I’ve been writing news stories about Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 for months, but up until PAX East 2012, everything I knew about the game was second hand. That all changed when I heard mad beats coming from the Rockstar booth. There, I found a playable demo for Max Payne 3 and a vacant controller with my name on it.
The first level I got to play took place in a bar in New York City. Chronologically, Max begins the game in New York and then heads down to Sao Paulo, Brazil. During his adventure, Max will remember moments in his life that lead him to Sao Paulo. This means the bar scene I was playing could have been a flashback. The bar was dark, drab, and apparently the hideout of a handful of baddies. I didn’t know the set-up of this scene at all, but one enemy shot first. That’s all I needed to know.
The control scheme for Max Payne 3 was more complicated than your typical third-person shooter. X, B, A, and Y handled as you would expect. One allowed Max to lumber along, albeit quickly. Another lets Max reload and switch weapons. The right thumbstick and the right bumper are where the magic happens. Right bumper is shoot-dodge.
This lets Max gracefully, and dramatically, dive a significant distance in slow motion. Right thumbstick is bullettime. If you’re an old school Max Payne fan you’ll know exactly how this works. If you’re new to the series, like I am, then this is going to take some getting used to.
Next up on my laundry list of lead was the stadium for the Sao Paulo Galatians. Max, who was all dolled up in his best Hawaiian shirt, was armed and ready to take out some thugs. The stadium bleachers made the perfect landscape for ridiculously unnecessary shoot-dodge. At one point I managed to make Max jump down nearly a dozen rows of seats. While this looked totally awesome, it made Max an exposed target to every thug hanging around. And thus began die-fest 2012.
Max doesn’t have a normal regening health bar. You can’t acquire health throughout the game either, but you can use painkillers to boost your health. Bottles of pills are hard to come by, keep that in mind before embarking on a mission that lacks cover. The way the stadium was designed meant there wasn’t a spot I could camp at to pick guys off. Instead, no matter the wall or ledge I hid behind I was hit by enemy fire. Since Max Payne and I had just met, I wasn’t skilled at shoot-dodge or bullet time. This resulted in numerous deaths and the occasional “come on, that didn’t even hit me!”
Eventually Max made his way through the stadium to the trophy room. Unlike the stadium, this room had a wall I could easily hide behind. This was the moment I discovered Max Payne’s AI is way smarter than most games I’ve played. Max can’t be stagnant for more than a few seconds before enemies will charge him. You don’t have the luxury of taking your time. Needless to say, I died here many times before making it to the door.
This took awhile for me to get the hang of, but I did appreciate the urgency I felt. Your time matters, your bullets matter, and your pills matter. Everything about Max Payne 3 felt necessary, like my choices mattered, not in a “BioWare” way, but in a “I better put down my phone and pray for headshots” way. If your skills reflect my own, might I suggest adjusting the difficulty settings to "normal" when you pick it up this May. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.