Max Payne 3

New Hands-On Impressions Of Max Payne 3
by Matt Helgeson on Mar 01, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Games
Rating: Mature
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

We’ve seen Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 at a few points in its development. Now, with the game’s May 15 release date drawing near, Rockstar stopped by the Game Informer offices to give us our first hands-on playable demo of the game.

If you’ve missed our previous coverage on the game, here’s a brief primer: Max Payne 3 is set several years after the events of Max Payne 2. The intervening years have not been kind to Max, who left the NYPD in disgrace and has fallen into alcoholism. Through a former colleague, Raul Passos, Max makes his way to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he begins working in the shadowy world of private security for the local scion Rodrigo Branco. Predictably, everything goes to hell when Comando Sombra, a paramilitary-style gang, kidnaps Branco’s wife, Fabiana. Max is tasked with bringing her back, and the result is a whole lot of gunplay.

While this is the first Max Payne game internally developed by Rockstar, the company hews closely to the formula that Remedy created with the first two titles. To wit, this is not an open-world game, but rather an attempt to create a more cinematic, technologically adept version of the series’ signature Bullet Time action.

We start off with a cutscene featuring Max, the Brancos, and Raul Passos discussing strategy at the family’s corporate headquarters. The scene shows off the game’s quick-cut, digital-video style presentation, which will be familiar to fans of the Bourne movies. After agreeing to pay off Fabiana’s captors, Max and Passos leave for the soccer stadiums where the drop-off is to happen. As always, Rockstar’s dialogue and voice-acting is top-notch; James McCaffrey reprises his role as Max to great effect.

It’s a dramatic set-up; as Max and Raul walk on to the field of the massive stadium, the exchange suddenly goes awry as shots are fired from by another mystery group from the bleachers. Max takes a bullet, but manages to pick himself up and run off with Passos to recover the money and (hopefully) Fabiana.

From here, we begin shooting our way through the stadium. As you’d expect, the emphasis of the game is still very much on Max’s Bullet Time abilities. You click down on the right stick to move in and out of Bullet Time, or use the right bumper to do a shoot/dodge. There’s a bit more emphasis on using cover than in past games, but I found that it comes with a risk. The AI is actually pretty aggressive in flanking your position, so staying put and playing the game like it’s a noir Gears of War isn’t a good strategy.

It’s all pretty straightforward; you won’t be mistaking Max for a tactical shooter. As we continue our way through the bowels of the stadium, I start to get a feel for the controls. Max feels a bit “heavier” than in past games, perhaps even a bit plodding at times. However, I get the old Max feeling back pretty quickly, and am soon dispatching enemies in balletic fashion. The highlight of the stadium sequence is a sniper mission where we provide cover for Raul as he runs across a section of seats.

The second level we play is down by the docks, where the Sombra is keeping Fabiana. By shooting out a wedge behind the tire of parked truck with a silenced pistol, we begin the level with a bit more stealth than we’re accustomed to from Max. However, after blowing our cover, we’re thrown back into the fray. While the level design is straightforward (i.e., run into a new area, shoot everyone), there’s a definitely a learning curve in terms of how to approach each scenario. In one garage area, we also got a look at one of the game’s mini-Bullet Time events. After diving off a walkway, the game automatically went into Bullet Time and I was able to pick off enemies on the ground floor with one-hit kills.

Overall, the base gameplay feels solid, but still needs a bit of polish before it ships – something Rockstar has shown time and again it’s more than capable of doing. I played the bulk of the demo in free-aim mode, but there is also a soft target lock available if you choose (something I was forced to a do in a couple of areas for the sake of time). Bullet Time is still a great gameplay mechanic, even if it doesn’t feel as novel as it did years ago. After all, it’s arguably one of the most imitated gameplay mechanics of all time. It’s certainly challenging – I frequently made use of the “Last Man Standing” feature that allows you to save yourself from death by killing the enemy that shot you.

While I didn’t get to see the outcome of the bloody events we’d help set in motion, I was certainly caught back up in the world of Max Payne. The Brazilian setting feels like a fresh start for the series, and while the gameplay is hardly innovative, it’s definitely fun and engaging. Max’s Hong Kong-inspired theatrics are a refreshing change of pace from the current shooter market.

At the end of the demo, Rockstar dropped some intriguing new details on the game’s multiplayer. While the game will have all the customary modes, Rockstar hopes to incorporate the drama and storytelling of the single-player campaign into the competitive multiplayer through a mode called Gang Wars. Gang Wars creates multiplayer scenarios out of events from the single-player campaign that will change based on the outcome of each round. For example, if your team captures the most turf in the last round, the story will dictate that you must defuse bombs in your territory that will be planted by the team that lost the last round. In another set-up, the player with the most kills in the last round will become hunted by the rest of the players in the match. While Rockstar wasn’t specific, we were told that these events will be fleshed out through cutscenes and tie directly into Max’s story. There’s also a new mode called Payne Killer, in which the player who gets the first kill becomes Max and the player who is killed first becomes Passos.

There are also new abilities called “bursts,” that will add intrigue. One, called “sneaky,” will turn your Gamertag or ID the same color as your opponents’ to allow you to get the drop on them. Another, called “paranoia,” actually turns on friendly fire and changes the opponents’ teammates ID color to that of the enemy team. Also, Bullet Time is functional in multiplayer, though Rockstar is attempting to balance the feature by allowing the opponent to “break” your Bullet Time chain by running out of your line of sight.

Based on everything we’ve seen so far, Max Payne 3 appears to be exactly what Rockstar promised in our original cover story: a game that aims to update the Max Payne experience in a new setting and with the best of today’s technology, while remaining true to the traditions of the series. While it would be impossible for Max’s Bullet Time acrobatics to be as groundbreaking as they were all those years ago, the core experience here is still one worth your time.