Of course, none of this excellent presentation, writing, and well-drawn characters would mean much if Max Payne 3's action wasn't strong. I'm happy--and a bit surprised--that the game's shooting-based action is some of the most rewarding I've experienced in recent memory. The controls are tight and responsive, the weapons are satisfying to fire, and bullet time--Max's trademark ability to slow time to a crawl while dispatching enemies with enhanced reflexes--is still addictive and ridiculously fun, even after all these years. The enemies Max encounters along his journey are numerous, and encounters are mostly designed to require judicious use of the 'bullet time' mechanic the series pioneered.
Though I disabled aim-assist options for my playthrough (which made the gun battles more rewarding and more challenging), both soft- and hard-lock options are also available. The enemies Max faces throughout his latest tour are no pushovers, either, making the use of 'bullet time' even more important. Enemy placement was consistent throughout subsequent playthroughs, but their behavior tended to vary a bit once the battles began. In other words, I could still memorize where I'd first see an enemy when replaying, but once the bullets started flying, foes would act much more dynamically. Despite requiring a bit of trial-and-error during the more difficult parts, this setup balances the game quite well for Arcade Mode, which allows completed levels to be replayed for high-score chasing.
Painkillers also return as Max's healing solution, though there are a couple of related improvements worth mentioning. The first is a 'Last Stand' feature, which allows Max to save himself by shooting an enemy who fired the killing shot, provided he still has at least one painkiller in reserve. The second improvement, (which I don't recall being present in previous Max Payne titles) is that the game will add additional painkillers and ammo to your reserves if you are forced to replay a checkpoint multiple times. It mitigates the difficulty a bit, but ensures that perseverance (and a little skill) will eventually save the day.
Multiplayer is another new addition in Max Payne 3--one that had me a bit skeptical prior to release--but as it turns out, it's a lot of fun. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes play out exactly as expected, but a couple of other modes help shake things up a bit. Payne Killer, for example, is a fun, King-of-the-Hill mode, in which two players play as Max Payne and his partner Passos, while the rest of the players gang up to take them out, thereby assuming their roles. It's a nice break from the Deathmatch modes, and fits really well with the game's over-arching theme of Max vs. the world.
Bullet time is back, but must be used judiciously
The most fun I had in multiplayer, however, was in a mode called Gang Wars. It's a team game play mode based on objectives set across a series of maps bridged together by a light storyline. One minute, I was trying to collect bags of cash and return them to home base (or stop the other team from doing so), and then I'd find myself trying to protect or kill a player-controlled VIP.
Bullet Time also makes its way into the multiplayer arena, and works surprisingly well. It is line-of-sight based, slowing only the player triggering it and those in his view. The player triggering bullet time can also aim faster, which means that it's a pretty deadly tool when used effectively.
The inclusion of a progression system and associated unlockables (which can also be earned by playing Arcade Mode) help give multiplayer a lot of legs, and lead to a ton of character customization options. Ancillary systems, such as Vendettas--which let you flag a player for revenge and extra XP--are nice touches that up the stakes.
Friends can also form "crews," which basically serve as persistent multiplayer squads. This turns out to be a great feature for core players, but might cause those not in a crew to feel alienated because a group of friends who are all communicating typically end up with a sizable advantage.
As a long-time fan of the series, I expected to like Max Payne 3. What I didn't expect was how much Rockstar was able to improve upon the foundation that made the original games special, without completely reinventing the wheel in the process. They've created one of the most impressive non-military shooters that I've ever played, all wrapped in presentational aplomb that made me feel like I was fighting my way through a modern-day action blockbuster movie. It's a must-play for shooter fans, and is the latest and best proof that AAA video games can, in fact, be incredibly successful as a participatory storytelling medium.
Multiplayer with bullet time offers a new layer of strategy