In April 2012, Rockstar Games invited gboyers and a number of webmasters from other GTA-related sites to New York City to exclusively play the new Max Payne 3 before its release in May. In fact, we were the first people to play a huge chunk of the game, and the first to play all the multiplayer modes - a great privilege!
I've already seen on our Facebook question and our poll that many of you are excited for this release, even though Rockstar haven't been aggressively marketing it yet. I've not played the previous games in the series, so I thought I'd give you my fresh impressions of the new game and see whether it lives up to the expectations that so many of you have.
This is Grand Theft Wiki's exclusive review of the game.
Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3, coming out from 15th May, is a gritty third-person shooter following Max after he has left NYPD and has fallen down the path of an aimless drunk, until a kidnapping kicks him back into action, and events spiral out of control.
We kicked off from the start of the second level. The cutscenes introduced us to the mob invasion and kidnapping that set up the main storyline. Already, the voice acting and the immersion of the cutscene were top-notch - even in a loud room I was feeling drawn into the story and the life that Max had slipped into.
As we were surrounded by armed mobsters in a busy nightclub, suddenly I had control. This was the first of many seamless transitions that makes Max Payne 3 stand out from the crowd. No clunky jump or frustrating loading screen - in fact there are no loading screens in the game at all! You're always flowing from scene to scene, with a decent cutscene covering any longer transitions. No hanging around, no periods sat twiddling your thumbs, just a constant flow of either gameplay or story. Most games will try to involve the player as much as possible by making you walk down a road or through a building to get to the action, supposedly stopping you from feeling that the game is doing most of the work for you. But with Max, you control nothing but action, from start to finish. Any period where you don't need your finger firmly squeezing the trigger is either covered by a cutscene or just missed out entirely. This game is made to immerse and entertain you, not to give you arbitrary control over walking down an empty corridor.
After lying on the floor shooting randomly at people and dying a couple of times, I thought I might take the time to figure out the controls and mechanics before randomly button-mashing my way through the game. On Xbox 360, the controls took a bit of getting used to as the game contains a few special mechanics which are absolutely necessary to being able to fight your way through. On PC, however, the mouse made aiming much easier and a few well-placed clicks in bullet-time removed the need for a lot of the advanced mechanics available. Inverting the Y axis helped too. Even though I was dying, I was actually glad that this early level wasn't interrupted by tutorial sequences or reminders - it was clear this game was built to be immersive, right from the start.
The key controls to be aware of were bullet time, shootdodge, painkillers and aiming. Bullet time slows the scene right down matrix-style for a limited period, so you can place shots accurately. This almost wasn't necessary on PC (due to the accuracy of a mouse), but was absolutely vital to playing on Xbox. Unlike Read Dead Redemption, you can't 'mark' your shots before shooting, you have to shoot them manually, which I think made this more immersive and rewarding than having your character do the hard work for you. Bullet time depletes after a few seconds, but is earned back quickly through any combat situation.
Shootdodge was a button that made Max dive for cover in the direction you're holding. Not only was this vital for diving behind cover when being ambushed, but was also useful to dive through doorways and windows (in bullet time) to be able to fire accurate shots whilst firing. This absolutely saved my skin when faced with a difficult level where enemies were ambushing me in rooms or corridors - a well-timed bullet-time shootdodge move would let you fly in and shoot everyone in slow motion whilst airborne. If you don't think that's pretty awesome then just stop reading. Trust me - it never got boring.
Painkillers are the main health mechanic in Max Payne. You find these pills lying around the maps, and when your health is low you just hit the button to use one and you get a chunk of health back. If you are fatally shot whilst you have any painkillers on you, the game enters the 'last man standing' mode. Here, you have a limited amount of time to kill the person that fatally shot you. If you do, your health will be restored and you carry on fighting. If you fail or get shot again, you die and have to re-start the room or area. The one problem with this mode was that it was often difficult to tell which of the many enemies surrounding you was the one you needed to kill, although your reticule drifted towards them. A few times I was frantically shooting someone, killed them, without realising it was someone else that I should have been targeting first.
Also, it took me a long time to figure out that the recticule (target) turns into a white cross when your target has died. Before I noticed this, I thought I'd killed an NPC and turned away, only for them to get up and start attacking me again whilst I was facing the other way. This is a nice aspect of realism, where they don't stay upright despite being machine-gunned to the face but instead react to the shots and become injured much as a player would. The NPC reactions and animations were pretty much spot on, without any awkward moments where a shot in the arm makes them bleed from their head.
This game just does not stop, even for a moment.
The AI was seriously brilliant. Gone are the days of NPCs running into walls or taking ridiculous routes to get to you. Now, they think about the best path to get into cover to get the best vantage point to shoot you. If you hang around in cover for a while, you'll find they start ganging up on you, so you need to keep moving. With my limited combat experience, this felt incredibly realistic for a shooter.
But what about when you do die? You drop back to the start of the area, which is usually just a room or two - no more than a minute or so behind. There's nothing more I hate in games than having to repeat the same level multiple times, repeating 20 minutes of gameplay (or more), facing identical situations and just being impatient, before you even get back to the place you died. Max Payne 3 cuts all the crap, gives you but a moment to compose yourself, and you dive into the room to try the fight again. And when you go through the area again, it's not the same as before - enemies are in different places, taking different routes to get to you. I found myself thinking about where the enemies might be and planning my tactics accordingly - something you just don't do on other shooters where you learn their positions on the first play-through and just try to shoot them more quickly next time.
