When we last left Max Payne 3 here on AusGamers, I’d been given a glimpse of the reinvented man in hands-off demo form. I walked away thinking that Rockstar were definitely on the right track with the game, and that despite a massive slow-mo-inspired leap in gameplay tools, it was fundamentally going to be a Max Payne run-and-gun experience.
So, not so long ago I was invited out to Rockstar Sydney HQ again, this time to actually get hands-on with the game during two different sequences, each taking place at varying points in the game, but both giving me a run-and-gun for my money Max Payne 3 experience.
As is the case with most Rockstar games, Max Payne 3 is very story-heavy, and includes a large number of cut-scenes - all in-engine, and all highly stylised. There’s a very cool panel-by-panel editing thing going on throughout these sequences, where cameras jump too and fro, freezing a piece of the action in time like a comic book panel, where eventually there are a number of them on-screen.
Adding to the stylisation of these sequences, certain words mentioned during character banter, or Max’s own inner monologue, are plastered on-screen for a second or two. There didn’t appear to be anything to this other than as an aesthetic touch, and they certainly do add to the game’s narrative style, but there might be a hidden code behind them that rears its head once we get it at retail.
I was told the team developed a new editing tool that exists in-engine, which allowed the team to craft these dynamic story sequences. The best word I can muster to describe the overall delivery of them is “frenetic” which is an important word, because the action that follows in the hands-on department is equally so, and visceral to a fault as a result.
My first mission sees Max and his pal, Raul Passos, in Sao Paulo working as protection for a rather large “industrialist” family. The daughter of the head of this family has been kidnapped, and the whole crew are forced to pay the ransom for her safe return. Max and Passos, however, make the exchange, and when an uninvited team of highly trained mercenaries show up and take care of the kidnappers and create a bunch of trouble where the ransom money and hostage daughter are concerned, Max and Passos are forced to go to work.
And work they do. Within the first few minutes of this mission, Max is clipped in the arm and you take control of him while he’s in immense pain. Keeling over, moving slowly and bumping into walls is relayed through the controller with aplomb. If you ever played GTA IV, and went out drinking, you’ll know what I mean. Like that game, and Red Dead Redemption before it, Max Payne 3 takes full advantage of Euphoria animation physics, and this helps in the sequence above immeasurably. Max feels
like he’s in pain, though this is also a great way to remind the player that all action heroes have an inner strength, Max’s happens to be his reliance on Painkillers, and after finding a bottle with the help of Passos, he’s back on his feet and ready to dive in slow-motion in no time.
The classic corridor shooting gallery feel of the original games is well and truly intact in Max Payne 3, and the game’s slow-motion, bullet-time diving is still a shining component. There’s not much more to sell you with this, as it really speaks for itself. A few new additions reared their head though, such as a last-minute bullet-time opportunity to take down someone who is directly attacking you in a position where you’re likely to die. Moreover, each room comes with a specific number of enemies, and when you kill the last man standing, a spectacular bullet-cam kicks in highlighting the final kill. Awesomely, you can actually control the speed of the bullet in this sequence, and even pump the trigger to fill him with even more lead. You can even watch his face reacting - dynamically - to each hit. Very, very cool.
Melee combat is also on offer in Max Payne 3, because there are definitely times where the impressive AI will close in to get the drop on you, or you might just need to rush in Han Solo style. Max will knock his opponent to the ground, but then the onus of taking him out permanent falls back to the player, with an execution-style killing that requires you fire your pistol. It can be gruesome at time, but hey, this is Max Payne right?
The game also features an impressive destructible environments model. It’s not all-encompassing, but works enough to have players and AI ducking in and out of vulnerable cover spots, while also adding that much needed action movie flair with bullet-riddled debris creating a dynamic sense of frenetic drama.
I played the game on Xbox 360 and chose to use Free Aim, which is how I played Red Dead Redemption. It’s a bit harder with a controller in Max Payne 3 though, as quarters are definitely a lot closer, and you’re twitch firing at the best of times. I can certainly imagine this playing incredibly well with a keyboard and mouse, and we’re talking with Rockstar to get some PC hands-on time in soon, so stay tuned for that.
Equally, and as mentioned before, enemy AI is quite good. I actually had to play out several sequences a few times due to recklessness on my behalf, and smarts on theirs. The impressive thing here was that each time I reloaded, the enemy would do something different, and also react differently to any new approach I took. It gave the game a tactical component that was actually missing from the previous two Max Paynes, and felt welcome as a challenge.
I won’t spoil the whole sequence for you, because it really was fun and had a few narrative stand-outs I feel would ruin the flow for you when you play, but the final part of this mission was a doozy, with Max going all Bruce Willis from the very top of the soccer stadium, through an announcer’s box window to take down an annoying sniper. After everything I’d just been through, the satisfaction of such an over-the-top and awesome end-sequence was immense. The team have really done their action homework, and the game is all the better for it.
Another cut-scene that was shown after the conclusion of the Sao Paul Soccer Stadium mission introduced another narrative component the team have introduced. In real-time, a trigger in thought or vocalisation from Max sparked a flash to New York, seamlessly, with Max in a bar talking about the events that will invariably lead him to where the game takes place. Not too much was given away here, but I can tell you it was very cool, and well-fitting with the updated, modernised story and presentation of Max Payne 3.
The final mission I played through gave off a creepy atmosphere, utilising an intriguing soundtrack replete with industrial sounds to weigh out the ambiance the team were going for. This is an action title, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be one-dimensional.
Max’s arm was still bandaged after the sniper shot from the mission before, so this was taking place in at last close proximity to the previous events. It also gave me a chance to get a look at the stealth option in the game, as Max was kitted out here with a silenced pistol. It’s not imperative you play the game this way, but a welcome addition nonetheless. And though I did attempt to be stealthy, I screwed up and all hell broke loose. Once again, the action is delivered in neatly packaged sections of the levels, and it’s all close-quarters and corridor-based. Cover, blind-firing and bullet-time are all your friends throughout, and I took advantage of every one of them; crafting a satisfying flow that bordered on tactical recourse and plain looking cool - eiter way, I definitely felt like a badass.
And that was essentially it. Again, I won’t spoil the events of the mission from a narrative structure, because it gives you a reason to fight, but I will say that the team have added enough to the formula to make it feel modern and fresh, without losing any of the flair of the previous games. It’s definitely a Rockstar spin on the franchise, and is riddled with their signature design, but it works, and works well. It also has an 80s synth soundtrack that adds massively to the action at-hand. All that’s left for us now is to see where they take multiplayer, and just how it looks on PC, but as usual, so far, so good.