- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2012

The resurrection of a beaten down ex-New York police detective comes to disturbingly realistic life through Max Payne 3 (Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games, rated Mature, reviewed with Xbox 360, $59.99), a third-person cinematic shooter not for the squeamish.

Hard-boiled and pickled, Max Payne is Frank (Punisher) Castle, John (Die-Hard) McClain, John (Sin City) Hartigan all rolled up into one alcoholic, pill-popping dynamo.

He is back, while in a perpetual state of mourning for his murdered wife and child, and takes a job as a bodyguard in Brazilian city of Sao Paulo for the wealthy Branco family.

With occasional help from his old pal Raul Passos, he must rescue his boss’ kidnapped family members while taking on bands of corrupt police forces, organized crime cartels and street gangs.

Developers completely make gamers forget about not only the solid previous titles but also a critically panned movie with an adventure that delivers the finest of brutally violent crime dramas.

A steady diet of 1990s action film scenes bathed in a grizzled film-noir genre dazzles at every turn. Storytelling presents extended-cut scenes that meld into the fighting while frozen panels and pop-up text (not quite comic-book style) offers a “24” urgency. Max’s clever, tough guy narration fills out the fun.

Popcorn-munching moments include picking off rockets from an enemy’s launcher in mid-flight, targeting thugs to save a girl while riding shotgun in a helicopter, flying through a plate glass window to unload a hail of bullets into a group of foes and diving off the top of a falling water tank with a machine gun blazing.

Max is proficient with near any loaded weapon available (he can always carry three) and his nasty close-quarters combat always leads to a bloody, execution-style, conclusion.

Max also dies often, but he can take painkillers to restore health before the end or survive a fatal shot by taking his last aggressor down first.

The detail of character models and environments are staggering. A player can literally shoot someone’s face off, or a bullet to the neck spurts out through the jugular. The vaulted headshot realizes a level of grisly satisfaction every time.

Max will leave footprints as he walks through the pools of blood from a recently killed enemy. His clothes get soiled and tattered. Shell casings pop away as a weapon is fired, and bodies react to every bullet lodged in or shot through them.

Enemies are also unrelenting and, at one point in a flashback firefight, I felt like I was taking on every punk gangster in Hoboken.

Clearly the gratuitous and visceral nature of the game will suck in most mature players, and the actually story and gravely voice and motion capture work from Max’s alter ego, actor James McCaffrey never disappoints.

Most important, the bullet-time effects (offered in previous games) are better than ever and deliver a slow down ballet of action topping any Matrix film.

As a player directs Max to methodically gun down enemies, he can trigger the effect to watch Max slowly glide and spin through the air with ammunition moving with almost a life of its own to strike down enemies with bloody and lethal force.

The addition of an arcade mode (take down waves of enemies to score points) works well, but a multiplayer mode is certainly a standout.

Up to 16 warriors enter mode variations such as Payne Killer (two players take on the role of Max and Raul and must survive against human-controlled opponents) and Gang Wars (teams competing in five-chapter, story-driven events such as taking over a gang’s turf and all based on the campaign narrative).

By the way, bullet-time even works for anyone caught up in your character’s line of sight.

Both add an awesome and addictive dimension to the 12- to 14-hour-long solo campaign.

Max Payne 3 delivers a genre-busting level of brilliance and a nail-biting masterpiece as enjoyable for the gamer as for an engaged movie fan.

Read all about it: Max Payne lovers can easily and freely download a Marvel Custom Solutions-produced digital comic book series delving into the character’s troubled past. The first of three issues are available now.