We've been waiting for a while, and the latest installment in the Max Payne series has finally arrived. Questions and skepticism arose when players saw a dramatically-aged Max Payne and a story that seemed to completely abandon the subdued style evoked by the first two entries in favor of a b-movie action premise. Eschewing Finnish writer Sam Lake for Dan Houser - of Red Dead Redemption fame - also brought on a slew of new concerns and one central question prevailed: could Rockstar deliver the same magic that Max Payne fans loved, or would they discard all it for the larger mainstream crowd? The answer is as complicated as the plot.

The setting for this foray into the latest Max Payne has probably been repeated ad nauseum by media outlets: Max is now a pill-popping drunkard haunted by the deaths of his wife and child, excessively pessimistic, and retired from the NYPD. Now living in New Jersey, a run-in with the mob forces him to leave and we soon find the tragic hero doing security work in Brazil, of all places. A kidnapping ensues and we find Max fighting goons throughout Brazil in a story filled with twists, turns, and gritty characters. One thing is clearly established before the player even has a chance to complete a third of the campaign: the new Max Payne is a far cry from the gaming experience we're used to seeing, and for the most part it works.

Max Payne 3 is a divisive game story-wise, sprawling with a noirish plot that sizzles with intrigue but is ultimately convoluted. Most of the time, players will find themselves enjoying the narrative unfolding yet not feel invested in the story itself; for all intents and purposes, the setting is just a plot device filled with recited incidents rather than a gripping story that builds tension and anticipation, leading to a somewhat anticlimactic, although satisfying, finish. The comic-book style of the previous entries is nowhere to be seen, although traces of it can be found in a series of flashbacks filling the player in on the events between games, and the highly metaphorical themes of the previous games are mostly abandoned in favor of a more candid and subversive sentiment. Character writing rarely falters, and players will not be able to resist smirking each time Max offers a pessimistic quip about his painkillers. What complements this new approach is Rockstar's equally divisive cinematic approach.

 I'm filled with mixed feelings regarding Rockstar's dramatic approach to storytelling, to be blunt. While Max Payne 3 is an action-packed game, it's also a game filled with beautiful cutscenes... lot's of them. Usually, these animated scenes will play out and move the story ahead for us, especially in-between battles, and the scenes vary in length. Instead of becoming engaging however, these cutscenes are unabashedly plot devices whose frequency will annoy rather than engross most players, especially purists, and they take some time to adjust to. At their worst, these scenes end up making the player feel like they're being dragged through the story like a child, and this is already a fairly linear game at that. Thankfully however, the entrancing score and superb voice acting of McCaffrey sell each moment, no matter how outlandish in some cases. His latest iteration of Payne is one that embodies the newfound grit and depravity with convincing nuance and made me care about the character. However, the true highlight is the gameplay, which is fairly simple but has surprising depth.

Players will find themselves venturing throughout impressive set pieces that complement the themes (economic inequality, greed, desperation, etc.) of the story, from a glossy night club to the notorious favelas of Brazil, each filled to the brim with enemies to shoot with a balanced arsenal of weapons. Players will dive, dodge, and roll throughout firefights in some of the most impressive and fluid animations I've seen in a third person shooter. Bullet Time, Max's signature ability, returns with a vengeance, and Max's closest friend will be his painkillers; the lack of regenerating health encourages players to play smartly. The additional inclusion of a realistic loadout system and the Max Payne equivalent of Last Man Standing add a modicum of complexity to gunfights. Destructible objects in the environment add to the chaos and hectic pacing each confrontation brings, and when you combine these features with the gratuitous blood, gore, and the kill cam shots that accompany them, you get an impressive gameplay experience that falls just shy of the complexity of its counterparts.

The multiplayer system remains entertaining, yet relatively conventional in spite of all the drastic stylistic changes to Max Payne 3. It's also pretty frantic, and I've got to compliment Rockstar for successfully finding a way to implement Bullet Time into the gameplay without turning it into a blundering mess. The maps are scaled well and detailed; an experience system with unlockables and different loadouts gives players a great amount of replay value. While many players enjoyed Gang Wars, I found myself drawn to the antics of Large Team Deathmatch. The only drawback I've seen so far when it comes to multiplayer is that the servers don't necessarily stay very active - you'll often have to find the right time of day to have a good share of participants if you don't have any friends joining you; I've literally run into only three players being available before. That small gripe aside, Max Payne's multiplayer system doesn't feel tacked on and fits it like a glove.

In closing, Max Payne 3's a game that may be divisive, but for reasons just as positive as any potentially negative ones. Times have changed for our hero, and possibly for the worst. Yet, change is often good and we see Max grow and evolve in ways unexpected before. Don't let the gruff look and cheap liquor fool you; Max Payne's still got it.

9 out of 10