It’s been 8 years since Max Payne’s last outing and a lot of changed in the interim. Bullet time, the original games’s hook, no longer has the same impact it once had, and having a strong characterisation is no longer enough to make a title stand out on from the many, many other third person shooters out there. Max Payne 3 needs something special to stand out and after a getting a look at the game in action, I’m still not quite sure what that is.
The demo opened with Max returning to his apartment, a dirty, run down flat that clearly reflected the state of its occupier. This is the Max we’re familiar with, clean shaven and with a full head of hair, sporting his black trench coat. I’ll keep the story spoilers to a minimum, suffice to say that not long after, a group of mobsters show up with some of Max’s favourite pizza and ice-cream. Just kidding- they want to murder him into yesterday. So Max being Max, he whips out his gun and takes cover against the door frame and control is handed over.
It is no lie to say that this a very pretty game. Games in the Rockstar stable have a reputation from being lookers and, free from having to produce an open world, this looks to be their best looking game to date. Although the game impresses with a sharp looking Max and some good looking enviroments, it’s the sheer amount of detail in the world as the Max falls slowly through it that will impress. There was no empty space on display, and as Max took cover from gunfire, bullets ripped into wood and shattered glass, leaving behind cracks that spread until the next bullet shattered the entire pane. Just as before, Max can enter bullet time and slow the world around him, giving him time to line up shots or kill off groups of enemies. However, it now can be activated at any time, not just when flying through the air.
Max Payne 3 uses the Rage engine in combination with Euphoria (much like Red Dead Redemption and GTAIV) and the results are evident as bodies crumple and objects react in a realistic manner. Most impressive though, was how Max would react if he hit a wall while diving. Even if flying through the air with the grace of a swan, colliding with a wall caused Max to crumple up and drop. Collisions such as this may look cool, they also force the player to pay attention to the environment as recovering from a collision takes precious seconds and leaves Max exposed.
The gunfight through the apartment building involves taking cover behind corners and running at enemies in slow motion. There’s also a section where Max has to shoot through windows to take out some snipers, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen in a dozen other titles. Again, what stands out is the presentation. Every character on show was well acted and James McCaffery reprises his role as Max. the one moment in the gunfight that stands out is a cut scene involving the intervention of a side character. I won’t ruin it here but it’s shocking and unexpected. It also speaks volumes that, again, it’s the presentation that comes to the fore, rather than any particular gameplay moment.
After reaching the roof and admiring a very pretty skyline, the demo cut ahead. Now in Brazil, Max resembles a bearded Bruce Willis. This design caused quite a stir when it was first revealed but it grew on me very quickly. After jumping so quickly from the original Max design, I could easily pick out the similarities in the face and jaw. All things considered, Max looks like a drunken, lost killer- a perfect expression of his character. We are also introduced to Giovanna, Max’s charge. Throughout the demo I couldn’t not be reminded of Ashley from Resident Evil 4 as Giovanna performs many of the same functions; climbing through small spaces and boosting on to out of reach areas, all in service of opening doors. However, she was able to look after herself and, with the exception of a number of scripted situations, Max never had to worry about her being killed or carried away. The environments on display also allowed for more space to play in and, freed from the confines of apartments and corridors, Max dove through the air like it was going out of fashion.
Inventory managment has also been tweaked and by tweaked I mean, brought in line with almost every other shooter out there. Max can carry two one handed weapons (hand guns or submachineguns) and can either double wield them or use them separately. Larger guns such as shotguns and rifles can be picked up, but to carry them, Max has to sacrifice his dual weilding ability. Pulling out the holstered hand gun forces Max to drop the larger gun. It forces Max to scavenge from the battlefield and should hopefully encourage creative thinking and more efficient use of weapons, though at one stage the ammo counter ran to 1500 (seriously, I thought it was keeping score), so don’t worry about conserving lead.
Another departure from modern game trends is that Max’s health does not regenerate. Instead, he has to pop pills to keep the health meter from bottoming out. This, combined with the limiting approach to weapons should emphasise the feeling that Max is less Master Chief and more desperate protector.
The remainder of the demo played out through an old bus shelter. Max and Giovanna are pursued through the old bus yard and eventually make it inside. Here the player is tasked with fending of groups of enemies as Giovanna makes her way across the platforms above. Again, an awareness of the environment is an advantage, as shooting out certain panels dropped jacked up buses onto opponents. Similarly, once outside, shooting petrol pumps caused them to explode, taking out the group of enemies that had somehow decided it was a good place to take cover. The demo culminated in a bus chase; essentially an on-rails shooting sequence. With Giovanna at the wheel, Max hung out the side and shot at passing enemies. The camera and prespective swayed as Max jumped back in to avoid getting crushed against the wall and it all had a very cinematic, if very familiar feel. However again itäs worth mentioning how much the voice acting sells the sequence, as Max and Giovanna shout back and forth in desperation. Eventually, after being chased out of the depot, Givonna crashes the bus an the screen faded to black, bringing the demo to an end.
As I said before, the presentation in Max Payne 3 looks to be among some of the best I’ve seen this generation. Everything from the voice acting to the environmental detail sold me on the world and its characters. Provided Rockstar has provided a story that delivers, the game has the potential to really draw the player in. Scrape away the (admittedly excellent) presentation however, and I really didn’t see anything that wowed me. Anyone who loved the original titles will feel right at home and the characters will hopefully provide a reason to plough through the story. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that those expecting this to knock other shooters out of the park will be disappointed. Bear in mind that this was a 45 min demo so it could be that Rockstar has something it’s sleeve that it just hasn’t revealed yet. From what they showed however, I remain impressed, if not bowled over.