Max Payne 3 Was the Peak of Third-Person Shooters
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Max Payne 3 Was the Peak of Third-Person Shooters

Laying dormant for nearly ten years, the Max Payne franchise seemingly bowed out with a sunset finale. With a past of brutal torment put behind our titular hero, Max Payne 3 was the peak of third-person shooters. Nothing else hits those same bloody notes—and the absence of Rockstar’s triumphant IP has been heavily felt over the last decade. 

“Time was a luxury I couldn’t afford.”

When you love a franchise so much, it is frustrating to see it struggle. Following the underwhelming sales of Max Payne 2, Remedy parted ways with the property. Gaming limbo took over. Payne was banished into the void. Various windows for a planned release came and went. 

Just where had the signature leather jacket gone? It turns out Rockstar had a Hawaiian shirt in mind instead. Suddenly, the clouds parted and John Woo doves filled the skies. Max Payne 3 was coming in 2012 with a new coat of paint. Gone were the greys and rain-soaked streets of its predecessors; it was time to get deadly tropical. Max Payne 3 wasn’t advertising fun in the sun. 

The cocaine hits the fan.

Revisiting Rockstar’s fully fledged (and Remedy approved) sequel as of late has been nothing short of spectacular. In a post Raid or John Wick landscape that has enabled a new mainstream appreciation of Eastern cinema, the bullet-filled ballet of Max Payne 3 always satisfies—this truly is the closest experience to those popular cinematic adventures. A franchise unafraid to wear its celluloid influences, the third installment is more Tony Scott’s Man On Fire than it is John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

Plot-wise, Rockstar are taking more than a few queues from the former. Catching up with Max nine years after his last appearance, he’s still fucked up. No amount of liquid distractions have erased the past. The job at hand: protect a family of rich socialites and politically aspirational dirt bags. Naturally, the cocaine hits the fan.

The disorientating, raw injection of Tony Scott’s aforementioned thriller couldn’t be more felt than in the glitchy, uneasy aesthetic deployed here. Max has always been unhinged, always looking down the barrel of the next gun. Pair that with the chromatically aberrated gaze of Rockstar, then you’re truly in for a potent trip. Bold fonts pierce the air with specific phrases and damning revelations. It’s pretty corny when (James) McCaffrey’s sunken tones are delivering those detective one-liners—especially when we almost didn’t get those sunken tones to begin with. 

“I don’t know about angels, but it’s fear that gives men wings.”

At the heart of the Payne series is the orchestrated euphoria of combat. More than just laying down a crosshair on some AI chump, these games have always opted to push what it feels like to be engaged in gunfire. Painstaking detail was poured into each aspect of Max Payne 3’s 9mm dances. Before recent contemporaries like Naughty Dog were fretting over eyeball animations, Rockstar were performing unheard-of wizardry here. Avid cinema fans place themselves within heroic antics, but how does that actually feel

How heavy does each metallic weapon of destruction feel? How can you dispatch foes with ease but maintain a tangible sense of momentum? For me, Max Payne 3 is the undisputed king of third-person gunfights. It was cool launching around as a gun-toting pirate-dude in Uncharted 4’s climatic setpieces, but wiping out a whole squad of gangster goons with a Beretta? This is it right here. 

The depth of movement on show in Max Payne 3 always astounds me. Running off the in-house RAGE engine, Max feels so tangible to control. From the creases of his grey suit or shirt flaps in the wind, readjusting Max’s position in the battlefield is a supreme lesson in animation alone. Positioning is also a key element too in Max’s Gun-Fu evolution. Knocked to the ground with options thinning out? Not to worry, you’ve still got a three hundred and sixty degree view of the slaughter ahead. 

Ripe to be blown to shreds.

Using the heavily Woo-adjacent roll animation to collect an assault rifle or shotgun is nothing short of badass. Even without the magical ability of inventory storage in previous installments, the more realistic approach to carrying limited arms still makes Max feel like a ballistic bulldozer. When that heavy weapon is empty, Max simply relinquishes it into the wild, favouring his holstered sidearms for backup. 

These simplistic yet no doubt painstaking implementations are present in the environment. Despite a few underwhelming on-rails segments, Max Payne 3 shines in enclosed spaces. Pinning Max to the wall with only one way out, the fight has to be fought furiously. In Chapter VI: A Dame, a Dork and a Drunk, Rockstar’s take on Remedy’s tight-knit level design is glowing. Dumping Max into a luxurious office complex, ripe to be blown to shreds, danger comes to his door. 

Navigating cubicles that can be shot to hell and diving through hallways into armoured goons is a true ode to what gives this franchise that special something. To cap it off with extra bombastic flavour, the level’s climatic reception shootout against a tactical truck scratches that over-the-top itch. 

“He was trying to buy more sand for his hourglass. I wasn’t selling any.”

Nearly a decade later and with no sequel in sight, it isn’t disappointing in terms of quality if Max Payne 3 is the last hurrah. Even if the fan in me (always) wants to see more, not many franchises get to end on such a resoundingly strong note. Following Max’s multi-decade journey, this trilogy of games still feels relevant and as innovative as they did in their respective release era. Coming just two years after the PlayStation 2 launch, Max Payne still brings the thrills time and time again. Offering more narrative complexity and graphical nuance, The Fall of Max Payne is as good as sophomore installments come. And capping it off with a ballsy reinvention in new hands, Max Payne 3 was a risk, but ultimately one that has given way to a loyal following. 

Pulling in mountains of revenue from GTA and Red Dead Online’s on-going lifespans, the development of any Rockstar property isn’t going to show any prosperity for quite some time. Grand Theft Auto 6 is set to become their next major release sometime in 2024 / 2025, and any hope of a Max Payne sequel has pretty much dwindled.

That’s okay, though—because Max Payne 3 was, and will always be, the peak of third-person shooters.

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