Max Payne 3–you’re all worried about it. The first two Max Payne titles, developed by Remedy Entertainment, are known for their choreographic gunplay and graphic novel-style cutscenes. They portray a protagonist with a personal tale; you get inside his head and his thoughts become yours to take in. Max Payne 3, developed by Rockstar’s Vancouver, New England, London, and Toronto studios, aims to stay true to the fundamentals that made Max Payne a success; and at the same time build upon those concepts, and evolve them into what they believe a great Max Payne game would be in 2012.
Max Payne 3 is set several years following the events of Max Payne 2. After the death of his family, Max is still fighting his inner demons, coping with the loss of his loved ones with alcohol and painkillers. An old friend from the force, El Pasos, suggests he and Max pack it up, move down to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and enter the private security force–a last-pitch effort for cops who find themselves unable to work. Max takes his advice and they end up working for the Broncos, a wealthy family of three brothers and their wives/girlfriends. But after the oldest brother Rodrigo Bronco’s wife Fabiana is kidnapped, Max finds himself in over his head in a situation similar to that he was trying to escape in New York. This time, however, it’s in unfamiliar territory, where Max doesn’t know the language or the people.
Our demo kicked off with something a bit more classic: Max Payne (hair included) in his Hoboken, New Jersey apartment, where a shootout was about to occur. In an opening cutscene, a few of Max’s buddies enter his apartment, ask him why he’s living the way he is (depressed, alcoholic), and suggest Max–“the best guy in the academy”–take on work. Outside the apartment’s frozen windows, snow falls, and an angry Italian man named Anthony DeMarco pulls up with his goons to take out Max. DeMarco is the father of a kid Max had just shot and killed.
“When did I ever need to invite trouble in?” Max asked himself. “It always found me, no matter where I am.”
The windows began to shatter as DeMarco’s troops shot through Max’s apartment. In what was a seamless transition from cutscene to gameplay, Max took cover next to his apartment door and proceeded to the hallway, where his crazy bum neighbor ran out with a machine gun and assisted Max. After taking out a few enemies, the bum killed himself, along with more enemies, by activating a bomb he had strapped to his chest.
“All of the old Max games feature these sort-of surreal moments,” a Rockstar rep told us. “This is kind of a nod to those.”
Entering the bum’s apartment, we can see that he was most likely some sort of conspiracy theorist. A messy room filled with computers and stacked papers support our assumption.
Straying away from this generation’s growing shooter trend, Max Payne 3 does not use regenerative health. Instead, Max’s health is represented by a vertical life bar on the side of a transparent silhouette of himself in the lower right of the screen. Inside the silhouette is a number, which indicates how many painkillers (the equivalent of health packs) Max has left.
Continuing our way through the apartment, the game’s level of destructibility was given great emphasis: windows shattered and wood splintered (more of this was shown throughout the demo). But instead of following the correct path downstairs, we were led to the roof, where we were given a glimpse of nighttime New York City frozen in the skylight. New York is a big part of who Max is, Rockstar told us, and his journey from New York down to Sao Paulo is an “epic” part of the story.
From there we skipped ahead to a scene in downtown Sao Paulo. Max, now bald, is escorting a young girl named Giovanna through an abandoned bus depot, on the run from a paramilitary group, in attempts to meet up with El Pasos. The scene opens with a first glimpse at Rockstar’s take on Max Payne‘s graphic novel-style cutscenes. Unlike Max Payne 1 and 2, cutscenes are animated in graphic novel-esque frames, the camera continually shifting to different viewpoints, making it more of a motion comic. We hear Max’s thoughts as the scene plays through. At one point, Max and Giovanna must get by a fence, which is when we see the pair perform ‘real interaction’ with the environment, carefully grabbing onto the railing and jumping over concrete barriers as if one would in do real life. This is thanks to hundreds of hours of mo-cap, Rockstar told us. As Max jumps from the top of the fence to the ground, the camera is shifted to the floor, where we see Max fall at an angle towards the screen.
Following confrontation from enemy forces, we got our first real look at Max Payne 3‘s gunplay. The game does feature a dedicated cover system, but it’s not centered around it. You won’t be able to stay hidden in one spot for too long, as enemies will search every “nook and cranny” of the area until Max is found. You’re not safe anywhere. The majority of our demo, Max wasn’t in cover, anyway. He was usually running around, taking out enemies like he’s been doing it his entire life (oh, wait).
A shootout erupted, filled with shoot dodge and classic bullet time, and Max struggled to protect Giovanna, who was panicking from the excessive gunfire. After every wave of enemies you kill, the final enemy will feature a kill camera, which allows you to speed up or slow down your bullet, and get a close-up view of your enemy’s last few seconds of life. The view for every final kill will be different, as the camera angle depends on the angle you shoot.
We were asked to pay specific attention to Max’s movement.
“Notice the way he’s walking–every step actually falls and makes contact with the surface,” Rockstar told us. “He’s not sliding or skating above the environment here. As he moves back and forth from left-to-right and makes these really hard cuts, you’ll notice he has a real sense of weight and momentum.”
When Max shoot dodges, jumping sideways and landing on the floor, he’ll put his arm out to break his fall. This realistic motion, according to Rockstar, is thanks to NaturalMotion‘s Euphoria character system. When on the floor, Max can also fire from any position at 360 degrees. In bullet time, when the game enters slow motion, Max has an entirely different set of animations.
The game is still a work-in-progress, I was reminded, and the final product will not include any loading screens. It promises to be a seamless experience.
I really enjoyed what I saw of Max Payne 3. What was once a game I payed minimal attention to is now something I’m greatly anticipating. With Remedy’s approval given to Rockstar, I have no doubt that Rockstar is creating something worthy of the franchise.