Max Payne 3 New York Comic-Con Impressions -- Seamless Combo of Story and Game Design?By Harold Goldberg - Posted Oct 14, 2011
During the New York Comic-Con, Rockstar representatives showed off an unplayable demo of Max Payne 3 (and passed out thousands of t-shirts to attendees). It’s often difficult to gauge the true worth of a game when someone else is piloting. But after paying close attention to what was shown and talking with Rockstar for over an hour, Max Payne 3 may well be as creditable as the previous two releases – perhaps moreso.
But, oh, this world-weary Max. His visage is sad to witness. Max Payne is old-ass and paunchy now. His eyes are vacant. He’s not only down on his luck, he’s gone slack, hitting what seems to be rock bottom. His Hoboken apartment is strewn with rotting food and previously worn clothes are spread about the floor. He doesn’t want to live. In fact, he wants to kill himself through a combination of pills and booze. That scene in Hoboken is not a pretty sight, but it’s one that stirringly sets the scene for the possibility of a new life for Max. Raul Passos visits to tell of a job offer doing security for a well-off family in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Raul may come out of nowhere, but what he proposes not unlike real life. Many retired cops are freelancing their services abroad these days.
The Rockstar Vibe has always been about storytelling as much as it has been about game design. It goes way back to Sam Houser’s love for role playing games and pop culture in general. What you can infer from that opening scene is that Max’s story is more than black and white. Gray areas will abound. He’s not good or bad. Nobody in the game (or real life) is completely one or the other.
Outside Max’s window, Anthony DeMarco, a screaming crime boss (think an older Joe Pesci in Goodfellas), yells up to Max’s window: “You killed my boy. I got 100 angry greaseballs” who are going to go after Max. It’s hilarious writing, but it’s chilling at the same time. Max runs though the flea-bitten halls as a creepy, homeless philosopher nutcase appears and kills some baddies, deus ex machina-style. He screams “cleanse in fire,” blowing up himself (and the nearby creeps) in a blaze of insane glory.
As Max and Raul move to the roof, you witness a snowy, nighttime vista of Manhattan in the distance. The Empire State Building glistens with light, beckoning yet somehow so very far across the water, distant and uninviting. It’s not Max’s home anymore. Sao Paulo is. And that’s where the shooting really begins.
If this Hong Kong-inspired, cinematic action shooter with graphic novel-like split screens has a deep story to show off, both the controls and game design have to work together. Rockstar used the word ‘seamless’ more than a few times during the presentation. What that means onscreen is that there are no apparent load times between cut scenes and gamer-controlled action.
That’s somewhat incredible particularly because the frame rate seems to be so high and so much is going on onscreen. And Max, inspired by the real-life look of voice actor James McCaffrey, is physics-tuned to, well, the max. He walks and falls and flies through the air in slow motion like a human who has all 206 bones to use. What’s seen so far is really a marvel of motion capture and game design. Even as Max is falling to the ground, you can carefully lock on, aim and shoot. That’s going to be compelling with a weapon in each hand. Much of this fluidity is due to a new version of the Euphoria engine, which “generates motion on the fly – by simulating the character’s motor nervous system, body and muscles.”
Then, bang, it’s Bullet Time. Out comes that pointy, shiny bullet, so big and clear you can see the occasional flaw in the metal. Even if you’re about to die, you can peel off one last Hail Mary shot. If you hit your target, you’ll get a bit more health.
The enhanced melee system is something you’ll trigger manually once Max gets up close and personal with a Brazilian baddie. Rockstar says there will be a great variety of melee animations, depending upon which weapon Max is using, along with the angle at which he attacks his foe. In a nutshell, melee attacks involve Max hitting an enemy with his gun, then finishing him off with a strategically placed bullet. In Bullet Time, the entire melee sequence occurs automatically. You can also slow this sequence down to sadistically savor the moments of realistic physics and the chaotic but artful spattering of blood.
One difficulty for me was the character of Giovanna, the girlfriend of one of Max’s clients who wears a t-shirt that reads ‘Vida’ (life). She’s introduced as being braver than Max. But in an action sequence in which she’s forced to drive a bus while Max shoots up one small area in Sao Paulo, Giovanna whines and yelps like a scared kitten. Cut out a few of her worried sounds, and she’d be that courageous person. Rockstar representatives stressed the fact that Giovanna and other characters’ back stories and personalities are still being worked on. You want to believe that, especially since nothing is black and white in this game. Maybe Giovanna puts on a brave face, but maybe she’s been through a load of crap and is really frightened and bruised inside. In that multifaceted scenario, a brave exterior for a damaged soul could work well.