For The Love of Max Payne 3
Updated: Aug 6
"The way I see it there's two types of people, those who spend their lives trying to build a future and those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past"
- Max Payne
When talking about games that shaped us, oftentimes Mega Man, A Link to the Past, or Super Mario World come up in conversation. These games have legendary status and hold very high regard to this day. Truth is though, I never played any of those games growing up. I had an SNES and a Gameboy but often I chose games from the bargain bin, so I never tried the awesome AAA games of yesteryear. I only got serious about games at around 2002 or so and my classics are from a much later generation. So when I think of a franchise that I hold in such high regard similar to how many people think of Mario and Zelda the first thing that pops into my mind is Max Payne, specifically Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.
Max Payne 2 was my Super Mario World. At the time I have never played anything so engaging. The drama hit me hard and the relationship between Max and Mona felt as real as anything in my life. The story was tragic and teenage Me was all in. I felt like I was Max and it was me in these crazy situations dual-wielding Berettas and taking down the mob. Maybe it was that I loved action movies, maybe it was that it took place in my city, or maybe it was just the excellent gunplay and bullet-time action. I played Max Payne 2 to completion more times than I could remember and would pick it up and play it randomly more times than I can count. It was a perfect game in my eyes, but I wanted more, I needed more. We did get a really shitty movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Max but I try to forget that ever happened.
Around the year 2004 Take Two’s CEO of the time, Jeffery Lapin, confirmed Max Payne 3 is coming I was hyped as hell. Then, E3 2005 Remedy, announces their next project, Allen Wake a psychological action thriller, and I thought if Remedy is not making Max Payne then that’s it, it's done. I knew less about game development then than I do now (and I know very little) so in my mind, the game couldn't survive without its OG developer.
For nearly 6 years there were no more updates or announcements further cementing my fears of cancelation. Then, March 23rd, 2009, 5 years after the initial “announcement” the silence was broken. Rockstar announced Max Payne 3 is coming the following winter to PS3, Xbox 360 and PC and it is being developed by Rockstar Vancouver the team behind 2006’s critical and commercial success Bully. Not much else was revealed. It was a glorious day and I remember it like it was yesterday, I was so excited. Then a few months later we got some screenshots and it looked drastically different than what I would have ever expected. Max was bald for starters, he donned a scrappy beard and he was in what looked like South America. But at the end of the day, Max was back and that's all I cared about. Little did I know the game would get delayed 3 or 4 times but I didn’t care how long I had to wait.
Max Payne 3 was released on May 15th, 2012. Three years after its official re-announcement, two years delayed from its original release window, 8 years after Jeffery Lapin (the CEO of Take-Two at the time) told us it exists, and ten whole years after the release of Max Payne 2. I remember I was enrolled in a school in Manhattan at the time and I just couldn’t wait to finish class. I got up to go to the bathroom, walked out of the school, took a train to the GameStop on Greenwich street, bought the game, and took a bus home.
As soon as I boot up the game and heard that beautiful theme I was transported back to 2002. I hit start and Max started to narrate, the music started to swell, and as the cut scene continued I was thinking “damn this looks gorgeous” but something was off. Max was still expertly voiced by James McCaffrey and the Max Payne theme was there, though updated but something felt off. Then it hit me, the game no longer has the stylized comic book story scenes. Rockstar Vancouver decided to do fully animated cutscenes. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about it. The comic books stills are one of the staples of Max Payne but, as I continued to watch they drew me in, in a way the comic panels never could. Max now had a full range of facial expressions bringing him to life like never before and the dialogue between characters was even more natural and realistic.
The story is told more traditionally but all the flair and grittiness remains. A part of me really missed the comic style scenes but I was happy with the new look. The story taking place mostly Brazil further takes Max out of his comfort zone. He's a fish out of water and and the game never lets you forget it. Max Payne 3 even goes as far as to not include any subtitles for the Portuguese speaking NPC's so that there is a constant feeling of disorientation.
The way the story elements bleed into gameplay is chill inducing. It might not seem like a big deal today but back then I have never seen anything like it and it was extremely immersive and effective. Many times the cut scene will transition into an awesome slow-motion shootout set piece like Max jumping out of a night club window or hanging off a helicopter. This happened many times through the game but it always surprised me and it was always badass.
As beautiful as the cut scenes can be they don’t really matter if the writing wasn't equally strong and Max Payne 3, just like the previous games, has an incredible and emotional story. It poignant and stuck with me nearly 10 years since my first playthrough. James McCaffrey does a stellar job as always as Max and really elevates the story, evolving the character in more meaningful ways than ever before. Max has excellent character development and by the end, seeing him overcome his demons is satisfying. Another great addition to the story is his partner Passos. Not much is known about him at the start of the game but the more the story progresses the more interesting he becomes and he does an excellent job balancing out Max’s rather serious attitude with some light humor.
Like before Max Payne 3 is 3rd person action game but developers added a cover system that works extremely well. Almost all the cover is destructible and the key to survival is to keep moving. Back is the signature bullet time but now every bullet you shoot is animated so when you shoot someone they get a bloody bullet hole wherever they got shot. The slow-motion creates often creates awesome, and hysterical, moments. Although all you ever do is shoot there is a tremendous amount of unexpected situation variety. One level you can be hijacking a bus and rampaging through the streets of Sao Paulo and the next you can be chasing down an airplane with a grenade launcher.
I have played through Max Payne 3 about once a year since its release and its a tradition I don’t plan on stopping. This game was everything I hoped it would be plus more. The story was emotional, and the gameplay was excellent. It evolved in a way that respected the past entries and also shook things up enough making it its own game and a worthy successor. Today in 2018 you don’t hear many people talk about Max Payne 3 but as long as I’m around there will always be at least one person who is.