Max Payne 3 First Impressions

What's new, what's different, and what's gone in the Rockstar-made follow-up to 2003's Max Payne 2.

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Has a game protagonist's new haircut ever drawn so much scorn? Even dark-haired Dante didn't irk folks as much as Max Payne's freshly buzzed scalp in the Max Payne 3 debut trailer. For wary fans, it signified a radical departure from everything they loved about the first two games. More than even the change of location from wintry New York to sunny Sao Paulo and more than the newly gritty look and feel, it stood for Rockstar unforgivably tampering with the formula established by Finnish studio Remedy. But was it fair to take Max's new do and deduce a franchise ruined forever? One hands-off demo from Rockstar later, we can talk about what's new, what's different, and what's gone, besides the hair.

Bullet time has been brought over, so slow-motion shoot dodging is again the action centrepiece. Dual-wielded weapons and painkiller pickups still figure prominently, and the environments are still traditional, linear levels rather than sandbox worlds. New additions include a cover system and staged but interactive cinematic set pieces: moments of compulsory bullet time along the lines of the slow-mo breach and clears in recent Call of Duty games. The visuals benefit from eight years of progress in game-making, specifically from Rockstar's upgraded Rage engine. The series' graphic-novel-style cutscenes are also in there, though they don't much resemble the distinctive style of those in the old games, and James McCaffrey, previously the provider of Max Payne's gravelly voice, now lends his likeness to the character as well.

As we join our hard-boiled hero early in the game, that likeness is much closer to classic Max than baldy Max: he's brooding in his grimy New York apartment, sporting a familiar-looking tie and trench coat (also, hair). His apartment is a lavishly detailed mess, with reddish light filtering in through the blinds and onto the clutter of a man who is past caring: peeling paint, empty takeout boxes, an unmade fold-out sofa bed. Raul Passos, Max's former NYPD colleague, is trying to talk him into a new job in private security in South America. Max, ever morose, asks if he can't get a job drinking and feeling sorry for himself instead. It has been eight years since the events of the second game, and he apparently has spent the time since sinking into alcoholism and, more recently, killing the son of a powerful mob boss. So it is that said mob boss rolls up outside, in convoy with a pack of goons, to take revenge.

A spot of dual wielding with an SMG and a pistol.

Cue our first look at Max Payne 3's cover system and bullet time. The front-door frame splinters as Max shelters behind it, firing at and fired on by mobsters at the end of the hall. It's a sticky-looking cover system that Rockstar has thrown into the mix: a "refinement," we're told, of the outfit's previous schemes--so think of the from-cover shooting in Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire. When Max makes a run for it down the corridor, bullet time lets him dive-dodge past sniper fire from outside, windows shattering as he goes. These are tastes of the game's key action elements and of Rockstar's take on the series' noir-flavoured New York, but the latter is not for long. Once Max fights his way up onto the rooftop, we're treated to a striking city skyline--New York on a winter night, all hazy light, distant sirens, and piles of slushy snow--but then it's off to Brazil, Max fleeing New York and the bereaved gangster father with it.

The Sao Paulo sequence we're shown takes place much later in the game, which spans several weeks. At some point along the way, Max's hair has gotten the chop, and we rejoin him on the sunlit streets of the city, where he's looking bald, burly, and bearded. He has taken the job his buddy Raul was pushing: protecting the wealthy Branco family, the target of violent Sao Paulo gangs. Here, though, he's protecting Giovanna, Passos' girlfriend, who is on the run from a military group. Though some of the storytelling is given over to conventional cutscenes, there are also scenes played out in multiple split-screen, black-framed shots. Though it resembles an episode of 24 more than a comic book, using in-engine video rather than stylised still images, this is Max Payne 3's equivalent of the older games' graphic-novel cutscenes.

The Sao Paulo level we're shown runs through a deserted bus depot, taking in a scrapyard, a warehouse, offices, and a bus terminal. There's variety enough to see how Max Payne has been recast for players in 2012; this is a glossy action shooter in which you can detect the series' heritage, though it's heavily overlaid with some inevitable modern inclusions. The cover system is the foremost of these, although as Max hunkers down in the shell of an old bus in the depot yard, we're told cover is "optional." It's not a cover-based shooter, that's for sure--the ever-unfair advantage of bullet time lets Max spend plenty of time out in the open, running and gunning and shoot-dodging circles around his foes.

