Preview: Max Payne 3 (X360, PS3, PC)

Sealed in a room cloaked in a curtain where no light escapes, I sat down with a representative from Rockstar Games for a preview of Rockstar Games’ upcoming cinematic shooter, Max Payne 3. Stop. Bullet Time.

Max Payne 3, of course, is third game in the series of cinematic action shooters that follows the life of a former NYPD cop, who is now a private bodyguard in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The game pioneered the use of slow-motion effects, or Bullet Time, before it was popularised by The Matrix. It also redefined storytelling for action games, which gave it purpose and meaning, and not just guns blazing.

Okay, it is still about the guns blazing.

The Story Unfolds…

The preview opens up with Max, still voiced by James McCaffrey, in the middle of a kidnapping case, with cutscenes utilising screen splits and captions for that comic book storytelling effect. The screen shifts to Max and partner-friend Passos at a football stadium to exchange the ransom for victim. And sure, it all goes wrong, and now we have Max wounded with no choice but to get the ransom back and get out alive by any means necessary.

The first noticeable thing is there were no load times. Max Payne, hand on bleeding wound, moves in and out of the rooms of the stadium seamlessly, or as seamlessly as you can with enemy goons shooting at you. He can be controlled in the middle of a cutscene, with Max’s toughest playing in his head, which also moves the story along for a more dramatic effect. It really thins the line between game and cinematography.

Gameplay mechanics

Shoot-dodging, the staple bullet time John Woo jump-and-shoot mechanic still remains in the game, but Rockstar Games took that to a new level with a physics overhaul. Shoot-dodging now allows the player to go a full 360-degree around Max in seamless fluidity, while still allowing for aiming and shooting at enemies and watching them cringe before they go down.

Bullet Time still exists, and slows down everything so you can catch your breath before releasing the trigger, but unlike Shoot-dodging, it needs the Bullet Time meter filled to utilise. The more enemies you takeout, and the more stylishly you do that, the faster the meter fills. There are also quick-timed-like events where Max will do the action hero stuff in the signature Bullet Time slo-mo, leaving you to take everyone out, to best you can.

More cinematic effects are introduced through two scenarios. “Last Man Standing” is triggered when the player is downed by an enemy, offering Max the chance to shoot back and get back into the game, assuming he still has painkillers on him while the “Final Kill-cam” is triggered to signal the end of a skirmish between trigger-happy goons through unique animations where we see the bullets make contact with the enemy’s head.

Aiming and shooting

Free-aiming is what Rockstar Games’ hopes to achieve the fluidity of a first-person shooter with the over-the-shoulder action of a third-person shooter. Max Payne demands full-on action, so while you can stay behind cover, areas of cover will slowly disintegrate through enemy fire and that’s before they decide to toss a grenade towards you to flush you out.

Max Payne 3 still has the sort-aiming and hard-targeting that helps to attract the aim reticule towards enemies much like Rockstar Games’ earlier third-person games, but Max Payne was meant to be played with no assistance to aiming, which I, as a wimp relying on auto-targeting on GTAIV, managed to adjust pretty well to.

Max Payne has access to weapons via a weapon-wheel like the one last seen on Red Dead Redemption. The four slots are assigned to single-handed weapons, dual-wielding of single-handed weapons and dual-handed weapons such as shotguns and rifles, all of which are lost or swapped out if the player picks up another.

It’s the little things

The other prominent thing I noticed was the jaw-dropping level of detail in the game, not so much so the slow-motion bullet effects, but more of the little things, like watching visibly thick panes of glass shatter random holes within itself in slow-motion. Max’s injuries and currently held weapons carry on into the cutscenes and beyond. Then my jaw fell off when the preview was paused, because you not only see Max in John Woo-style suspended animation, body thrown off a flight of stairs, guns ignited, but you can pan up, over and around Max, flying bullets, bullet casings and blood splotches rendered in real time.

We pulled out of the stadium and reappeared at a run-down looking shipping dock, where our kidnapped victim is being held. There is more guns-toting action here, and you can make use of the environment around you, like shooting a chock off a pickup truck before it rolls down the slope, taking the opposition with it or blowing up a forklift by shooting the gas canister. More on the level of detail with the fact that bare bulbs, headlights and lamps can be shot out of its glowing misery.

It wasn’t the final build of the game, but with the release certainly upon us, it doesn’t look like there will be any other major changes to what I’ve seen. Multiplayer modes were not previewed, although Rockstar Games’ did hint at a future preview of that, and we’re gonna need players.

Max Payne 3 will be arriving on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles on May 15th May 18th and on Windows PCs on May 29th June 1st. Stick to robotsgonebad for more updates on Max Payne 3 in the coming days.

Ed’s Note: Those dates were North American release dates. For those not looking at parallel imports, we’ve updated the article with Asia’s release dates.