It’s been nine years Max Payne’s last outing and time hasn’t been kind to the fallen cop. Max circa 2012 is a greying and haggered wreck who spends his time draining bars and popping painkillers in a vest so grubby it’s clearly never had so much as a sniff of washing powder.
Yet somehow he’s managed to land a job as a bodyguard for São Paulo’s super-rich, and naturally it doesn’t take long before everyone in Brazil is shooting at our grizzled antihero. But while Max has aged, the Max Payne formula hasn’t: Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter spectacular packed with explosions, high-octane firefights and, of course, the enduring pleasure of bullet time.
Bullet time is the defining feature of the Max Payne series, allowing players to slow time to a crawl so that they can riddle enemies with bullets while stylishly leaping through the air. For a while, every developer copied it and we all got a bit bored with slow-motion, John Woo-style dives, but absence makes the heart grow fonder and so after a break of a few years we’re back to loving bullet time in Max Payne 3, even though Rockstar still hasn’t figured out way to handle slow-mo slams into walls with any kind of design elegance.
Of course, this is all as predictable as Max starting his day with a bottle of JD but – some unevenness in difficulty and the odd cover-system glitch aside – it’s all done with enough flair to make the lack of gameplay evolution irrelevant.
The slick gunfights are complimented with stylish visuals that reflect Max’s inebriation with unsteady wobbles, flashes of double vision and scratchy interference reminiscent of aging VHS tape. Max Payne 3 also swaps the comic book graphics of its predecessors for more realistic looks that emphasise the inspiration the game found in the grim reality of Brazil’s slums.
The big change from Max’s PlayStation 2 days is a selection of fast and furious multiplayer modes. Most of these are familiar deathmatch variants supported by the leveling-up and loadout options that are de rigueur in multiplayer shooters. Decent as these modes are, it's Gang Wars that steals the show by cleverly welding a branching storyline onto its range of team-versus-team missions, ensuring you’ll keep playing Max Payne 3 long after Max’s own grizzly story has reached its conclusion.