Max, pre-shave.

The addition of cover is doubtless about making a game with the broadest appeal; today, a third-person shooter like this lacking deliberate cover would verge on quaint. On the other hand, recharging health is as much a staple of the modern shooter, and that's nowhere to be seen. Max's health is restored by picking up pain pills, as it was in the days of old. Likewise, the dual wielding of single-handed weapons--pistols, Uzis, and so on--is still present and correct.

The level is an extended escort-and-protect mission, with Giovanna hiding behind a dumpster here, getting stuck up on a high warehouse catwalk there, while Max clears out enemies from a string of areas. The final kill in a group of baddies is still highlighted by a satisfying cinematic killcam, swooping around the last enemy in slow motion, flaunting the kind of dead gangster rag-doll physics of which the first two games could only dream.

The march of progress likewise benefits the slow-motion shoot-dodge animations, driven by the dynamic animation engine Euphoria, which makes character movement convincingly weighty. The shoot dodge, that most Max Payne of manoeuvres, is no longer a stiff-limbed dive, but is natural-looking and context-sensitive; if he's diving sideways into a wall, Max raises an arm against the impact. The 360-degree prone is a nice touch, too: having slid to an elbow-grazing halt on the deck, Max can still fire in all directions before getting to his feet, twisting to the side or rolling over.

Thank you, Sao Paulo public transport.

Inside the depot building, we get a moment of staged, compulsory bullet time: Max descends from a walkway onto the warehouse floor on a crane hook, with a few moments to clear out the enemies below as he falls. We expect plenty of these scenes in the finished game; the demo ends with another choreographed action sequence, albeit not in bullet time. Max bundles Giovanna onto a bus, making her drive them to relative safety while he hangs out of the door, clearing the way with an Uzi.

The set-piece-heavy cinematic action amounts to a game that plays much as you'd expect of a bullet-time-driven action shooter made eight years after Max Payne 2. The fiction and general tone, though, fall a bit farther from the tree, with the story stripped back to a more "realistic" plot, for one, and the overwrought, metaphor-laden internal monologue of the earlier games toned down into more prosaic narration ("Giovanna was a brave girl. She wasn't giving up, and neither could I"). Gone, too, is the quirky in-game meta-material; though it could still materialise in the finished game, says Rockstar, there's as yet no counterpart to the earlier games' Twilight Zone parodies or Captain Baseball Bat Boy cartoons. Therefore, although this is recognisably a Max Payne game, it is one seen through the lens of Rockstar's multi-studio team and not of the series' creators. But wary fans should keep the faith because there's time enough between now and March 2012 for Rockstar to bring them around with a modern reimagining that gives as much as it takes away.

Discussion

64 comments
SP3C1AL-K
SP3C1AL-K

@pierrey22 Thanks, yea i meant the remedy guy

Shishio817
Shishio817

Well, as long as it is a Max Payne game that's good enough for me!

dlM0kn
dlM0kn

Someone told me this game was gonna have multiplayer and co-op. Is that true?

Dominic_18
Dominic_18

i didnt know this game is still alive

nurse_tsunami
nurse_tsunami

I loved 1&2, but I am not sure I am going to pick up 3. I'll keep an eye out for the reviews and videos of it, but from what I've seen it just doesn't feel like the same storyline anymore.

ymarkman
ymarkman

Finally! My hero is back! Make them all pay, Max... Make 'em all pay hard.

Eraldus
Eraldus

Gotta love the fanboys... make some small changes and them, all hell break loose... "omg they killed the franchise!", "omg, this game will suck!", "omg, I'm not gonna buy it!"... Like, seriously guys...

