The last few years has brought us numerous reboots, remakes and naturally sequels, that seemingly only had the name in common with the games they were meant to follow up on. In light of this many including myself were sceptical when the first screens from Max Payne 3 appeared. Max was bald and sported an impressive beard, wore a Hawaiian shirt and spent his time in the colourful city of Sao Paulo instead of the grey, dull New York we were used to.
As one of the first publications in the world Gamereactor was invited to London and Rockstar's offices to see the game in action, and all my doubts were washed away. Yes, Max is still bald, and most of the game takes place in Sao Paulo, but apart from that all the things that are characteristic of Max Payne are still there. Bullet Time, acrobatics, the internal monologue, the despair, painkiller for healing, all of it is still there. It's still Max Payne, and a refined one at that.
The demo starts out in Mr. Payne's apartment in New Jersey. Since we last saw Max his downward spiral fueled by alcohol and pills has seen him tumble even further. In between emptying bottles of painkillers and booze, Max has managed to shoot and kill the only son of a mob boss, something mobsters don't take lightly. And as the bullets start flying, the offer from Payne's old friend Passos, to move to Brazil and join a private security firm, seems awfully tempting.
As opposed to previous chapters the story is not told through graphic novel style cut scenes as these have been replaced by scenes rendered in-engine. The roots are still apparent, as the screen often gets split up like comics, and important names or things to note are written on screen. The inner monologue of Max is also still there, and the same voice actor has been cast to voice the troubled hero. The animations we see in these cutscenes are definitely an improvement on Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption.
But let's return to the shooting, were we see the biggest gameplay addition - a cover system. Max can now hide behind walls and boxes, but his health does not regenerate as in other games - much like in the predecessors he needs painkillers to get back to full health. The health meter also looks the same as before, the outline of Max in the lower corner gets filled with red colour as he takes damage.
Regardless of the cover system, we still get the same kind of elegant action ballet as before. Bullet Time works the way it always has, you still launch yourself into the air and shoot in slow motion. The impressive Euphoria tech from Natural Motion, as seen in several other Rockstar titles, is used here as well, and makes it a visually very striking experience. Seeing Max fly through the air with a shotgun in his hands, turning in the air and shooting the enemies around him has never been more beautiful. The same can be said of the enemies as they fall. They are hit with the impact and topple over in a realistic (yet naturally exaggerated) manner, something that is even more apparent as the kill cam is activated and you get to see the bullet find its mark in the last remaining enemy of the group. Max Payne is back.
We were then taken to a point much later into the game. Max has arrived in Brazil, shaved his head and left his beard to grow. In the sequence, Max and Giovanni, a close friend of Passos, are headed out to meet with Passos in a deserted part of town. But before they get there, they are attacked by a paramilitary group. At first they seek out cover behind some abandoned buses, but one of the bandits spot Max behind cover and all hell breaks loose.
They fight their way into a workshop, where Max is given a few opportunities to play the part of an action hero. At one point he runs from a walkway and grabs hold of a large hook hanging from the ceiling as he uses Bullet Time to unleash his wrath upon the paramilitaries below. Later on he blasts another walkway to pieces so that it falls down on the enemies below. The destruction of the environments is impressive, as glass shatters, and dry wall is turned to dust. He also finds a petrol pump to shoot, and as the tank explodes it sets near by enemies on fire.
Max can only carry three weapons with him - two of pistol size and one of rifle size. The pistols can be combined akimbo style if you want and the animation when he lets his rifle fall to the ground and draws his two guns from their holsters, would be enough to put the fear of God into his enemies if it wasn't for the fact that they are mere artificial intelligences. The duo make their escape in a bus with Giovanni behind the wheel and Max hanging halfway out the door as he unloads on the gang.
All my doubts have been put to shame, after having seen Max Payne 3 with my own two eyes. Despite his hair cut and exotic surroundings, all the things that made the first two instalment special are still there. The action is intense and the animations are simply mind blowing, and Max Payne dark mind weighs heavier on him than ever before.
The game is in development at several Rockstar studios, under the Rockstar Studios umbrella. But, the makers of the first two games, Remedy Entertainment, have also been consulted during the development of the game, and have given the game their support. When you see the game you will know this is the real deal, it's not just some random game making use of the Max Payne brand, and hopefully this is a game that will deliver everything we'd expect out of a third Max Payne.