There have been some horrifyingly twisted serial killers over the course of history. Colombia does a good line in them, for example, but even its most prolific murderer has a list of suspected victims that's 'only' in the hundreds. That pales in comparison to Max Payne 3's stratospheric body count. By the end of this game, you'll have snuffed out well over a thousand virtual souls, all of whom practically line up to put their heads in front of your crosshairs.
In a game based on shooting, that's ostensibly a good thing. You certainly won't be left wanting for people on which to practice your slow motion 'shoot dodges'. By the end of the 12-15 hour running time you'll be terrifyingly efficient - activating bullet time, sweeping into a room, puncturing three skulls and then finishing off with an acrobatic dive to flamboyantly empty your clip into the fourth. We can imagine John Woo nodding his head in silent appreciation.
The problem is, do anything - no matter how much fun - 1,000 times and it begins to become a mite repetitive. Max Payne 3's only regular concessions to variety are the odd mounted gun sections, which don't really change the formula beyond temporarily removing the use of your legs. There are armoured flavours of enemy, who require a headshot or two before they acquiesce and fall over, but you'll have been prioritising the cranium for efficiency's sake anyway.
In a way it's old school. Max Payne 3's biggest triumph is that, in a similar fashion to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the new development team has captured the style and feel of the original game perfectly. Max might have put on a few pounds since the early noughties, but the first time you dive into a room, swivelling in mid-air to plug multiple enemies, it'll all come flooding back. Like the original games, it's the narrative and the locations that keep you from switching your brain off and reverting to murderous muscle memory.
The plot's engaging, complex and beautifully delivered. It's also a unique take on the videogame 'hero' - Max is an alcoholic wreck at the beginning of the game and things don't improve a great deal throughout. Somehow, it makes it easier to root for Payne as he's shambling from one disastrous encounter to another, desperately trying to do the right thing. The now infamous point where Max shaves his head represents a noticeable gear-shift for the plot - it's not quite two different games, what with the ceaseless murdering, but it's definitely a dramatic evolution of the character himself. His motivation is your motivation after all, and it's that renewed sense of purpose that powers you through the second half of the game.
That and the opportunity for some sightseeing. The Favela in Sao Paulo is the standout location - delicately decorated with the same care and attention you'd expect from a Hollywood set - but it's just one of the locations you'll visit on a global tour. Fans of the series will relish the flashbacks to New Jersey, which both tweak the nostalgia neurons and help tie Rockstar Vancouver's Max with Remedy's original article. While the game is traditionally linear, these environments do encourage some gentle exploration. There are non-essential clues scattered around that flesh out the plot and collectible golden gun parts for completists. Proper single-player replay value comes from a series of leaderboard-enabled 'Arcade' run-throughs that are vaguely reminiscent of Bizarre Creations' forgotten score-chaser The Club.