with a seriousness and conviction that I respect, and frankly, have come to expect from Rockstar."

Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell scores Max Payne 3 at 7 out of 10. "It seems as though time has been surprisingly kind to Max Payne, the third-person shooter with Bullet Time that first graced our screens in 2001," he says. "It hasn't changed much since then, even with the transition from Remedy to new developer Rockstar Vancouver, and when paramilitaries start violently abducting Max's employers that turns out to be just fine. Max may have piled on the pounds and lost his self-respect, but his iconic Shoot Dodge hasn't aged badly at all."

This defining mechanic proves to be one of the game's strongest points. "Max Payne 3 is at its best when Rockstar contrives interesting Shoot Dodge scenarios, which usually involve jumping off something, like a balcony or a ramp, so that Max can hang in the air longer and puncture more enemies," Bramwell recalls.

The action can become repetitive, however. "Even on the regular difficulty setting, using Shoot Dodge -- the most entertaining thing about being Max Payne -- soon becomes impractical due to the weight of enemy numbers and their pinpoint accuracy," Bramwell says. "We've learned to cope with the occasional balancing issue in a vast Grand Theft Auto game, but the difficulty spikes and checkpointing mistakes in Max Payne 3 betray Rockstar's lack of experience in pure third-person shooters."

"Little niggles quickly start to pile up, too," Bramwell continues. "When cut-scenes finish, the game switches you back to a single pistol, forcing you to fumble with the inventory every time you retake control. Enemies hurl grenades in your direction to force you out of cover, but you don't get grenades of your own. And enemies take far too many bullets to go down. You can understand them getting back to their feet in body armour -- however annoying it is -- but when they're wearing shorts and a T-shirt?"

"You can't escape the feeling that Rockstar just isn't as good at a pure third-person shooter as it is with the open worlds of Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, and in this linear context it's much harder to put up with its usual missteps in mechanics and difficulty," Bramwell concludes. "Max the man emerges with credit from Max Payne 3, then, but time hasn't been kind to the ropier elements of the game he stars in."

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