• Platform: PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC
  • Reviewed on: PS3

I learnt a very important lesson while playing Max Payne 3 for the first time: never, under any circumstances, try and play a brain jarringly violent videogame when you're in the cold clammy grip of a hangover.

The first impression notes I took weren't very flattering. It was almost as if I held Rockstar personally responsible for everything that was wrong with the world. But we'll get to that later.

PhotobucketFor those who don't know, Max Payne is a grizzled ex-NYPD homicide detective who had his life turned upside down when he arrived back home to discover that drug induced psychopaths had brutally murdered his wife and new born baby. Most men put in his position would have crawled into a ball, and rocked themselves into oblivion - but Max is made of sterner stuff, and unleashes seven shades of hell upon the New York underworld when he discovers his family's death was part of a greater conspiracy involving the mob and a morally bankrupt politician. If you want to know more, play the game - it's available on PS Network and Xbox live.

Max Payne 3 picks up the plot 8 years after Max Payne 2, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where our titular hero now provides private security for the stinkingly rich. He's still hitting the bottle pretty hard, knocking back painkillers by the fistful and narrating his own life via an internal monologue that harks back to 40s film noir and pulp fiction. Other than the dazzling sunshine, and lack of a government-approved badge, things don't seem to have changed much for Max.

The action kicks off at a charity party thrown by aforementioned "richer than god" family, the Brancos. Everything's going swimmingly, while the guests drink cocktails and gaze sympathetically at the favela in the distance, when armed goons show up to kidnap husband and wife Rodrigo and Fabiana Branco. Cue much gunfire, the classic bullet time dynamic that made the original games such a hit, and glorious slow motion shots of heads exploding from gunshot wounds.

Now, my notes state that I was far from impressed with the first couple of levels of this game, and there are some very good reasons why. Do bear with me, as despite how negative the next few paragraphs are, I pull it back in the final few.

Rockstar have included an aim-assist for non-hardcore players, and while it could be a godsend for some, I found it awkward and more importantly, a complete and utter nuisance. The target reticule constantly snapped to parts of the body I had no wish to shoot at and I often found myself staring at the game over screen wondering who the hell tested the game before release. Then I switched it off, and started complaining that the gameplay was exactly the same as the first game - nothing had changed. It was essentially Max Payne, but set in Brazil and with marginally better graphics.

Speaking of the graphics, I am in no way a graphics whore (I play on consoles - if graphics were that important I'd take the plunge and buy a decent PC), but I know what the PS3 can do, and Max Payne 3 isn't exactly pushing the console to the limit. GTA IV is a much older release, and it far surpasses MP3 in the looks department.

PhotobucketThe scenery looks flat and disjointed in places (trees being a prime culprit, with their static leaves) and the character animation is lacking in emotion and fluidity. Most people look like they've had their hair stuck on like Lego people. Rockstar have tried to gloss over all of this by creating a fast cut, picture within picture effect through most cut scenes (reminiscent of the original Thomas Crown Affair), and a visually disturbing representation of Max's alcohol and painkiller addiction that involves lots of ghosting and blurring. I had to switch off after an hour, as the need to throw up was almost overwhelming. Remember those scenes in GTA IV when Roman took you to a bar and you had to drive home drunk? A bit like that, but throughout an entire level.

The cover system is basic as hell, with players having to physically press a button to enter cover (no auto snap here, thank you very much) and it's all too easy to leave cover by mistake and get gunned down in a hail of bullets. Considering we live in a world where Killzone, Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid exist, this is practically unforgivable, especially when the AI of the NPC enemies is so sharply honed. It's not as well programmed as F.E.A.R., but then very few games have managed to reach those heights.

My conclusion after playing the first few levels?

6 years ago, this would have been good, but since then we've had a slew of games that have elevated combat and cut scenes to a level far beyond anything we could have imagined (albeit, in the case of Hideo Kojima's productions, they can become a bit arduous and time consuming). Rockstar's feeble attempt at "drunk/drugged" visuals, multi-framed shots and noir voiceover just falls flat, leaving a soulless, empty game that's frustratingly headache inducing. It's a merely passable addition to Rockstar's normally impressive back catalogue.

PhotobucketThe next day, I went to work angry. Did Rockstar not understand the summer gaming drought was just around the corner? How could they do this to us, their core following. I fumed about it all day, until I got home, switched on the PS3 and picked up a controller.

Don't get me wrong - the flaws I noted down whilst hungover were still there, but for some reason, they just didn't matter. Sure, the graphics weren't amazing, and fine - the voiceover and stylistic drug addled editing are a little over the top, but god help me this game kept kicking my arse, and I kept coming back. It's been a while since I've played a game that so consistently showed me the game over/continue screen, and it made me hungry to beat it. After another couple of levels, I started getting sucked into the story. I shot hundreds of people from the back of a boat, and suffered an identity crisis while infiltrating a favela. I started to care when things went wrong for Max, in spite of his hackneyed dialogue (which is one of the things I loved about the original). I still wasn't keen on auto-aim (which stayed switched off), but I loved the new "last man standing" dynamic, where Max is given the chance to gun down his would-be assassin in glorious slow motion. Miss the shot though, and it's game over.

Then it hit me. Rockstar are geniuses! They didn't need better graphics, or kick ass cut scenes with a star spangled cast of voice actors - Max Payne was perfect just the way he was. So if the people want a sequel, why not just change the setting and keep the gameplay practically the same?

I've never felt such a range of conflicting emotions during a review playthrough, and to go from out and out disdain for the game, to absolute joy as yet another one of my bullets disintegrated a henchman's skull, is a strange feeling. What I can say is that this might not be for everybody. If you're a huge fan of the Max Payne series, then this is a must. At first, you might be disappointed, but let it grow on you and you'll soon forget the little niggles that initially put you off. If this is your first time with Max though, you might end up wondering what all the fuss is about.