Max Payne 3 in the test - old dog, new tricks

Author: Fabian Siegismund
Date: 2012-06-05 17:25:00
With the action game Max Payne 3, Rockstar Games combines brutal shootouts with a touching character study. Does this contrast work? Our test reveals it.

Max Payne is a conflicted man. One moment lethargic, self-absorbed, passive, the next explosive, uncompromising, unstoppable in its determination. Max Payne 3 is an action game in conflict. In one moment emotional, almost poetic, rough film noir entertainment for adults, in the next action outfit with hordes of opponents typical of the genre, grouse passages and achievements. But despite their quirks, both are adorable in the truest sense of the word.

And that despite all the skepticism in advance. Finally, Max Payne 3 no longer comes from the series parent studio Remedy, the Finns have carved a new character in Alan Wake . Instead, Rockstar Vancouver is responsible for Max's third campaign of revenge, the developer who knitted the formidable Bully: The lap of honor . Now comes the lap of honor for Max Payne - and what a lap! In his old days, the ex-cop not only sprayed tons of lead, but also more cynicism than a whole busload of old politicians.

The beginning: a man at the end

A few years have passed since Payne's last adventures, but the pain over the loss of his wife and little daughter has not disappeared, on the contrary: The love affair with Mona Sax from Max Payne 2 was quickly over and forgotten, only that remains deepening grief. Max quit his job and found a new purpose in life: drinking.

Like every evening, he is bogus in his local bar, when Raul Passos walks in through the door, an old friend from better days. A job offer in his luggage: Max is to accompany Passos to São Paulo and work with him as a bodyguard for a newly rich industrial family. That's pretty much the last thing Max wants, after all, the alcoholic is already totally overwhelmed with his own life - how is he supposed to protect others? Ultimately, however, he doesn't have a choice: When Max shoots a half-strength gangster in an affect and thus triggers a guerrilla war with the mafia, he can no longer venture out on the streets in his native New Jersey. So next stop: São Paulo.

The story: Hollywood at home

The new job is going pretty well. At cocktail parties of the Brazilian high society there is also whiskey. But then Fabiana, the wife of Max's client, is kidnapped, and so the ex-cop has to do something for his money. And even if Max would never admit that: He is god-happy about the action!

The story of Max Payne 3 is initially reminiscent of Hollywood templates such as Signs of Life or especially Man on Fire , where a drunk ex-cop / soldier / something, played by Denzel Washington, wants to bring back his kidnapped guardian. The key difference between film and game: In Mann unter Feuer, the victim is a sweet, innocent girl who has developed an intimate relationship with her bodyguard. Fabiana and Max, however, have never spoken a word to each other, and the little that the player hears from her does not come close to being sympathetic.

Is that why the whole story of Max Payne 3 collapses? No! Because Max is not interested in Fabiana herself, the man simply needs occupation to distract himself from his own demons. That sounds harsh and cold-hearted, but that's exactly what Max has become in recent years. Although he still speaks constantly in internal monologues, the wistful poetry of his predecessors has given way to poisonous cynicism.

Like an old, vicious dog in his bones, Max digs into the kidnapping case, and when the focus of the plot later shifts to other events, Max looks for a new target for his obsession without further ado. And his lethargy, not to say longing for death, always ends when he gets into a seemingly hopeless situation. Then an immense will to survive awakens in him, no matter how botched his life may be. The actual plot of Max Payne 3 takes a back seat, what defines the game is the character study of its main character, well embodied and voiced by James McCaffrey. The genre has probably never seen such an acting performance.

The staging: sometimes cool, sometimes a headache

Third-person shooters can easily combine the game and cutscenes, because you always see your alter ego from the outside perspective anyway. Max Payne 3 perfects the whole thing: the transitions between controlling yourself and watching video are absolutely fluid. Rockstar also staged the cut scenes in a cool way, often with picture-in-picture cuts like from the TV series 24 , spiced up here and there with faded-in catchwords, as you know from the movie Crank . Nice to look at, even if the embedding of the scraps of text is not nearly as successful as in Splinter Cell: Conviction .