SP3C1AL-K
SP3C1AL-K

That guy didnt seem very happy about having to call it a rockstar game

neumanbr
neumanbr

@s_h_a_d_o We, Brazilians, are constantly seeing pathetic tries of the North American pop culture to represent us with people talking spanish or portuguese with a horrible accent. In other cases, like in Call Of Duty MW2, it seems the Brazilian drug dealers have got a college degree in portuguese grammar. RIDICULOUS. So I gotta agree with @yosakomalandro. :P ...so far I have nothing to complain about Max Payne 3 portuguese speeches though. I can even hear some awesome dirty words in the trailler! >:D

daftpunk7
daftpunk7

Honestly, I don't know what all the rage is about. This actually looks great. Plus, I have never played a Rockstar game that didn't at least merit an 8.0. The game looks like great fun! I have Max Payne 1, and if they kept all the same mechanics now, only die hard fans would buy it because those things just don't fit into the modern day.

Cataclysmm
Cataclysmm

looking good so far if it keeps up like this it,s definite buy,i like 1-2 so i am looking forward to this one.

Kantast
Kantast

"The things that I want", by Max Payne. A smoke. A whiskey. For the sun to shine. I want to sleep to forget. To change the past. My wife and baby girl back. Unlimited ammo and a license to kill. Right then, more than anything, I wanted her. consider the quality of Max's old monologues, the storytelling, the depth of his character. I'm not saying this can't be a good game, but... just... just go and read some of these: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Max_Payne_2:_The_Fall_of_Max_Payne

flexin007
flexin007

It better not have the typical Rockstar controls!!!!

Open_Sights
Open_Sights

So far the city depicted looks more like Lagos than São Paulo. Of course this is a piece of fiction, but it's very nice when a game features real places, native languages and such. However, the major issue is the end of the witty monologues and in-game meta-material. That was the trademark of Max Payne. Without them there will always be a doubt: am I playing Max Payne or watching Bruce Willis in Die Hard?

rsouza
rsouza

@Power_83 When they say RAGE engine is Rockstar Advanced Game Engine(GTA IV, RDR and LA Noire), not id Tech 5 engine.

Power_83
Power_83

When they say "Rage engine", The first thing i think of is texture pop in.....

s_h_a_d_o
s_h_a_d_o

@yosakomalandro When has it been intimated that S

ash162
ash162

I will probably love this game but somehow i can't get my head around Sao Paulo. when i reminiscent max payne i always think bleak, snowy ,depressing new york.

yosakomalandro
yosakomalandro

Please, please, please, for heavens don´t be frking stupid and put people speaking SPANISH in a game/movie in BRAZIL we speak PORTUGUESE, it is ANOTHER LENGUAGE YOU DAMM MORONS!!!

JBStone
JBStone

Are we really complaining about hair? Really?

maddog123
maddog123

Rockstar, don't F#!@ this up for me. I'm a huge max payne fan

tonet666
tonet666

where is the leather jacket?

Mornion
Mornion

I've been looking forward to this game since I finished playing Max Payne 2 all those years ago. Now, with the first really concrete news popping up I have two main areas of concern. First, as every fan of the series, I'm worried about how this changes are going to affect the experience. What marked me so deeply about the first two games was the psycological aspect of the character, his halucinations, the monologues, his eternal moral struggle and how events always pushed him towards a shadyer kind of behaviour. If this elements get downplayed to favor a game apealing to broader audiences that favor gameplay over a good weel told history, than I'm sure the final result is going to suffer greatly. My second area of concern regards the games location. I was born and raised in Sao Paulo and, although I'm sure to find it very interesting to play a game in the streets of my home city, I'm worried about how will it be depicted. Don't take me wrong, Sao Paulo is far from being paradise, but it is even further from filling the stereotipes most people have about Brazil. I know games are fantasy and not meant to portrait reality, but I can't help to feel a little worried about how things are going to be done. Might seem silly, but I'm sure all of us are proud of our home citys in one way or another and woundn't like to see it be twisted or replaced with stereotipes on a video game for all the world to see.

Chris-Dark
Chris-Dark

They keep the voice and the strings? A good start, at least! Now we'll have to wait and see if they also try to keep the world we as Max Payne Fans got to know and love. Hopes are still high there!

