Max Payne 3 is the first game in the franchise to be developed solely by Rockstar Games, and boy does it show. What was once a series that embraced action movie clichés and gothic noir in equal measure has now become a shooter steeped in grit and bloody realism.
Max Payne 3: Plot and Characters
Reality is Rockstar's calling card and amazingly, for a character steeped in action movie tropes, it sits well with Max Payne. Instead of romanticising Max's traumatic past and ignoring his predilection for leaving piles of corpses in his wake, Rockstar has gone to some lengths to try and humanise him.
So it is that Max starts his third adventure as a drug-addicted alcoholic who has been hired because he's a walking slaughterhouse. Casting Max Payne in real-world terms is a pretty ballsy move on Rockstar's part, but they're helped immensely by the game's switch in scenery.
The plot kicks off with Max joining the security detail of a rich South American industrialist in Sao Paulo. In short order, he's firing bullets in the general direction of heavily armed thugs who want to make off with both his employer and his employer's trophy wife.
It all seems pretty straightforward, but as the hits keep on coming, Max begins to suspect that the kidnappers may have been helped by someone in his employers' camp.
Max Payne 3: Gameplay
Rockstars manage to tie all of the intrigue and double-dealing to level-design that has the player slinging lead in the most stylish way possible. Max Payne 3 may be grittier than its predecessors and its storyline may be more mature, but the series' signature bullet-time mechanic remains present and correct.
Players fill a bullet-time meter by shooting opponents and avoiding gunfire. When they click in the right stick, the action on screen slows to a crawl, sound effects become muffled and they're given a small window of slowed-down time to pick out their targets carefully.
Don't get the impression, though, that bullet-time makes Max Payne 3 a cakewalk. Even on Medium setting this is a game that'll test shooter fans to their limits.
Max is a frail character, and while players can top up his health with painkillers, a well-placed burst of gunfire from a couple of enemies is more than capable of taking him down.
Not only that, but the game's Last Man Standing (LSM) mechanic, which allows players to stylishly dispatch foes when they're close to croaking, sometimes malfunctions, leaving Max twirling in a slow-motion arch and then collapsing on the floor.
Max Payne 3, like its grizzled protagonist, is also a more old-school package than most. That is to say, that it's not a shooter built around a multiplayer with a campaign that's a lightweight, throwaway affair.
Max Payne 3: Multiplayer
That having been said, the multiplayer doesn't skimp an inch on what shooter fans expect from triple A title in this genre. There's a whole raft of maps, match types, customisation options, in-match challenges and unlockables to keep gamers glued to their consoles long into the night.
It's also a step away from your usual online fragfest. Just as it does in the single-player, Max Payne 3 offers bullet-time as a tactical mechanic in its online mode. Players are able to slow-down time on each other and draw a bead on foes, provided they have the requisite meter filled – after scoring headshots and kills.
It's a testament to the skill of Rockstar's development team that they're able to plug this cool feature into their multiplayer without making the whole affair feel clunky or forced.
Max Payne 3: Verdict
Given the fact that Max Payne was born into this world as a bundle of clichés tied to a mechanic that started to become dated the moment the first game was released, Max Payne 3 could have been a train wreck. Instead, it's a sharp, gritty and stylish shooter that offers thrills and depth in equal measure.
It's the perfect blend of hard-boiled storytelling and cinematic action, and a testament that Rockstar is starting to show serious chops at developing Triple A gaming experiences beyond its usual sandbox offerings.
Max Payne 3 availability: 18 May 2012
Max Payne 3 price: £39.99