As the champagne flows amid the giggles, the bodyguard looks out from the rooftop soiree high over Sao Paulo and stares at the vast slum below. He turns to his partner in arms and muses, "Nothing like the view of extreme poverty to make a penthouse cocktail party really swing."
Max Payne used to be a cop in New York, but after his wife and infant daughter were killed, he set off on a murderous quest of vengeance. He ended up running down some of those responsible, but he never outran the guilt for failing to protect those he loved most. Now, he has ended up in Brazil's biggest city, supposedly looking after the Branco clan: the industrialist, the trophy wife, the cokehead younger brother and their retinue.
As he puts it: "The family we were protecting were local celebrities, rich parasites with delusions of humanity. The kind of people who end up in glossy magazines or body bags, depending on how their luck runs."
You know the type. Or at least you will if you play "Max Payne 3," a sleek, stylish and brutal shooter from Rockstar Games.
After more than eight years in development, "Max Payne 3" is a taut and compelling action game wrapped in the sumptuous, gritty and delightful production detail that is the Rockstar hallmark. That means pitch-perfect writing and voice acting, luscious and realistic visual design and by far the finest musical taste in gaming. Oh, yeah -- the actual game play of leaping through the air while firing hurricanes of bullets at bad guys is a lot of fun, too.
"Max Payne 3" is rated M for Mature, not only because of the language but also because of the lovingly rendered violence. The series pioneered the use of slow-motion bullet time in video games, and the latest installment embraces its heritage.
Unlike Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto" or "Red Dead Redemption," the new "Max Payne" isn't an open-world game. You start a level; kill a few dozen or a hundred thugs, paramilitary soldiers or corrupt cops, and (you hope) make it to the end alive. If the bad guys blow you away, you restart at a previous checkpoint.
Rockstar has produced a focused, coherent and excellent entertainment experience. "Max Payne 3" takes only 10 to 15 hours to complete in its basic story mode. The shooting and combat mechanics are very good, but, as in all Rockstar games, the real touchstones are dialogue and visual design and the verisimilitude they provide.
A few days after that rooftop party, Max and the cokehead brother, Marcelo, take a helicopter to a nightclub across town. In a rare reverie after dissing a soccer player across the VIP lounge, Marcelo asks Max, "What do you do about life?"
Max (played wonderfully by James McCaffrey) sneers in self-loathing. "Look at me," he says. "I'm standing in a nightclub listening to music I can't stand. I'm 5,000 miles from home. I'm armed, and I'm drinking. You don't want to listen to advice from me, amigo."
Marcelo laughs and says, "Oh, Max, I love you, man."
He's not alone.
MAX PAYNE 3
- 4 out of four stars
- Publisher: Rockstar.
- Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC.
- Price: $60.
- Rating: Mature.