Max Payne 3 review

Glittering, gruesome, and golden, this sequel raises the bar for action games

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There’s a new feature, Last Man Standing, that adds a great new dynamic to the action. Rather than simply auto-refilling Max’s health when he takes too many bullets or simply letting him die, Max Payne 3 implements a one-hit kill opportunity in which the screen colors desaturate, except for the gunman who’s made the fatal shot on Max. There’s one chance to kill him and stay alive, at the cost of one painkiller dose. And yet, while Last Man Standing is a great feature that chains combat, it does point to some wonky moments in the game. The camera works exceptionally well 95 percent of the time, but there are moments in which the Last Man Standing camera doesn’t fixate properly, or it shifts away from the intended target. That happens a lot when the feature clashes with the game’s excellent collision system, which finds Max realistically rebounding off walls. It results in slow, agonizing deaths that you can't prevent as you wish the game would hurry up and let you retry the section.

Features like Last Man Standing complement the gameplay wonderfully. On Normal difficulty, enemy AI is smart enough to flank and attack Max, and as the game progresses, it gets tougher and tougher to advance quickly. And while the game’s checkpoint system is mildly irritating in the early stages, its pacing can be downright frustrating as you inch toward the final and find yourself saying “oh, man; I’m all the way back here again?” As the game clamps down harder with tougher enemies and more damaging weapons, you’ll be repeating more often than you expect.

Max Payne 3 offers up Arcade Mode, which allows you to extend your smiting beyond the campaign. New York Minute returns, and the time-based mode is just as much fun as it was in the prior games. You have one minute on the clock, and each kill gives you more time to rack up a higher body count. New to this sequel is Score Attack, which lets you replay prior chapters while keeping a steady score ticker at the top of the screen to determine how efficiently you can take down thugs. You can compare your stats across a few filters, including global servers and your friends list. It helps give the game longer legs than simply mowing through multiple playthroughs. It’s a fun addition that we used to rack up the points by popping skulls for 500 point multipliers.

The other big addition to Max Payne’s universe is the addition of multiplayer. As third-person action games go online, it works well. It’s a bit reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto IV in the sense that the game has a big map and plenty of opportunities for chaos in deathmatches. You’ll need to rack up a certain quantity of kills to unlock some of the extra features (which may annoy some), but the core game works well.

There’s also the excellent Payne Killer mode, which resembles Juggernaut mode found in other online shooters, but with a twist that Raul Passos is a vice-Payne of sorts, so big team matches will find you hunting down two buffed characters to steal their crowns. Gang Wars, the biggest feature, creates a playlist of mixed objectives that you and teammates will play through to relive certain events from single-player mode. All of these modes are designed to foster both community, via the clan-driven Online Crews (which will carry stats over into GTA5) and rivalry (you can designate rivals and earn extra XP for taking them down). All in all, it’s an entertaining mode with lots of potential for long legs, especially if the announced add-on content comes close to the quality seen in Red Dead Redemption.

Max Payne 3 marks an exceptional comeback for the series. The plot wraps the neo-noir storytelling around a bright and exotic locale while peppering the action with enough backstory to stave off boredom. While prior games were certainly dark tales, the stories of addiction, double and triple crosses, as well as some grim surprises ripped straight from urban legends. It maintains the mechanics that made the prior games great while modernizing them to excellent effect. Between the arcade mode and multiplayer, there’s enough substantive content to keep you hooked for some time. While there are some mechanically wonky moments, they’re too miniscule to tank a stellar sequel that was worth the wait. Between its pacing, its presentation, and its excellent gunplay, Max Payne 3 has raised the bar for other action games to follow. Welcome back.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 as the lead platform. We will update our review shortly with any notable differences in the PlayStation 3 version.

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DescriptionSince leaving the NYPD and New York itself behind, Max has drifted from bad to worse. Double-crossed and a long way from home, Max is now trapped in a city full of violence and bloodshed, using his weapons and instincts in a desperate search for the truth and a way out.
Franchise nameMax Payne
UK franchise nameMax Payne
Platform"Xbox 360","PC","PS3"
US censor rating"Mature","Mature","Rating Pending"
UK censor rating"Rating Pending","Rating Pending","Rating Pending"
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)
Sterling McGarvey