The combination of story, memorable characters and frequent and intense shooting scenes where bullets rained in slow motion. The sequel built on the original's success and reaped in critical acclaim.
Expectations then, are understandably high for the third entry.
There has never been any doubt that Max was now in good hands, but there has been speculation about the direction the series would go with a new studio at the helm. After several years of development it is Rockstar's goal to create the most sophisticated, cinematic shooter with Rockstar's patented presentation and storytelling.
It seems that Rockstar is going to deliver.
It's been faithful to the series and developed the basics of Max Payne, but has simultaneously implemented enough new stuff that it feels wonderful refreshing to play.
The game starts in New Jersey, where Max spends his days in a drunken state while he fills himself with painkillers and tries to forget the events of the previous games. He meets an old colleague, Passos, who after some unfortunate incidents persuades Max to go with him to Sao Paulo, a city in Brazil with strong divisions between rich and poor. Once there Max gets a job as a security guard for a rich guy named Rodrigo Branco.
James McCaffrey is back as Max Payne, and this time it's not just the voice he borrows but face also using motion-capture. This technology is also used extensively in the rest of the game, through both cutscenes and gameplay.
When it comes to film sequences, Rockstar did away with static noir imagery. Additionally, they create more dynamic movie sequences with a seamless transition to the gameplay without changes in camera angles and completely without any load times. Max brings all gunshot wounds, sweat, dirt and current weapon into the film sequences. Stuff like this really maintains the immersion.
Hundreds of hours of development are examined with the use of motion capture in the game: it shows.
Every action Max performs is realistic, and the transition between the different movements are natural, without abrupt changes in the animation. Furthermore, Max reacts naturally to everything in the world around him. This means that if you jump against a wall or an object in a shootout, then prepares Max for a collision.
When it comes to exchanges of fire, they are an experience that words can not justify. It feels fantastic to be surrounded by enemies, jump into a hail of bullets in slow motion with an uzi in each hand, kill four attackers, before landing on the hard asphalt.
Then you can rotate your 360 degrees in the supine position while pumping lead into the remaining enemies. A shoulder button gives you a quick weapon wheel, which is very handy when you need to switch weapons in a heated situation.
Bullet Time is the most fundamental and recognizable aspect of the Max Payne series, and according to Rockstar, it is the very essence of 3. When the last poor bastard in an area is hit by Max's shot, the camera follows the projectile all the way into that body part. Bullet time, shooting and movement merge into a glamorous shoot-ballet of dimensions, and the feeling of being a total badass is a reality.
In the style of previous games there's no use of the regenerative healing system that we have become accustomed to today. Max must instead knock back painkillers when things look bad. As long as you have one of these drugs available when Max gets a fatal injury, then you get one last chance in slow motion to kill the enemy who inflicted the damage yourself before you punch out. Kill him, and once more Max is back into battle.
The amount of detail which is incorporated in the exchanges of fire, is spectacular. Enemies reactions are constantly varied, depending on the angle, speed, distance you are shooting from and what weapons you use. It may seem subtle, but it causes some massive differences in the experience of the game.
The game runs in an updated version of Rage engine (used in Red Dead Redemption), And looks delicious. It's clear that Rockstar has worked long and hard on this.
With that, as well as every other aspect of the title we see, proves Rockstar knows exactly what it's doing. Expectation remains high - worry for Max's future has flatlined.