9 years after his last outing, washed-up former cop Max Payne has left the NYPD, and swapped the cold, wet streets of New York for the sunny vistas of Brazil, where he’s hired as a bodyguard for real-estate tycoon Rodrigo Branco. But when Branco’s trophy wife is kidnapped, Max quickly finds himself way out of his depth as he uncovers a deep and elaborate conspiracy.
Firstly, like all Rockstar games, Max Payne 3 is gorgeous to look at. The sun-drenched favelas and neon-clad skyscrapers of Sao Paulo are stunning, brimming with even more life than Grand Theft Auto IV. The presentation is brilliantly cinematic, too, and the cutscenes blending seamlessly into the action to create a story that rivals Uncharted 3 for sheer entertainment value.
It’s also spectacularly violent. Everything that doesn’t blow up usually erupts in a shower of blood and eviscerated limbs, and it remains grisly all the way through; every time you shoot some poor sod you won’t know whether to grimace or grin – especially when the camera tracks the last bullet into its target’s head.
Rockstar’s most recent games have been incredibly well-written (seriously, who didn’t shed a tear at the end of Red Dead Redemption?), but this time they’ve excelled themselves with a plot that’s slow-burning and brilliantly fast all at once. The political intrigue will keep you guessing right up until the end, with twists and turns that are genuinely unexpected, but there are plenty of fantastic set pieces in which literally everything explodes, so it never feels dull; fighting your way out of a burning building was a particular high point.
The ace in the hole, though, has to be Max himself. He’s a wreck; propped up by booze and pills, you can’t help but feel for him as he tries to find some form of redemption whilst the excrement hits the industrial turbines all around him. James McCaffrey’s voice acting is top notch, with some darkly funny one liners – “I wouldn’t know right from wrong if one was helping the poor and the other one was banging my sister” – perfectly fitting in with the film noire mood.
The gameplay, interestingly, almost takes a back seat. It’s incredibly simple, built around Max Payne’s trademark Bullet Time mechanic; within minutes of starting you’ll be leaping through the air, guns akimbo, like a fat, balding version of Morpheus in a Hawaiian shirt. It’s fast and frantic, and keeps the thrill factor consistently high.
Make no mistake, though; this is a story-driven game, through and through. Cutscenes are frequent and often lengthy, constantly pushing the narrative forward, and some may feel that they aren’t given enough control. Those who want the opportunity to wander off and do what they like should stick to Read Dead or GTA IV. If, however, you’re the kind of gamer who craves a well-written, well-rounded and well-acted narrative to their games, you’ll struggle to find anything on the market that beats Max Payne 3. It’s an ultraviolent masterpiece that should not be missed.