Max Payne 3 First Look Preview -- A Grizzled Hero's Dirty Work is Never DoneBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Oct 06, 2011
The settings might be different but the situations are the same. That was one of the standout messages I came away with during a recent Max Payne 3 demo session with Rockstar Games. It’s been a number of years since we saw our dual-wielding detective and this long-awaited follow up partakes in this hiatus by presenting a Max Payne that’s older, more ragged, and alcohol dependent.
It’s been a while but there’s a familiarity about the world Rockstar Studios has carved for Payne and fans of the series. Why wasn’t I surprised that the game started at night? While I only got a small sample of the game’s narrative and premise, it doesn’t seem like Max Payne 3 will go the route of being a clichéd redemption tale, but more likely a transitional period for both Max and the game series. We find our downtrodden hero in the midst of self-pity while a visiting friend thinks he has some worthwhile work for Max: a decent-paying job that might help get his mind off the booze. The one minor caveat is that the job is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Before Max has a chance to really think about it, a mob boss and his goons drive up to Payne’s apartment on a quest for vengeance. It appears Max shot and killed the boss’ only son; a good enough reason to raze the apartment to the ground. Obviously an escape is in order.
It was when I saw Max in the hallway that all the memories started to flood in. We all spent many, many hours in the hallways of the previous games and the superb graphical detail in Max Payne 3 made me think that a remake of the original game wouldn’t be a bad idea. Things become even more familiar when Max makes his first slow-motion leap toward a couple of mob goons, unloading rounds in classic Payne fashion. It turns into a thrilling charge down subsequent hallways as Max wields standard issue firearms like the dual pistols and a shotgun.
In case you might have forgotten how dark and insane Max Payne’s world can be, in comes one of his neighbors, a hippie conspiracy theorist type who rambles like he’s high on something. Before you have any chance to figure out how this looney ticks, he unexpectedly helps Max with his escape in a rather explosive and permanent fashion.
With the escape successful, it’s time for Max to consider his friend’s request. While it was wholly thrilling to revisit the familiar grittiness of Max’s world of Brooklyn, Rockstar seems to want to give Max Payne 3 an identity all its own, which does take us to Brazil. Note: Brazil might be just one of a number of countries the game is set in, though the Rockstar spokesman I hung out with was being unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the subject.
It hit me immediately the moment I saw him in Brazil with his shaved head, beard and tanktop: Max Payne is now a guy who looks like he can kick the asses of both Kane AND Lynch while still dealing with an alcohol problem. His first job is a straightforward assignment in protecting a woman. Going from detective from bodyguard isn’t that unusual of a career move, but what does that say about the likelihood of dealing with escort missions?
Regardless of your tolerance for escort missions, you actually might not have to deal with any kind of babysitting if this initial mission in Brazil was any indication. In keeping focus on the action and Max’s constant gunplay, the drama that unfolds between Max and the woman occur exclusively during the cutscenes; she doesn’t have a health bar.
The voiceover-laden graphic novel cutscenes have undergone a few changes. Max still narrates but he manages to dial down the Raymond Chandler descriptions and metaphors. These new intermissions lack the grittiness of the first game and instead pop on the screen with more color and with a more contemporary font, reminiscent of a Guy Ritchie movie. And in a move that seems fitting of how time has aged Max, voice actor James McCaffrey not only returns as the titular character but also provides the facial animation and motion capture for the first time in the series.
On a side note, our demo happened to conclude with a minor deviation from the standard on-foot gameplay. This escape from the thugs of Sao Paulo included an on-rails bus ride with the woman at the wheel and Max hanging off the edge of the bus while he continually unloaded on their attackers.
My biggest takeaway from this demo was how Max Payne 3 appears to preserve the features that made the first game great while paying respect to the many gameplay innovations that have emerged since the original game’s 2001 release. The cinematic appeal of Max Payne always went hand in hand with the gunplay and it’s even more so this time around. When Max fires a bullet at a target that the game knows is the fatal round, often the camera will cut to a dramatic angle where you can briefly savor your handiwork as you finish off your target. There is also a cover system, but the levels aren’t designed to make it a feature that you’ll be using constantly like say, Gears of War. Instead, expect to take the more assertive approach which really was one of the most appealing features of Max Payne.
While this session was strictly a hands-off demo, there’s a familiarity with the bullet-time that I wouldn’t be surprised would feel like putting on an old pair of shoes. We really haven’t had a stylistic shooter lately where bullet-time was the cornerstone gameplay mechanic. Yes, we’ve had memorable slowdown modes in everything from Batman: Arkham Asylum to Bulletstorm; perhaps this subgenre just needed a break after the Tony Hawk-meets-John Woo-fest that was Stranglehold. With the game’s early Spring 2012 release we’re quite confident we’ll have more insights on Max Payne 3 before launch.