Max Payne 3 Preview: Max Is Back

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Game On correspondent Alex Rubens spent some time wandering the halls of PAX East this year playing everything he could get his hands on. At some point he managed to corner Rockstar employees long enough to play Max Payne 3, which we expect will be released on PC and home consoles in May 2012. Max Payne 3 is being developed by multiple Rockstar studios instead of former Max Payne developer Remedy Entertainment, leading some to wonder whether this is the same Max Payne we know and love. After spending some hands-on time with the game, Alex filed this report.

Max Payne is back and he’s just as much of a badass as we remember. Diving through windows in slow motion, firing rounds into enemies as they slowly struggle to react to what is happening, Max is right at home. Rockstar Studios kept the emphasis on Max and his beautifully executed combat while adapting it to modern game design standards and it works just as expected; perfectly.

Max is older, he’s a drunk, and he can’t stop popping pills; he’s in pretty rough shape. Despite all this, the character animation does a great job of conveying just how broken Max is through subtle tells during combat and cutscenes. His age factors pretty heavily into the gunplay: he’ll collide with walls and it will take him a split-second to recover, and is aim isn’t as tight as it was when he was younger. These touches really sell just how far Max has fallen.

It’s very clear that Max’s perspective is almost as central to the game as the story itself. Sure, there’s an elaborate kidnapping plot filled with conspiracy and mishaps, but it’s almost more interesting to see how Max reacts to the situation than the situation itself. He has always been the central focus of the series but it seems that Rockstar is putting even more of an emphasis on him than in previous titles. When things don’t go Max’s way –which happened time and time again during my demo– you sympathize with him, an emotion rarely evoked by action-packed video games.

Our demo opened in the Big Apple. Due to some unforeseen issues, Max is forced to leave New York and flee to São Paulo, Brazil. He takes a security job protecting Rodrigo, a wealthy real estate agent in the area, but things go awry when his wife, Fabiana, is kidnapped and it’s up to Max to get her back. This seemed somewhat cliche, but the demo was split up across three separate areas of the game so it’s not clear what turns the story could take. All we know is that things don’t seem to be working out very well for Max, as he’s constantly ambushed and arriving everywhere a few seconds late.

Thankfully the glorious, slow-motion shooting the Max Payne series is know for is still an integral part of Max Payne 3. With the push of a button, time slows down and Max puts multiple rounds in each person unlucky enough to be in his way. Not only do the bullet-time showdowns in Max Payne 3 retain everything from the first two games, the weight and wear of Max’s character has made it even better. He’s older now, so when he collides with something mid-air Max often falls on his butt, shooting as he scoots his way toward cover.

This was really interesting and made Max seem more human, rather than a slow-motion bullet-sponge. But the demo was still replete with opportunities to indulge in cinematic shootouts; in one instance, enemies shot out the rope holding up the platform that Max was standing on, so I made him dive off the edge toward cover. Time slowed as I worked my cursor around the room eliminating enemies one at a time until none were left standing.

I think it says something about the charisma of a lead character when he’s somehow still relatable eleven years later despite being an old drunk who pops pills mid-combat for a quick pick-me-up. Payne’s “washed-up cop with nothing left to lose” gig does well to explain away the absurdity of the combat taking place, and it's exciting to see Rockstar sticking to what makes Max Payne great. I have no doubts that both new and returning players will feel right at home when Max Payne 3 hits consoles and PC next month.

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