It seems like it was just a few years ago that I was having my mind blown by the incredible feats of Max Payne. Remedy Software's PC title broke many walls with its gritty tale of horror and industry-changing Bullet Time mechanic that hundreds of games have since reused, with often less than spectacular results. Then, after damn near a decade of silence, Rockstar gives new life to the series with the announcement of Max Payne 3, proving the series to be unkillable much like Max himself. Is the game as old and worn down as its hero as well?
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Max Payne is back for the third time, and he brings bullets and time. But that's old news. With Rockstar at the helm of the fabled action series, the forces driving Max Payne 3 is the big story. Targeting, animation, enemy intelligence, pimpin'! I had the chance to see some of this in person, and it was pretty damn impressive. Now, you can see it too! Though more a developer diary than a full on trailer, these 3 minutes of Max are as lovely as they are informative. You want neck shots? You got it. How about Max bullet-diving into the side of a bus? Gotcha covered.
Max Payne 3 is looking as smooth as a bald head so far, and it'll probably continue to. My worries begin and end with how deep the gameplay will be. Shooting dudes in the eye while diving backwards down a flight of stairs never gets boring. Or does it? Rockstar better figure out a way to teach this old dog some new tricks.
If you have never played Max Payne, buy and play it right this instant, then come back and read this post. Go on, I'll wait.
Right then, Max Payne is one of the most revolutionary action games to date. A disturbing, multilayered story coupled with the first uses of 'bullet time' created a winning product, no doubt. When Rockstar announced Max Payne 3 - 8 years after the second entry - I raised an eyebrow. That was all. I didn't expect the newer, older Max to be of any interest to me, but after watching 15 minutes or so of gameplay.. Well, let's just say I've underrated Rockstar, again.
Max Payne 3 is set several years after the conclusion of Max the second. Max is now an older, fatter gentleman who continues to deal with the traumatic events of his past by turning to the bottle. The demo starts with a flashback to Max's time in New York, to help to illustrate how he came into his current situation as a bodyguard for one of Sao Paolo's most politically powerful families. James McCaffrey's return as the voice of Max, together with hints of Max Payne's iconic theme sets things off in the right direction. A ghost from the past has shown up at Max's doorstep with an army of mobsters, seeking consolation by way of bullets. As the mafia mobs Max's misshapen manor, the bullet ballet begins. Right now, the HUD almost exactly resembles its previous incarnation. A white silhouette represents health, with a number within to note the amount of painkillers carried. Next to these is the bullet time meter. Max can wield either one or two one-handed weapons, or one two-handed weapon, quickly accessible via weapon wheel.
Players familiar with the series will already know what Max is capable of, however Rockstar has done its best to add something fresh here and there. Bullet time, as I hope you know, slows the world around Max, while allowing him to aim at normal speed. You're also less likely to be hit by any incoming bullets when this mode is active, providing you don't just stand around like a lame duck. The best course of action in bullet time, is always to activate and dive, which not only gets results, but looks cool as hell. As you would expect from Rockstar, all sorts of attention to detail has been paid to animations, assuring that Max looks as realistic as possible when completing a dive, after which he has full 360-degree aiming control while on the ground. On the topic of animations, get this: the motion capture process was so thorough, Rockstar created full scale sets to mimic the environments found in game, so every fence-climb, every median-vault, and every dash for cover is preformed by Max & company with unparalleled realism.
After the flashback in New York, Max is now in current day Brazil, looking a bit on the haggard side. This scene begins with a new take on the graphic comic style of storytelling the first two entries in the series used. It's been described as a motion comic, but it seems more along the lines of an interlude scene from 24: full video clips occurring in multiple panels, with more cross processed color, and less Jack Bauer. I am not a fan, but should they keep this style in the final product, I'm sure I'll get used to it. Max is accompanied by a lovely young Brazilian woman, whom it seems he is tasked to protect. Of course, the duo is then assaulted by waves of men possessing body armor and assault rifles. Here is where the combat shines. Max is now able to take cover behind objects to help shield him from harm when bullet time is not an option. In past titles, having to rely solely on bullet time instead of cover encouraged an aggressive play style, whether or not the cover system will detract from that remains to be seen. Environments contain a high level of detail, especially when being shot and blown up. Just about everything comes crumbling down as it soaks up the hail of bullets and explosions, and I wouldn't have it any other way. When the last enemy of each wave is set down, bullet-cam makes its glorious return. As the enemy is shot, the camera takes a unique, dynamic angle to show the bullet exiting the barrel of Max's gun. As the bullet heads toward its final destination in slow motion, you have a great deal of control, including increasing or decreasing the speed, so you can savor that final kill any way you'd like. My words don't do this much justice, it looked pretty damn good.
I was slightly skeptical about this title before, but Rockstar has done well to ease many of my concerns. Many, but not all. With no sign of deviating from the classic Max Payne formula, will this title lack depth to the game mechanics? Lips were sealed tight regarding multiplayer, but rest assured it will be an integral part of the title, however in what form is completely unknown. Max's internal monolgue is in tact, and we were told Remedy Entertainment - developers of MP and MP2 - like what they've seen and have given their blessing. Max Payne 3 is still a ways off, but from what I've been shown, Rockstar appears to be on the right track. Will a vicious Valkyr addiction ruin Max's return to glory? Stay tuned.
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