Review: Hard-living anti-hero brings the action in cinematic 'Max Payne 3'

"Max Payne 3"
Xbox 360/PS3/PC
Score: 3 stars (out of 4)

“Max Payne 3” is as much a meditation on ‘90s action films and hard-boiled detective noir as it is an excellent third-person shooter. Some video games are “cinematic” in the sense that they force you to watch a lot of cutscenes that try and explain what you've just done or are about to do. “Max Payne 3” turns you loose to shoot bad guys because after the deftly interwoven story moments, it seems like the right thing to do at the time.

Max Payne the character is as classic an anti-hero as they come, and the third installment of the series places Max in a fish-out-of-water tale in gritty, corrupt Brazil. The hard-drinking, pill-popping Payne is acted and manipulated incredibly by Rockstar and actor James McCaffrey. “Max Payne” and “Max Payne 2” were both good enough games to warrant sequels, but “Max Payne 3” provides enough backstory and flashback on Max's part to catch up new players without losing focus of the action at hand.

Speaking of action, there is no lack of action gags that will immediately conjure “Die Hard” and “GoldenEye” fantasies of speed boat chases, leaping in front of explosions in slo-mo and hanging on to that bottom part of a helicopter. Like any good piece of cinema, the action is driven by a good story, in this case a tale of a wealthy family's kidnappings, which never lacks for pacing and intrigue.

The actual combat isn't anything groundbreaking, as it's mostly an exercise of firing, taking cover, then firing some more. The “Matrix”-style “bullet time” and “shoot dodge” abilities save the combat from being stale, allowing the player to find their own creative ways to blast their way out of a dire scenario. New to the series for “Max Payne 3” is multiplayer, which pits teams of players against one another in ongoing or one-off gang warfare.

“Max Payne 3” is polished and stylized in a way that completely distinguishes it not only against its predecessors in the series but in the genre as a whole. Sometimes it's impossible to tell when a dialogue scene is over and a playable sequence is beginning. Either way, the player is engaged and white-knuckled. In a slower year, “Max Payne 3” might have been in contention as the best “movie” of the summer.

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