There is one point where Rockstar exaggerates: With constant blurring and false color effects, the developers want to visualize in the cutscenes how bad Max, the old drug wreck, feels all the time. With success, because it actually annoys incredibly quickly, will certainly give one or the other headache and cannot be turned off.

Probably the biggest weakness of Max Payne 3, however, is that Rockstar did not rely entirely on character studies and adult stories, but rather subordinates itself to genre standards such as collector's item search and the achievement hype, because this mixture bites at times. If the story constantly drives us forward, but at the same time the gameplay forces us to waste time searching all corners of the level for pill boxes or hidden clues, that disturbs the atmosphere and the flow of the game. If Max then starts to moan about our junk sale in his typical monologue style, it becomes absurd.

The gameplay: old and yet new

But we don't want to contrive ourselves, in the end Max Payne 3 is and will remain an action game. And true to the series tradition, a linear 3rd person shooter, whose primary distinguishing feature is the slow motion function called bullet time. The more hits we land, the more bullet time we collect and the more often / longer Max can chase the bullets around the ears of his opponents in slow motion. The cover function is new in the series, but it is now part of the genre standard.

And then there's shoot dodging, those fancy pike jumps in which we automatically switch to slow motion without using bullet time energy. Unlike in the previous series, Max is now only allowed to take two handguns and one rifle with him. We think it's good, that makes the game more believable. In stark contrast to this concept are the golden weapons that you can collect in the game and which then have better values. The bling-bling pins look out of place, luckily they can be displayed.

Now and then there are special script moments in which we automatically switch to slow motion in order to then pull off particularly spectacular actions. The old trick from the predecessors of just running blindly into somewhere, throwing on bullet time and easily knocking out a dozen opponents only rarely works in Max Payne 3, most of the time you move carefully from cover to cover. And shoot dodging is now riskier too. Max stays in bed after every dive and is meanwhile a good target. When he gets up he is then defenseless for a short time.

After all that, Max Payne 3 plays a touch more tactical than its predecessors. Accordingly, the playable script sequences ensure that there are enough Max Payne omnipotence moments. The occasional rail shooter passages, in which Max blows an infinite number of opponents with an infinite amount of ammunition, are also good for this. This is certainly a little too modern for Max fans from the very beginning. Not to say: bland.

The animations: it hurts to watch

With the last opponent in a group, Max Payne 3 switches to a particularly cinematic perspective, in which our victim is again riddled with bullets in slow motion. That often looks pretty spectacular (and painful!), The Euphoria engine ensures believable body animations and ragdoll behavior. You already know them from GTA 4 . However, we would have liked Rockstar to have used LA Noire's facial motion capture in Max Payne 3 as well. The supporting characters seem a little robotic.

As questionable as that may sound: After particularly difficult passages, the slow-motion death scenes are a not inconsiderable satisfaction, because Max Payne 3 can be quite demanding at times. The AI is relatively clever, the guys fall on our flank and don't dutifully lift their heads out of cover every two seconds in order to be properly shot.

There is no automatic self-healing, as in the past, Max had to budget with painkillers. Here and there the storage points are so unfair that we sometimes have to chew through two dozen elite soldiers until we are safe - there is no free storage. When the last rascal finally gives up the spoon in theatrical slow motion, a "I finally got you, you ... bad man!" Slips away from us.

Avoidable Mistakes

To make matters worse, the stylistically cool regular mini-cutscenes like to suffer from the technical error of messing up our weapons. In the clips, Max prefers to scurry around with a pistol in hand, he then carries any rifles on his long arm. So if we trigger such a cutscene with a big boom in hand, the game swaps our weapons accordingly and then sends us to the next level with gun in hand - where opponents are already waiting for us.

Occasionally our main ratchet even disappears! We march through a door with a G36 assault rifle, our pistol, which only contains two cartridges, rests in the shoulder holster. Now a cutscene starts in which Max shoots open a door with the revolver. Behind us, four hostile soldiers greet us. When we take control again, the shotgun is gone, there is only one bullet in the pistol. Well, meal.

