Max Payne 3 Preview: Max is Back, and He’s Sophisticated

While I’ve been pretty excited about Max Payne 3 ever since it was announced, I have to admit to a little trepidation. After all, the first two games came out almost a decade ago, and the series has been sitting stagnant since. With development being done by Rockstar instead of Remedy, would Max Payne 3 end up as a Grand Theft Auto clone? Today at PAX East, we finally got a chance to find out, as we went hands-on with the latest chapter in Max Payne’s tragic noir story.

Sitting down to play Max Payne 3 for the first time, my first question for our Rockstar rep was simple: What were Rockstar’s goals for Max Payne 3? The response was succinct and simple: Rockstar loved the Max Payne series, and they planned to make Max Payne 3 “one of the most sophisticated and stylish shooters.” Somewhat mollified, I kicked back and watched fellow Game Fronter Ben Richardson take control of Max in a seedy New York bar. It’s several years after the previous games, and Max has become a jaded man who has turned to alcohol to try and drown out his past tragedies. Pursued by the mob, Max must fight his way out.

As Ben blasted away, I found myself buying totally into the action, and all my worries melted away. The gameplay looked just like the original Max Payne game, just with updated graphics. The interface is even nearly identical to the original games. Bullet Time makes a triumphant return to the series that invented it, and it’s as necessary a tool as it always has been. Leaping around a corner, kicking off Bullet Time, and blazing away feels just as good now as it did when the first Max Payne was brand new.

That’s not the only way Max Payne 3 feels familiar. Rockstar has brought back James McCaffrey, the original voice of Max Payne, to do both the voice acting and the motion capture for the character of Max. Citing McCaffery’s iconic portrayal of Max, as well as the fact that Max has aged 12 years, our Rockstar rep said that McCaffrey was “perfect” for what Rockstar wanted Max to be.

One thing that has been talked about a lot is Rockstar’s decision to do away with the graphic novel-style comic panels from the earlier titles. Today I learned that they haven’t been completely removed. Instead, Rockstar has used these sequences to make a bold statement about Max Payne 3. “There are absolutely no loading screens,” said the Rockstar rep. Instead, Rockstar has made seamless transitions a hallmark of the new game. There are still cutscenes, but the game shifts from gameplay into a cutscene and back again. These cutscenes are punctuated with blocky pop-up text. Rockstar says they went this route because they wanted players to “stay in the story.”

After we blasted our way out of that New York dive, we jumped ahead in the game a bit to try out Max in Sao Paulo. Convinced by a friend to head to Brazil, Max has become a private security specialist. Unfortunately, his luck hasn’t improved any. His employer’s trophy wife is kidnapped, and Max has to take $5 million in ransom money to get her back. Unfortunately, the deal goes south, and Max loses the money and the wife. We jumped into Max’s shoes to try and recover the dough. This sequence yielded one of our favorite moments of the demo: Emerge into the stands surrounding the field, go into a signature Bullet Time leap, land on the stairs and slide to the bottom, jumping immediately into cover. It was the realization of something we’d been told earlier: Rockstar’s goal of having the game feel like a Hong Kong action movie. It’s a moment that only this game could deliver.

After the demo, which we played on the XBox 360, we wanted to grab a little information about the PC version of the game. Rockstar was happy to oblige, and he told us that the PC version of Max Payne 3 is being developed in parallel with the console version. It will not be a port, and it will feature high-res textures and DX 11 features. We even got to see the PC demo being played, and the improved graphics were very evident. It’s reassuring to see that the Max Payne series, which started on PC, will return to the PC in a game designed specifically for the platform.

One thing that made us very happy was seeing that Max Payne’s difficulty would be similar to the old games. The health system from the first two games has returned. Unlike many recent titles, you can’t just run away and hope to get better. Instead, players will need to find and use painkillers in order to recover health. This makes the game still feel challenging, as evidenced by the many times we died during the demo.

While it was nice to see that Max Payne 3 will incorporate the same heath system as the previous titles, we did have a few concerns. First, it seems as though Max will have an AI partner through much of the game. He was mentioned in passing during our demo today, but we’d love to have some more information on what exactly his role will be. Second, there’s a new addition called Last Man Standing. This system functions a lot like the ‘Second Wind’ system from Borderlands – when you take a fatal shot, you can fire back at the person who shot you. Kill him, and you magically don’t die. It’s a system that’s in direct contrast to the difficulty that we rejoiced over, and it’s worrisome.

Despite these concerns, we are very excited about what we saw from Max Payne 3 today. The game looks great, and the feel of the old games seems to have been preserved, despite the change of developers. Max is returning to New York on May 15, and we’re planning to be there. Are you?

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2 Comments on Max Payne 3 Preview: Max is Back, and He’s Sophisticated

Red Menace

On April 9, 2012 at 11:22 pm

So pumped.

Exhaledhippo

On April 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I cannot wait for this game!! Max is back and im ready for bullet time!!!!!