Max Payne 3: In a world of trouble
1st Nov 2011 | 14:15
Set eight years after the events of the second game, Max Payne 3 has the washed-up cop in an even deeper funk than before, still addicted to painkillers (and still needing to collect as many as possible in order to keep his health topped up) and slowly drinking himself to death.
But watching him go through the Jack Daniels wouldn't make for much of a game. So, in events not fully disclosed in our plot-protecting demo, Max hands in his badge at the NYPD and jets off to Sao Paulo to take a security job in Brazil.
His task: to protect the wealthy Branco family - Rodrigo, a real estate mogul, and his two brothers: Victor, a local politician, and Marcello, a job-shirking playboy. Then things go bad. Rodrigo's wife, Fabiana, is kidnapped while under Max's protection, and as he tries to find out where she was taken, and who's responsible, things start to go wrong, wronger and wrongest.
Trapped in a city he doesn't know, hunting an enemy he can't find, Max soon realises there's only one option left: diving slowly through the air, firing two guns.
With development duties shared between a number of different Rockstar studios, and original devs Remedy - in a nice touch - constantly consulted (they love the direction it's headed in, we're assured), Max Payne 3 feels different but the same. That's no bad thing. The change of scenery gives it a new flavour and a fresh slant, but much has been carried over from the first two games, even if mechanics like acrobatic dual wielding, bullet time and bullet cam feel much more refined now.
Bullet cam, especially, is a useful tool, only coming into play as you clear the last of the foes from the area you're in; kind of a full stop to that particular section, which is essential in firefights where enemies are coming at you from all directions. Max's repertoire is much more advanced now too: everyone in the game has been motion captured - literally everyone: even bit-part players will have their own bespoke animation - but our hero gets the best of it.
He can do more advanced versions of the dives and the blind-firing he built his reputation on, but new moves like prone shooting - where you can pop enemies through 360 while lying on your back - add much more to his arsenal. A good job too, as the foes you face this time round aren't as happy to stand there and take your bullets - they move in packs, they flank you, they duck for cover.
There's some minimal interaction with environments - the levels we saw included being able to drop buses onto unfortunate foes, and explode the gas tanks on forklifts - and what Rockstar are calling 'cinematic set pieces', where Max raises the shootery to new levels by, say, grabbing a piece of cabling and swinging in towards the centre of an enemy-infested warehouse floor, while dishing out head shots. You can even get up close and personal if the chance presents itself, and do for aggressors with a melée finisher.
What's clear is just how much of a departure this is from the regular Rockstar template. This is no sandbox. There's no freedom of movement, and no freedom of choice. Quite the opposite, in fact: Max Payne 3 is obsessively linear. It's a deliberate choice, leaving the team to concentrate on the gunplay, which looks super-slick, hard-edged and exciting.
And while the scope and scale of GTA and Red Dead may have been jettisoned, Max Payne 3 is still an impressive technical achievement: animation, AI and voice acting all knit together seamlessly, graphically it's beautiful (both in NYC and Sao Paulo), and there are no loading times at all once the game has begun - all the data crunching is done as the cut-scenes play out.
If there's one worry it's that the game is so relentlessly focused on its gunplay, so utterly laser-focused on delivering the best shootouts possible, it may end up feeling a little one-note. But, as this first round of demos was entirely hands-off, the real proof will be in the playing in a couple of months' time. We can't wait...