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'Max Payne 3' preview

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Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games


Max Payne 3 brings back the famous grizzled hero after an eight-year absence, this time bringing his bullet-time and high body count to the streets of Brazil. After taking over development duties for the third-person shooter from Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment, Rockstar Games is hoping to bring the Payne in 2012.

Max Payne 3 is the first real linear shooter made by Rockstar and so is a new direction for the Grand Theft Auto publisher, but it is not necessarily a giant leap forward for the franchise itself.

The location has changed (shifting from the New York to São Paulo) and some of the dark noir has been swapped for blockbuster action, but this is very much a Max Payne game. You are still the damaged lone wolf, fighting against the odds, but aided by the tools of bullet-time, combat rolls and a whole lot of guns.

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games



Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Max Payne is now a full-blown alcoholic, drug addict and a washed up ex-cop who doesn't appear to have washed in a while. Due to various yet-to-be-revealed circumstances, he takes up the rather dubious offer from his old police buddy Raul Passos to move to São Paulo and become private meat-for-hire for wealthy businessman Rodrigo Blanco.

But whodathunkit, Blanco's trophy wife Fabiana is kidnapped by the vicious Commando Sombre, thrusting Payne into Brazil's grisly criminal underworld; to which, rather unsurprisingly, he takes like a duck to water.

The story - penned by Rockstar veteran Dan Houser - bears many similarities to the Denzel Washington movie Man On Fire, as well as various other examples of 'on-the-edge hero fights gang to save loved one'.

Alongside the levels in Brazil, Max Payne 3 will also feature 'flashback' memories of Payne's days in New York, which will be triggered as he comes to terms with the events that took him to Brazil. The story may not exactly be ground-breaking, but the excellent voice acting and character animation ensures the world feels alive.

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games



The return of James McCaffrey as Payne is most welcome, and even the extras did motion capture to create more realism in their movements. Rockstar has wrapped all of this in a world that is detailed, well researched and visually on par with the top console games at the moment.

The entire power of Rockstar's RAGE engine has gone into the presentation, while the Euphoria system is handling the physics. Rockstar said that even the bullets have been individually rendered, which is much needed considering that large parts of this game will be spent in slow motion.

Bullet-time and super slow-mo combat rolls

We played around two hours of the single player campaign, covering a mission in the São Paulo Galatians football stadium and a sequence heavily edited for story spoilers moving through a dank dockyard.

Rockstar has clearly improved many aspects of the gameplay, including the addition of a cover mechanic, but this is still Max Payne in that run-and gun is the order of the day, mixed with some ridiculous John Woo-esque moves.

The game offers options for automatic 'snap-to' aim, or 'hard' aim (snaps straight to headshots), but Rockstar really hopes players will use 'free aim' (with no user aids) as this maximises the gameplay. At first, it is tricky to get the feel of free aim, as your movements can be clumsy, but once your eye is in it just feels immensely satisfying. Whatever aiming system you choose, though, it is essential to use bullet-time.

This involves clicking down the right stick, which slows down time and allows you to pick your shots. Bullet-time charges as you fight, and generally you have the power when you need it (within reasonable use).

Bullet-time is joined by a "shoot dodge" move activated by the right bumper, which also slows time as you dive either forwards or to the side, allowing you to take some shots. The move looks ridiculously cool, especially when leaping through a glass window.

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games



Max Payne 3 is a gritty game in its content, but Rockstar is also clearly focused on making the art of killing as fun as possible. There appears to be a good balance to the action, including straight 'room-to-room' fighting mixed up with sniper sections (featuring bullet-time) and light stealth.

The levels are also littered with cinematic action moments, such as one where we slid down a lighting rig and then through a window, triggering a bullet-time sequence to shoot a hiding sniper. Another nice feature is being able to go prone yet also aim in 360 degrees, with Max rolling on his back as your rotate.

Enemies that won't roll over, unless you do

Individual enemy AI in Max Payne 3 is reasonably intelligent, but it is when they attack in groups that you are seriously tested. There is a cover mechanic in the game, but this is not a cover shooter. Enemies will actively flank you, meaning you rarely feel truly safe in any once place. There is a nice mix in the enemies too.

We fought paramilitaries in the football stadium who had better kit (assault rifles and body armour) and stronger tactics, but then in the docks we fought gang members who were completely fearless, coming charging at you and forcing you to change up tactics. You know when action sequence are finished as you get the 'Final Kill Cam', giving a grisly slow mo of your final victim's demise.

'Max Payne 3' PC version screenshot.

© Rockstar Games

Max Payne 3 screenshot

© Rockstar Games



To keep the player always moving, health is not regenerative. Instead, Payne's health is indicated by a body icon in the bottom right corner of the screen, and you must pick up painkillers to keep him alive.

A great feature is 'Last Man Standing', which involves getting one more chance before dying. If you have at least one painkiller left, the game will automatically take it in exchange for doing a bullet-time that directs your aiming reticule to the person who shot you.

If you can kill them within the time limit, you are instantly restored to health. This does not always work, such as when the person is obscured by an object, but when it does it feels like an immensely satisfying revenge kill.

Max Payne 3 sees Rockstar Vancouver take the lead on the development, backed up by the London, New England and Toronto studios. Rockstar published the first two games in the shooter franchise (which were made by Alan Wake studio Remedy Entertainment), but this is the first time that the Grand Theft Auto maker has taken the reins (and the first Max Payne with no direct involvement from series creator Sam Lake).

Rockstar has not made a similar action game before (Manhunt being the only other real example) and so it will be interesting to see whether a company famed for open worlds can succeed within the confines of linear.


Despite repeated delays to Max Payne 3, which Rockstar says was down to the shift of focus to Red Dead Redemption and LA Noir, this game is crucially important for the publisher in 2012.

Max Payne 3 is a bold new direction for Rockstar, but we have seen many of these ideas before (albeit some originated with Max Payne). However, from what we have seen of Max Payne 3, it could be a potentially excellent addition to the third-person shooter genre this summer.

Max Payne 3 will be released in North America on May 15 and Europe on May 18 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and then on June 1 for PC.

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