Max Payne 3 Hands-on Preview -- The Proof is in the PayneBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 01, 2012
Until Rockstar Games’s most recent press demo, our time with Max Payne 3 and its legendary pill-popping titular detective had been limited to watching in awe as Max navigated from one chaotic scene to another across a smattering of locales, dispensing with his own stylish brand of lead-based justice (TM).
That’s been all well and good as the game is rather easy on the eyes (if a bit rough on the stomach—slow-mo bullet damage is no joke), and Rockstar has done a great job showcasing the MP3’s cutting edge tech in its recent gameplay trailers. However, without being able to put Max through his “getting too old for this sh*t” paces ourselves, I wasn’t sure if Max, with all of his newfangled animation and physics systems, would feel as good as he looked. Boy, was I silly to doubt.
The demo session kicked off with a scene near the beginning of the game, after Max has arrived in Sao Paulo with former police academy pal Raul Passos who has given Max a job acting as hired muscle for rich industrialist Rodrigo Blanco. The situation takes a dark turn when Blanco’s wife, Fabiana, gets kidnapped by a gang known as the Comando Sombra. Max and Raul are sent to the football stadium of the fictional soccer club Sao Paulo Galatians to, theoretically, exchange the ransom money for Fabiana. As you might expect, this plan falls apart pretty quickly thanks to some unsuspecting interference on behalf of a large number of heavily armed goons.
Shortly after their arrival at the stadium, Max and Raul, find themselves, along with the thugs they came to exchange the money with, under fire from snipers positioned around the top level of the stadium. Max takes a bullet to the arm but manages to escape further damage by scrambling inside the locker room entrance nearby. The gang member who took the bag of ransom cash was also hit, but he managed to get a head start on us in the ensuing chaos. Thankfully, his blood trail gives Max and Raul a jumping off point.
- PREVIEW: Max Payne 3 Gameplay Preview
For this hands-off portion, Max hobbles through the steam filled locker room, gripping his blood soaked and bullet pierced arm in obvious pain. At one point, he stumbles into a wall using it as a brace. As he moves forward, he leaves behind a trail of blood on the wall, Robert Rodriguez-style. Max Payne 3’s highly stylized presentation elements shine through in this sequence, as the camera floats loosely behind Max, signifying his instability and pain.
Eventually, Raul and Max find a first aid station, and Raul bandages up Max’s arm, Max grunting and panting the whole time. With some painkillers popped and gun in hand, the duo gear up to take the fight to the band of killers descending on their position and figure out how everything went to hell so quickly.
At this point, I was handed the controller, and it was time to put Max to the test. I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with Max’s new controls before jumping into full on combat by running, rolling, and diving around a mini soccer field set up in the locker room, presumably, for team training sessions. As soon as you start to move Max around, you can feel and see the multiple layers of animations at play underneath Max’s skin. If you’ve seen the Max Payne 3 targeting and weapons trailer, then you have seen how Max’s movements have been designed in such a way as to give the player 360 degrees of fluid motion in order to dish out as close to a constant stream of bullets as possible. The free aim mode will obviously give you the most options in this regard, but if you want a little help, the game also includes an assist mode that locks your retical onto body parts for you.
But before you even start shooting, you can’t help but be somewhat mesmerized with Max’s movements. He twists, pivots, and redistributes his weight as you aim and change his direction, and each step feels appropriately hefty. In talking with the Rockstar reps on hand, it became clear that while the animations that govern everything from how Max moves to how his body reacts to the environment when, say, he’s soaring through the air with Uzi and pistol blazing are certainly cutting edge, it’s the transitions between these animations where the real magic lies.
Moving from a running position to rolling to diving--all the while shooting, reloading, and popping painkillers mind you--has a remarkable smoothness to it. One of the best examples of this is the way Max recovers after pulling off one of his patented dive maneuvers. Assuming his aerial path is clear (if he hits a wall or other obstruction in mid jump, he’ll crumple to the ground realistically), you can shoot in all directions, aided by the time-slowing bullet time effect. Cool enough, no?
However, once Max lands, he can continue to shoot from the ground without a skip in the animations. As he stands up, he can keep shooting and even reload if need be, again without a hiccup. I mean, you can roll over a dropped weapon, and Max will pick it up during the role and be ready to fire it by the time he’s right side up again. Not too shabby for a soon-to-be AARP subscriber, eh?
Of course, pulling off these impressive acts definitely took some time. At first, Max's movements were little on the slippery side, but after a shootout or two, I settled in and hit my stride. The more sophisticated maneuvers, like the vicious melee takedowns, are all about timing and position, two things that can be hard to come by when eight thugs are painting your immediate surroundings with a steady stream of bullets. The levels I played did a good job of pitting Max against just the right amount of enemies to push me to learn better tactics but also keeping me from becoming frustrated, something I hope stays true for the full game.
Further along in the demo, Max and Raul move into a bleacher section of the stadium. Always Mr. Subtle, Max enters this fight by leaping from the top row of the bleachers, sailing majestically downward, picking off fools left and right on the way down. The lesson demonstrated in this scenario is that while MP3 will feature some of the most realistic third-person shooter controls of this generation, Rockstar is still very much mindful of not letting that get in the way of good old-fashioned fun.
Another clear takeaway is that variety will also play a major role in defining the kind of shooter MP3 ends up being. Outside of things like being able to duel wield any gun combination you want, the level structure, at least from what I saw, is certainly linear, but within those limits you’ll find plenty of options. Run headlong into a group of armed goons, or wait until a couple of them have near an exploding canister and use the blast to draw out the rest of the forces in the area.
At the start of a later portion of the demo, set a few levels after the stadium debacle, I came across a group of enemies sitting in a parked car on a boat loading dock. Rather than simply shoot them, I shot out the parking braces beneath the tires and watched as the car rolled into the water taking out a handful of dudes in the process and preserving precious ammo in the process. Even in my close-to-an-hour of play time, this sort of improvisation and nimbleness played a major role in my survival (and enjoyment) during the demo, and I expect this to be the case in the final product as well.
After battling our way through the goon-infested stadium, eventually taking out those pesky snipers responsible for the FUBAR mission, and then battling through an equally goon-infested and rain-drenched dock scene, I came away more optimistic than ever that Rockstar is onto something special with Max Payne 3. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see more, especially on the multiplayer side, as we get close to the game's May 15th release.