What does it feel like to lose everything? Most of us will never know. But what would you do if you lost your job? Your true love? Your sanity? Your reasons for living? Rockstar’s long-missing noir hero, Max Payne, knows the answer to these questions.

Max has been absent from the video game landscape since the 2003 release of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The long‑awaited Max Payne 3 features a hero much different from the handsome character we once knew. This new Max is older and harder, marked with the scars of his fall to the bottom. While he’s still very much a violent man of action, the world around him has moved on and so has he. What would a man with nothing left to lose do to get one more chance at the good life? This question will ultimately be answered in Rockstar’s next epic adventure.

The Third Act

If you want to know how much has changed in the world of Max Payne, look no further than the picture on the top of this page. This bald, bearded man bears little resemblance to the character we followed through two successful games. He’s aged considerably since the tragic events of Max Payne 2, with a scarred face and thicker build. If not for the headline, it would be hard to recognize Max at all. Clearly, Rockstar Games, which is developing the game in-house for the first time since purchasing the rights from series creator Remedy, is not averse to taking chances with the franchise.

“It’s a tricky thing, because you’re taking this beloved franchise that we didn’t do originally,” comments Rockstar art director Rob Nelson. “You have to maintain the elements of it that are special and that people remember, but you also have to evolve. We’re not Remedy, but we have a lot of respect for what they did. We’re definitely looking back and trying to maintain every element that clicked with people eight or nine years ago and make it have the same impact now.”

It’s a difficult balancing act. How do you create a game that both respects the history of the franchise and creates a world that feels fresh to gamers in 2009?

“We’re used to having franchises that people expect a lot from and have a lot of pressure attached to them,” Nelson says. “We’ve learned to go with our gut and trust our instincts….we wanted to challenge ourselves.”
At Rockstar’s headquarters in New York, located in the hip SoHo district, we witnessed a world-exclusive first look at the game in action. If you expected a by-the-numbers sequel, prepare to be surprised. The third chapter of the Max Payne saga takes our hero places that he’s never gone before, while at the same time keeping an eye towards maintaining and improving the stylish gunplay that made his reputation. Like most Rockstar games, it’s clearly a labor of love (and just a little bit of mania). [PageBreak]

The Urban Jungle

More than any other publisher, Rockstar’s games depend on a real sense of place and culture. Whether it’s Liberty City’s dense metropolis, Bully’s bucolic school campus, or the arid desert of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, the main characters in Rockstar games are often reflective of the setting itself. The company is known for creating worlds so immersive and complex they seem as real as our own hometowns – and a good deal more exciting.

The dark, damp New York setting and atmosphere of classic film noir marked the first two Max Payne titles, a cinematic style defined by films like The Maltese Falcon and A Touch of Evil. Their graphic novel style cutscenes and dark scripts created a sense of foreboding and drama rare for the day. However, the team at Rockstar Vancouver is embracing a new, more contemporary setting for its gritty crime tale: Sao Paulo, Brazil, a sprawling Latin American megalopolis boasting a population of over 20 million people.

“If you take a look at films like City of God and Elite Squad – there’s some really intense situations happening down there,” says Rockstar’s VP of development Jeronimo Barrera. “The setting is so ripe with things for us to play off of.”

Sao Paulo’s ghettos, known as favelas in the native Portuguese, are some of the most dangerous in the world. In addition to drug trafficking, one of the city’s most notorious gangs, the Primeiro Comanda da Capital, controls huge swaths of the city and has organized large-scale prison riots, robberies, and high-profile kidnappings since its formation in 1993. Combine the city’s notoriously corrupt police forces with the sobering statistic that one out of every 75 citizens is carrying a gun and it’s little wonder that the number one cause of death for young people in Sao Paulo is murder.

Sao Paulo demonstrates all extremes of the human condition, making it a perfect setting for a Max Payne tale of crime, violence, and redemption. “You’ll see a high-rise building with a multi-million dollar penthouse, and at the base is literally shanties,” Barrera recalls. “Sao Paulo has the greatest number of heliports on top on buildings of any city in the world. For the rich, it’s safest to travel by air. There are a lot of private security forces.”

As always, Rockstar took tremendous strides in researching Sao Paulo. More than 10 staffers traveled to the city to take reference photos, gather information, and generally soak up what they refer to as the “vibe” of the city. They even took the unprecedented step of bringing down equipment to perform 3D scans of locals to make sure their pedestrian and enemy models were authentic.

“We shipped down all this 3D scanning equipment, had all sorts of problems with customs,” Nelson recalls. “We scanned hundreds of people. We worked with a casting agent. We told them what we wanted and they sent us hundreds and hundreds of images. The people came in and just brought their own clothes usually and we scanned them.”

For Barrera, this attention to detail separates Rockstar’s games from the competition. “It’s the real deal,” he says. “It’s about bringing all these elements together – the technology, the research, the storytelling. That’s why our games feel right and look right. There’s a legitimacy there when you’re actually working with people in the favelas and you’re down there and doing the research.”