Caging
Caging

Totally agree with xiiraveniix sentiments. What you stated was exactly the reason why Max Payne had a cult following to begin with. The odd humour, The Dick Justice and Lord's and Ladies, The Captain Baseball Bat Boy all contributed to us believing the Max Payne world. It was quirky and unique. The sub culture parodies were unique so was Max's own odd musings about himself being a game character and the dream sequences. I hope Rockstar revitalises these and brings them back. Why sell out these unique elements to cater to pure gameplay? I think finding a balance of everything added into it would be best.

Jacknoll
Jacknoll

I think I was most disappointed when I read the final paragraph, talking about the missing internal monologues and meta-material. Max's internal battles and the verge-of-insanity depicted in the earlier games was probably what made Max Payne very special for me.

xiiraveniix
xiiraveniix

It disappoints me when the original creators of games are no longer involved in the sequels and the franchises become commodities which share little likeness to their fore-bearers (Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Syndicate). I think the strange humour and style of the first game was toned down in the second game and appears to be non-existent in the third. That was what made the game for me (on top of the cool slow-mo shooting).

razer077
razer077

dont care about sao paolo, but WE NEED THE HAIR

grenade1979
grenade1979

Complaining about hair and setting? New York is played out and I want to shoot some Sao Paulo natives.

rbereczki
rbereczki

Sounds like it's gonna be good.

kennythomas26
kennythomas26

I canceled my pre-order some time ago to put on another game cause I got word that it was not going to come out this past August and so I guess I'm going to re-pre-order it now that it is set in stone for a release.

AkAunknown
AkAunknown

Can't wait for this game to release March next year. I'm not worried, because Rockstar never disappoints.

Arcturuss
Arcturuss

I think this game might be great fun. But, i just don't think you can capture the "feel" of Max Payne in a tropical sunny area.. The colors are all wrong.

rogerpenna
rogerpenna

awesome... but... "sunny São Paulo"? São Paulo is not exactly sunny. Its usually smoggy, and the skies are usually overcast, and its known as "drizzle city" for a reason.

Stoopid_Fool
Stoopid_Fool

Loved the first two and will love this one.

payne6705
payne6705

I adore the max payne series I can practically recite the 1st game, but this...idk I am on the fence with it.

dabomb790
dabomb790

It's astonishing that the viewers of this site, and even Gamespot for that matter, fail to bring up the fact that Remedy has been involved in the production of Max Payne 3. What saddens me and surprises me even more if the fact that Gamespot is the one that featured the videos in which REMEDY DISCUSSES BEING A PART OF THE DEVELOPMENT IN SOME CAPACITY FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS! Are they kidding me? lol. Anyways, I feel very confident in knowing that Max Payne 3 will be treated with much care that it deserves to has. What also comforts me is the fact that Remedy has been involved with the game. Therefore if anyone has any gripes with the decision Rockstar made with Max, then I would suggest one take it up with Remedy because they have been giving Rockstar the consent and "okay" to proceed with the game, the way they are developing it. With that being said, I'm sure the title is going to be very special and continue the essence of what makes the franchise so captivating and alluring.

quantumtheo
quantumtheo

Ok, first off, the TV shows from the first game were awesome. Address Unknown is a great parody of Twin Peaks, which is talked about by the guy who made the first game. That's such an important depth for those games. To me the tv shows, and telephone calls and the random meeting of strange people were such a great part of the game. I hope it isn't TOO watered down...

Cobretti1818
Cobretti1818

It ain't Max Payne, but it sounds like it might be a bit of fun.

daub11
daub11

m.p.3 is soo worth the wait cause it just looks totally awsome.

KoRniTo
KoRniTo

Not feeling this at all... they've killed the franchise apparently.

TheIfym20
TheIfym20

First impression.....BALD!!!! I watch the new Max Payne movie just to see Marky Mark shave his head.

ziproy
ziproy

Couldn't you just call the game something else? You don't even need to change the look of anything since this bares no resemblance to Max Payne. But no you call it Max Payne 3 just so you can get the two MP fans fooled by the trailers to reserve it before they wise up. I have my heart broken by both Syndicate AND Max Payne all in one month