While most people were busy playing Diablo 3 on May 15th, some of us welcomed a different sort of hell on Earth – only Max Payne’s demons are internal and emotional, not physical and literally running rampant. Max Payne 3 represents an important milestone for the shooter genre. It’s proof that a shooter can truly deliver the entire package without sacrificing any one element in favor of another. Whether you prefer first person shooters or third person, there are a number of things shooters can learn from Max Payne 3. With the PC version dropping this week, those of you who have been waiting are in for a real treat.
Let’s start with the story and its presentation. Thanks to the linear, scripted nature of the game, Max Payne 3 tells perhaps the most well paced and interesting story in a shooter to date. It’s full of compelling characters, great expositional moments, top-notch writing, and fantastic performances. More importantly, the story is well integrated into the gameplay experience.
Transitions from gameplay to cutscene and back again are perfectly seamless, and unlike, say, Heavy Rain, the cutscenes are not loaded with quick time events (thought there are still a just a few). While some may bemoan the the sheer volume of cutscenes in the game, or take issue with the way they’re stylized, you can’t deny that their implementation is top notch. Most of them are masking load times, but you know what? I’ll take an interesting and compelling bit of story over a static load screen any day.
Let’s face it – making good artificial intelligence is arguably the most difficult thing to do in all of game development. Most enemy AI in shooters is limited to simple actions like hiding behind cover or tossing grenades. Not so in Max Payne 3.
Enemies in Max Payne 3 are bold, think tactically, and have excellent aim. Sure they will hide behind cover and toss grenades, but they’ll never stick to one location for long. They’re always moving, looking for ways to flank and outmaneuver you. Wait too long behind cover without firing, and you’ll see enemies start to slowly creep their way toward your position. Rattle off a few shots in their general direction and watch them scramble for the nearest cover.
But not every enemy is the same. Max Payne 3 has multiple enemy factions to contend with, ranging from mobsters and street gangs, to more organized and heavily armored paramilitary types. Whereas a group of street thugs from the Comando Sombra might come at you haphazardly, smarter enemies like Crachá Preto will be more organized and take up smarter fighting positions. It adds a lot of variety to the proceedings, and shooters in general would benefit if more of them contained smart AI.
NaturalMotion’s Euphoria tech was first unveiled five years ago as the tech powering Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. However, since its reveal, no one has made better use of this tech than Rockstar, employing it in GTA4, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, and most recently, Max Payne 3. It’s a massive step up from the Havok-based physics most games have employed over the past decade in that it’s AI driven and generates animations on the fly, as opposed to being canned and scripted. I could bore you with the technical details behind it, but seeing it in motion is far more effective.
There are a ton of little details to consider here. If you activate a shootdodge with Max on a trajectory to hit a wall or other obstacle, you’ll actually see Max tense up, bracing himself for the impact. If you shoot an enemy in the leg, they’ll fall over and grab at their wound. Should that enemy manage to get back up, he’ll walk with a limp until you put him out of his misery. Enemies will even trip over themselves and each other while scrambling away from grenades or other sources of imminent death. It all comes together to create the most realistically animated game on the market today. With any luck, this tech will finally catch on and start showing up in other games soon.
Not content to just provide a compelling single player experience, Rockstar went the extra mile to include multiplayer as well. We’re not talking some tacked on, anemic, deathmatch offering – Max Payne 3’s multiplayer suite is fully realized and lots of fun. In addition to more standard deathmatch and team deathmatch game types, the two standout modes here are Payne Killer and Gang Wars.
Payne Killer starts off as a free-for-all, but the first two players to score kills will become Max Payne and Raul Passos, complete with stronger weapons, more health, and a full adrenaline bar for maximum bullet time useage. If you manage to kill Max or Raul, you become them, and the cycle continues. Gang Wars, meanwhile, is a dynamic, story-driven mix of modes. Let’s say one player in particular is doing exceptionally well. The game might then generate a game type where the objective is to locate and kill said player. It’s good fun and it changes every time, creating potentially limitless replayability.
There are a number of other nice touches in multiplayer as well. For example, before selecting a playlist, you have to select your aim type – either Free Aim or Soft Lock – each of which has its own separate playlists. That means players who prefer Free Aim won’t have to contend with players who use aim assist as they did in Red Dead Redemption. Another nice touch are the rookie playlists, which give low level players a chance to learn the game before going head to head with more experienced players. Once you reach level 5, the rookie playlists disappear, preventing higher level players from jumping back in and griefing the newbies.
You can tell a lot of thought and effort was put into Max Payne 3’s multiplayer suite. More importantly, it proves you can have a fully featured and fleshed out mutliplayer offering as well as a lengthy and engaging single player campaign. None of that piddly and forgettable 3 – 4 hour Call of Duty nonsense here.
The Whole Package
Max Payne 3 is a game that does nearly everything right. It looks great, plays great, sounds great, and has a ton of content to keep you coming back for more. Whether you’re scouring the campaign for golden gun pieces, perfecting your technique in arcade mode, or participating in online Gang Wars, you’ll always find something engaging here. It’s something a lot of games get wrong, choosing instead to focus on one aspect or another while leaving everything else feeling half-assed and haphazard. Gaming is an expensive hobby, and we should all learn to demand more for our money. You’ll get your money’s worth in Max Payne 3, as it is one of the most complete packages of this generation.
For more on Max Payne 3, check out our console review as well.