We were first introduced to Max Payne’s permanent grimace all the way back in 1999. However, we did not receive a Mac port until 2002 courtesy of MacSoft. Max Payne was unrelentingly physically, emotionally and mentally violent in a way few games ever were. A dark neo-noir story, brutal gunplay, dazzling graphics and the signature bullet time moves of Max all combined into a terrific package. There was even a level editor and mods, such as one that allowed you to play the whole game as Neo, complete with wall running and kung fu. It was hard to stop playing.
In 2003 Remedy made a sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Sadly we would never see a macOS port, though you can easily play it through Bootcamp or wrappers. It is worth doing so, as once again the story and gameplay are positively fantastic while being a major emotional chapter in Max’s life.
And here we are. Eleven years later Max Payne 3 for Mac happened. Developed entirely by Rockstar Games and ported by Transgaming via Cider, we can once again delve into Max’s world. While not necessary to play the first two games to enjoy the third, the experience will be deeper as many references are made to the past. For newer players looking to fill in some backstory, there are three comics put out by Rockstar that do so. You can find them here.
“So much unfinished business. And all I could think about was my unfinished scotch.”
Enter Max Payne 3
Fourteen years since the death of his family, Max has left New York City behind and drifted from bad to worse. Drowning his sorrows in alcohol and painkillers, Max eventually finds himself in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A bodyguard to the rich and affluent Bronco family, they are soon targeted by thugs who kidnap various members of the family.
It is then up to Max to rescue them and find out why they are being targeted. What seems simple at first soon turns into something more intriguing and mysterious in true crime-thriller fashion.
Max Payne veterans are used to shooting it out entirely at night, often in snow or other bad weather. Max Payne 3 takes a different approach frequently placing you in the daytime and bright sun. But there’s nothing to worry about because regardless of the lighting, the game still offers amazing run and gun gameplay and the many varied locations actually benefit the experience. You still get a taste of the snow, however, in a few flashback chapters showing how Max got to Sao Paulo in the first place.
Max Payne is best characterized by its run-and-gun third-person gameplay. The third game mostly embodies this but adds a cover mechanic. This does change things up somewhat, forcing you to play certain sections far more defensively instead of out in the open. This only annoyed me a few times where I had to cower behind a wall or box and take pot shots at a large group of enemies. But most of the time you are free to run and gun and use bullet time as you please. This leads to truly epic shootouts that destroy the levels, as most things are destructible.
Also different from the previous games is your ability to only carry 3 weapons at once. This makes more sense and I didn’t mind not having a complete arsenal at my disposal. You can carry up to 2 pistols and a larger weapon such as an assault rifle or shotgun. But if you want to dual wield your smaller guns, you will drop your larger one.
Every enemy drops a weapon (or ammo if you already have it) so you are never lacking for something to shoot people with. A great variety of pistols, SMG’s, rifles and shotguns exist in the game, and everyone will have their favorites. My only gripe with the weapons is that there are no actual melee weapons. In the original Max Payne, you could tune people up with a baseball bat. Here there is a contextual melee attack when you are face to face with enemies. This looks cool and can disarm them or knock them to the ground, but it’s not quite the same.
Aside from all the bullet carnage, the signature bullet time is a core game mechanic. Every enemy you kill fills your adrenaline meter which lets you turn on bullet time at the press of a key. In this mode, time slows down and everyone moves and shoots slower, but you can aim just as fast as regular time, giving you a distinct edge when fighting multiple foes. Aside from looking really cool, you can see every single bullet fired zooming slowly through the air. You can also “shoot dodge” by leaping in any direction which looks awesome and is also pretty effective, granting you 360 degree aiming. This also lets you stay on the ground when you land, shooting or reloading as you like before getting up.
“Another pile of bodies and still nothing to show for it.”
The last ace in Max’s graphical deck of cards is the amazing physics. Max himself moves very realistically whether he’s walking, running, shooting, diving and falling. Small touches like the way you bump up against objects or walls give a good sense of object interaction. And the way every enemy stumbles, twists or falls when shot is incredibly realistic. Environmental physics are also just as good. I don’t recall playing a game with this level of graphic violence in a long time, if ever. (Although Soldier of Fortune comes to mind.)
