Best known as a noir tale of a haunted cop delivering brutal justice to the streets and warehouses of New York, it turns out shooting hundreds of men in slow-motion is as well suited to broad daylight in Rio de Janeiro as it is to permanent twilight in the Big Apple.
A third-person action adventure, Max Payne 3 is almost equal parts shooting and storytelling. No real knowledge of the previous games is required - all you need to know is that Max is a bitter, middle-aged ex-cop who's moved to Brazil to work as private security for the super-wealthy. Before too long, kidnappings and assassinations see him up to his neck in blood, not to mention nursing potentially crippling addictions to booze and painkillers.
Fortunately, he's able to tap into his own adrenaline to enter a bullet-time slo-mo mode, which is there for dramatic multi-man take-outs and tactically dealing with overwhelming odds rather than having any illusions about making narrative sense. So it's business as usual for Max Payne, really, but with brighter shirts, sunshine and a targeting system which offers far more freedom of aiming and precision than third-person shooters have previously.
On a high-end PC, it's one of the most incredible-looking games of this generation, rendering faces and hair with spectacular, gorgeous detail. There's a sadness in this, in that it offers such a wonderful world but all you can do is repeatedly shoot infinite armies of Brazilians with machineguns in it. A similarly uncomfortable juxtapositions exists in the dissonance between action and narrative. Max can soak up a thousand bullets to the head in the game proper, but a single shot to the arm in a cutscene has him staggering and near to death. On top of that, the over-regular interruption of the action with yet another lovingly-rendered talky sequence really mucks up the game's flow at times. If only it spent even a fraction of the effort and time it puts into jabbering away into more diverse challenges.
Also getting in the way of what should be insistent forward progress is a smattering of collectibles and 'grinds', specific challenges such as slo-diving for x seconds, which can mean Max is too busy rummaging through trash or pointlessly jumping off ledges when he's supposed to be saving someone's wife from certain death or fleeing an exploding building. Still, this does mean replay value.
As it is, Max Payne winds up being a somewhat vanilla, bang bang bang action game that just about manages to be memorable thanks to the gorgeously-detailed technicolour location and Max's reimagined role as a charming grump. His wry moaning is a constant, welcome companion, and being a middle-aged ex-pat rather than a tortured cop frees him from stereotype. There's less "oh, my poor family" and more "these kids today, with their noisy dance music." He's remarkably fleshed-out for a character who began life as a cop movie pastiche.
The same's true of the game as a whole. Where once it was essentially all about Matrix-aping slow motion and a fluttering raincoat, now it's a meaty, serious shooter with a semi-believable setting. It's also reasonably challenging, which has become a sad rarity for shooters' singleplayer modes of late.