As is customary in the genre, Max can kill his opponents in close combat with just one click of the mouse. If he is armed, he ends the short beating with a regular execution of his adversary. To be clear: Max Payne 3 is incredibly brutal. Nevertheless, only one game element was removed from the German version - civilians are immortal here. But first of all there are very few of them in the game, and secondly, you don't want to shoot them anyway, do you? Or?!

The multiplayer part: Modern Max Warfare

Anyone who wants to shoot "real people" is better off in Max Payne 3's multiplayer mode. It's not just a nice side dish, it has it all. Unlike in the story, you heal by yourself over time, but of course pain killers go faster. Looking around corners, shooting from cover, jumping under pikes - all of this works here too. For kills we get experience points, play money and adrenaline. With points and money we unlock weapons and equipment, the adrenaline activates special abilities, so-called bursts.

The bursts are comparable to the kill series rewards from Modern Warfare 3 : They bring stronger weapons, show opponents on the map, disguise us as adversaries and make other jokes. The most obvious burst is of course bullet time. It slows down all players in our field of vision, but we're allowed to move faster than them. The effect jumps from one to the next like a chain lightning: anyone who sees someone hanging in slow motion is slowed down. This prevents player A from shooting at normal speed at player B, who is inhibited by bullet time.

In addition to the bursts, there are countless pieces of equipment with similar functions and of course weapons by boxes. We can save our favorite combinations in up to five individual loadouts, and there are also four preset fighter classes. The more we expose our alter ego, the slower the guy (or the girl) becomes and the slower his (or her) injuries heal. As many unlocks as there are in Max Payne 3, you get them slowly: In contrast to the Call of Duty series, leveling up takes a long time.

Payne Killer and Gang Wars: New and Different

Which armament we deploy depends largely on the desired mode: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch do not need any further explanation, the special varieties are called »Gang Wars« and »Payne Killer«. In the latter two players slip into the shoes of Max and Passos. The two start with three pill boxes and full bullet time, but compete against the rest of the pack.

Who is the hunter and who is being hunted can change from minute to minute, because our two heroes run out of ammunition quickly. They only get this by searching through enemies that have been killed, but they are defenseless for a short time when they are scavenging corpses. Whoever brings one of the two down, swaps roles with him. What matters is who does the most damage, not who ultimately fires the deadly bullet. At the end of the round, the player with the most points wins. A very exciting mode, especially because your best friends can instantly become bitter enemies.

Gang Wars is the main game mode of Max Payne 3. Two teams compete against each other in five individual rounds on one map; chance decides what is played in the first four sections. There are domination variants, bomb-laying missions, capture-the-wallet or, our favorite, assassination, in which a team member is designated as a VIP, just like in Counter-Strike . It then has to be done or protected. Cool!

For each round won, the team receives a number of lives (for Battlefield disciples: tickets) for the final. That is because it is played as a team deathmatch. Those who have won diligently beforehand get better starting conditions, but the losing team can still turn the tables. If you want to gamble, you can even bet play money on the outcome of the match.

The avatars: from Max to Sax

In Max Payne 3 we are not only allowed to personalize our weapons, but also our characters. There are countless face and clothing combinations for every course. The coolest avatars are in deathmatch mode. With the Classic Character Pack, which is also part of the Special Edition, eight characters from the predecessors come into play. Including the young Max and, yeah, Mona Sax!

The multiplayer mode of Max Payne 3 is fun, but luck rather than skill often seems to decide whether you score here or not. The feeling of movement is jittery or at least takes getting used to, the pike jumps often seem involuntarily funny. The camera work does its part: When you stand back against obstacles, things can get confusing. PC gamers are likely to rub themselves most against the fact that there are no dedicated servers, only peer-to-peer hosting. But there is a LAN mode! And then it's just as old school as collecting pain pills, slow-motion hopping and grumpy monologues.