There isn’t gore, just copious amounts of blood. Combined with the extremely realistic animations and enemies spurting blood out of every bullet hole, this is not for the faint of heart. When you kill the last enemy in a group you get a kill cam, which you can slow down with the option to keep firing unnecessary but entertaining rounds into your enemy.
One thing Max Payne isn’t is easy. Even on normal difficulty, you can die very quickly and judicious use of painkillers and your bullet time are needed to survive. The game intentionally throws unfair numbers at you because of your bullet time advantage. Should you die multiple times at a checkpoint, you will start over with more ammo or perhaps an extra painkiller. It would be nice to be able to save whenever you wanted like in the original game, but the checkpoints are fairly well placed as to not be a problem.
The Arcade mode returns, which is the same single player story but with added elements. New York Minute makes each level time based, with every kill granting you additional precious seconds to complete it. Score Attack see’s how high a score you can get. Other factors such as level destruction and using shoot-dodge moves will grant extra time or points. These modes unlock after you have finished the main story so are not available right away. I don’t find them particularly interesting, but for those wanting to replay the game with a different style, it is good to have.
“Figure I might as well die in the sunshine, as die in the snow.”
New to Max Payne 3 is a multiplayer component. While I was dubious about this to begin with, it turns out to be a surprisingly fun and competent addition. The single-player story is most definitely the star of the show, but this is more than just an afterthought. Using Rockstars Social Club service, this allows cross-platform play between all MacOS and Windows versions of the game.
Multiplayer functions differently than single player in a number of different ways. The wild run and gun remain in place, however, you have a variety of different load outs you can unlock from weapons, armor, perk style items and more. These require you to rank up to access, which is both frustrating and rewarding at the same time. A form of bullet time exists here, but as one of many “bursts”, you can use once you have earned the requisite adrenaline. Bursts come with a scaling level of power. For example, one burst will give you extra bullet damage for 20 seconds at level one, but if used at level 3 you get a devastating grenade launcher instead. This gives multiplayer a slightly more strategic edge than just point and shoot.
There’s a lot of different weapons here to use as everything is carried over from single-player as well as some extras. The only odd factor is that pistols trump everything else. The top ones are high rank unlocks, but they give you the best speed and have absurd range, damage and fire rates. This starts to feel bit silly when you can’t kill a guy across the map with your assault rifle, but he can insta-kill you with his pistol up close or from afar.
There are a few different game modes. Standard Free For All and Team Deathmatch apply, and these also come in “large” variants which double the number of players. Some more interesting game modes are Paynekiller and Gangwars. The first sees you playing as Max VS several opponents. Having painkillers to heal and bullet time gives you an advantage, but it’s only so long before you get killed. Whoever kills you takes your place. In Gangwars, you team up with your crew and play various objectives, like planting bombs or escorting VIPs.
Rockstar put a lot of thought into details. You can choose all manner of avatars and customize every aspect of their appearance. Players can have user-created emblems. You can form Crews which is like a clan. You can even have Crew grudges and vendettas. The Social Club also tracks every statistical aspect of your gameplay, which is fun to look at or compare with your friends.
There is a large amount of DLC available, from characters like the classic Max Payne skin to items like a pill bottle to hold more painkillers and larger DLC which features new maps, weapons, and game modes. These can be pricey, or you can buy the whole bundle for $30. It’s hard to recommend any of the larger packs as even with the cross-platform play, there simply isn’t that many people playing the game. FFA and TDM are always easy to get into, but I was unable to find a single game of Paynekiller or Gangwars, which seemed to be the most interesting game modes.
My only gripe with multiplayer is that it is extremely hard for new players. I pride myself on being very good at shooter games in general and I struggled here to not lose most shootouts. A large part of the problem is the unbalanced rank system. Anyone with 5-10 levels on you will have a significant advantage in weaponry, armor, perks and general loadouts. What to speak of the maximum rank players who are walking death machines. Almost all of my deaths were due to high-rank players with the best equipment. This starts to feel less fun and more frustrating when you are simply outgunned, not out-skilled. But multiplayer is still worth exploring and provides a mostly entertaining time.
“So I guess I’d become what they wanted me to be, a killer. Some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys.”
Rockstar has worked hard to make the transition from story scenes to gameplay completely seamless and they have succeeded beautifully. From the moment you hit “New Game” to the time the credits roll, you are never taken out of the experience and will not notice a moment of loading screens. This sometimes means you can’t skip a cutscene if you are replaying a level as it is “still loading” but this is a minor inconvenience for a flawless first-time experience.
All story scenes are told through a multi-panel cutscene effect that pays homage to the previous titles comic book style presentation but feels like its own unique effort. One of best parts of the game, whether running around or in cutscenes, is Max’s frequent comments, quotes, and one-liners. These are delivered with such world-weary conviction and cynicism that you will laugh or grimace by turns.
Graphically speaking Max Payne 3 looks fantastic. Everything looks great, from the characters and environments to weapons and lighting. If you are looking for a new game to push your fancy new Mac, this will do the trick. Various screen effects such as blurs and colors highlight Max’s hazy state of mind during cutscenes. It is unusual for a game to take as much pride in its presentation and story as it does its gameplay. Here Max Payne 3 accomplishes this perfectly on both fronts by being stylish and attractive.
Max Payne 3 has excellent audio. Whether it’s the stellar voice acting, great sound design or perfect soundtrack, there’s nothing to complain about here. Every bullet fired is crisp and booming, the music appropriately moody or amped up for the action. And not a single voiced character falls flat. James McCaffrey reprises his role as the voice of Max. This is a great touch to have the same actor give voice to the character across all three games. Some franchises haven’t done this (looking at you Splinter Cell Blacklist) so it’s nice to hear. It’s easy to feel Max’s desperation and pain thanks to his performance.
“The mission was screaming suicide but I didn’t give a damn. At least I’d die being a pain in the ass.”
Reviewers Rig: 27″ iMac, Core i5 Quad 2.8Ghz, 8GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD5750 1GB. Mountain Lion 10.8.5, Apple Wired Keyboard, Logitech Wireless Trackball M570.
Max Payne 3 ran surprisingly well on my setup. Gameplay remained smooth even in the heaviest firefights with all settings on high and a resolution of 1920×1080. Given this is a Cider port, I did not expect it to perform so well in this area. The game will give you a performance warning should you try and change the graphics past what it thinks your machine can handle. Multiplayer also performed smoothly, even in large team fights with a lot of bullets flying and explosions booming. I didn’t notice any lag either, so that’s a plus. Sadly the game is far from bug-free. It will frequently get stuck on the “initializing” loading screen before the main menu, causing you to force quit and then restart your computer before the game will open again. When trying the “very high” texture option, I would sometimes get weird black textures on characters and screen glitches. Turning this down to High fixed the issue, however.
And lastly, the game corrupted my single player saves once, causing me to start over from the beginning despite being halfway through the game already. While not game breaking, these issues are annoying. Rockstar was quick to set up a Mac support section on their website, but their suggestion to fix my problem? Re-download and install all 32.5 gigabytes of the game. Not helpful at all guys. Fellow journalists have also reported poor performance on Nvidia cards. Not having one myself I cannot comment, just a word of warning as you may have to play on lower to medium settings should you not have an ATI card. Also of note, apparently the mapping for controllers is screwy with a lot of the buttons being backward. I don’t play with a controller either, but several people informed me of this so it is worth mentioning.
- Gorgeous, violent and dark gameplay
- Excellent story with stellar voice acting
- Multiplayer is fun
- Some bugs and glitches.
- Multiplayer is unfair to new players.
The Final Word
Max Payne 3 is easy to recommend. It offers a thrilling return for fans of the earlier games, and an amazing shooter experience for everyone else. For $40, you get about 10 hours of single player story and a great multiplayer mode. Some annoying performance issues may or may not plague you, but they can be fixed or overlooked for what is an extremely fun game. Buy it!
Note from Ric: This review comes from guest author Jon Carr.