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Max Payne 3 review: Slick, bloody, beautiful... but not without its flaws

Rockstar's reinvention rated...

Want Max Payne 3 tips? See our video guide to collecting all the Golden Gun parts.

By the time we'd finished Max Payne 3, we'd killed over 1400 people. From start to finish, the game is a violent tornado of death and destruction, and one of the bloodiest, most relentless shooters ever. It has all the cinematic flair, polish, and production values you might expect from a Rockstar game - but it's missing some of the surreal magic that made the original games so memorable.

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Set eight years after Max Payne 2, our haunted ex-cop is now working as a private security contractor for a wealthy family in São Paulo. He's an emotional wreck, spending his downtime popping painkillers and soaking in whisky. But when his employer's daughter is kidnapped, he's forced back into action, shooting, leaping, and metaphor-ing his way through the darkest corners of Brazil's criminal underworld.

It's a bleak game, reflecting Max's battered psyche. There are glimmers of humour, but it's mostly incredibly black. Even though the setting has changed from the gloomy back-alleys of New York City to the sun-bleached streets of São Paulo, it's still noir; a genre that goes beyond fedora-wearing private dicks and blinking neon signs.

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There's a palpable sense of movement. You're always racing from one environment to the next, and the scenery changes frequently. You'll blast your way through a nightclub, a football stadium, city rooftops, the Panama Canal, and, of course, Brazil's famous favelas. The pace is breakneck, and the jerky, faux-documentary camerawork in the cut-scenes - as well as an impressive lack of any loading breaks whatsoever - gives the game a great feeling of acceleration and urgency.

CUTTING ROOM

It's just a shame the game wrestles the controls away from you so often. There are a lot of cut-scenes, and they can be immensely distracting. Even something as simple as moving from one room to another, or commenting on something in the environment, is shown as a cinematic, when it could have easily been presented in-game. The constant snapping between short bursts of gameplay and long cut-scenes really hampers your sense of interaction, and sometimes you feel like you're only actually playing half the game.

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But let's talk about the combat. After Max himself, it's the thing that defines the series. When the first Max Payne introduced bullet time to video games in 2001, it wasn't quite so ubiquitous, but even now it's still massively entertaining watching a goon smash through a glass window, or tumble down a set of stairs.

Clicking the right stick slows down time during combat, allowing you to make precise headshots while moving. Hitting the shoulder buttons sends you into Max's trademark shoot-dodge, during which you can snap between enemies and take entire groups out in one fell swoop. It's true to the originals, and simple to execute, with only a generous meter - filled by killing enemies - to stop you overusing it.

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The Euphoria physics engine has come a long way since Grand Theft Auto IV, and bodies react to every bullet with brutal realism. They don't just fall into piles of jellied limbs; they stumble, recoil, and crease over like real people, staggering into scenery and slumping to the floor. Whenever you kill the last guy in a room, you're treated to a macabre slow-motion close-up of their death, which you can slow down even more by holding X/A. You can even keep firing long after he's dead, peppering his lifeless corpse with lead before he hits the deck.

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