Back in the game, I fought my way out of the nightclub and onto the next scene. A few moments later, another cutscene seamlessly masking a transition, and I'm firing a high-caliber gun from a helicopter - but without any clunky. A couple of levels later and I find myself picking up and aiming a sniper rifle, without any pause in the gameplay whatsoever. This game just does not stop, even for a moment.
I'm not a huge multiplayer gamer - I generally prefer single-player stories or free-roaming worlds where I can explore. But I absolutely loved Max Payne 3's multiplayer modes. Even a PC gamer like me could defeat some of the hardcore console gamers I was with.
The game modes were varied and great fun. Alongside the age-old deathmatch and team deathmatch, there were some interesting new ones. Payne Killers initially places everyone against each other - but the first players to kill and be killed transform into Max and his partner Raul Passos respectively, gaining some beefy weapons and extra health. It's then every player against those two - and if you kill Max, you become Max, then everyone is then out to kill you. The scoring is based on the number of people you kill as Max/Passos. This was a fun and frenzied game mode, where I become Max/Passos quite a few times, but didn't survive for long!
The menus were all straightforward but quite well-designed. You could design your own character for each opposing faction of each type, selecting clothing and hair etc; and for other games pick one of a selection of characters, pedestrians and special models. You could specify a number of custom loadouts for everything you carried, including the weapons and slots for extra items such as painkillers, sutures (to heal more quickly), extra ammo etc, and addons such as armour.
You could also select your special enhancements, which activate a set of bonus effects after you kill certain numbers of opponents. Some of the good ones here included the abilities to start bullet time (for everyone in your view), use "paranoia" to confuse enemies maps, and a whole host of others. If you get an organised team, it would be best to spread these abilities throughout your team to build up an effective selection. As many of these enhancements affect your whole team (or the whole enemy team), it's pointless having two of those on the same team. Also, many of them can be cancelled out through other enhancements your enemy can select, so it pays to be aware of what the opposing team are choosing. Of course for the non-team modes, it's every man for himself!
The big new thing here is Crews - multiplayer clans you set up on the Social Club website. The cool thing about this is that any Max Payne 3 clans will continue over to GTA V, and presumably many more Rockstar games in future. You earn extra XP from fighting with members of the same clan, and if you're fighting against members from another clan, feuds start up, which earn you extra XP each time you win. We haven't had much of a chance to play with these yet, but at least Max will give us a good base of teams, teammates and feuds for when GTA V comes along.
My only real complaint with this game was the multiplayer HUD, which showed a range of numbers and scores but I couldn't really understand what they meant. The different teams had two faction names (rather than 'Enemy' and 'Your Team', with the enemy in red and your team in white, and one on the left and the other on the right, but even then it wasn't clear which text/numbers meant what. If a red message said "XYZ died" did that mean they were on your team or the enemy team? I think some simple tweaks to this would make multiplayer make a lot more sense. You shouldn't have to play loads of games to figure out the HUD, it should be instantly recognisable at a glance, even for novices, and unfortunately this wasn't.
Even then, I found myself completely immersed in multiplayer like I haven't been with a game of this type for many years. This isn't just Yet Another Action Shooter, this is a brilliant and fun experience you need to try for yourself.
Max Payne 3 is a well-rounded, immersive third-person shooter, with a gritty storyline and some impressive mechanics. Both the single and multiplayer modes seem well-thought through and impressively executed. The use of cutscenes rather than loading screens to build a seamless flow of gameplay and story removes the frustrations that are a part of almost every game.
Single player is a gritty, immersive story that keeps you on your toes and doesn't fanny around with boring corridors and pointless excursions. Multiplayer is a fun, fast-paced but manageable experience with a range of modes to squeeze the best out of every player. To be honest, multiplayer felt very much like single player in other games (fun but controlled, with everyone playing a useful part), whilst single player felt very much like multiplayer in other games (fast-paced constant shooting). It really takes the best parts of other shooters and melds them into one coherent and brilliant experience.
The thing that I most loved about Max Payne 3 was that when I died, which happened a lot, I didn't even care.
The thing that I most loved about Max Payne 3 was that when I died, which happened a lot, I didn't even care. I got to play that area again, try a different tactic, experiencing a different style of opposition. I wasn't set back to the start of the whole level, I didn't have to redo half an hour of identical gameplay, I didn't have to watch all the cutscenes all over again - I just stepped back and tried again. This is the least frustrating shooter I have ever seen, and it's constantly a pleasure to play.
Best of all, I can't wait to see this technology and some of the mechanics come into GTA V. We already know that the multiplayer clans system will be in GTA V, and I have a feeling that we're going to see a bit more of this game in there too!
It was great to see New York and meet the other webmasters who keep the GTA world turning. It was also a great privilege to speak to the Rockstar representatives and feel their genuine excitement at their hard work coming to fruition. If you're interested, Chris has posted a fuller account of our trip over on The GTA Place.
You might think Rockstar just concentrate on GTA games and everything else is just filler. Make no mistake - this is not a run-of-the-mill shooter that Rockstar's studios are pointlessly pumping out just to keep the orders coming in until the next GTA. This is a real priority for them, with a huge amount of thought, care and attention-to-detail put into this, and it shows. The result is an immersive, challenging and rewarding experience which keeps you engrossed no matter your skill level or attention span. In terms of gameplay, this is, by far, the best shooter I have ever played.
The result is an immersive, challenging and rewarding experience which keeps you engrossed no matter your skill level or attention span. In terms of gameplay, this is, by far, the best shooter I have ever played.
Grand Theft Wiki Crew
You can join the official Grand Theft Wiki crew to fight on our side in both Max Payne 3 and GTA V!
A handful of other GTA/Rockstar sites also attended the event, and here are some of their reviews of our trip and the game: