Normally, when company boasts on a fact sheet that they are set to create “the most cinematic, sophisticated action shooter yet made,” the jaded gamer in me can’t help but roll his eyes. But when that company is Rockstar Games, you sit up and listen.
Few developers are experts in creating truly captivating gaming experiences. Rockstar, however, is one of the few. L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption are just two recent examples of their ability to take a hold of a period-based genre and create one hell of a character-driven story in a fully fleshed out world.
From the looks it, Max Payne 3 will be just another gem to add to that list.
At NYCC, Rockstar (or R*, as the cool kids are saying) held a closed-door preview at their booth to demo an early build of the game, and we at OTF were happy to be in attendance.
The Rockstar spokesperson heading the demo took a few minutes right at the start to remind us why we enjoyed Max Payne so much when it was first released back by Remedy Entertainment in 2001:
1) Introduction to bullet time, bringing that Hong Kong action movie aesthetic to games in a way that hadn’t been done before and allowing players to choreograph their own moments, getting a sense of investment to each and every shot.
2) Max’s internal monologue and the graphic novel-style cutscenes. We got to know what was going on inside of Max’s head, and that was a very fresh concept at the time for action games. […]
Our goal for Max 3 is to stay true to those fundamentals, true to those hallmarks, while also bringing a fresh coat of paint to everything and evolving these concepts for a game that is coming out in 2012.
Again, the demo they showed was an early build, but, as far as early builds go, this demo was pretty well polished. I could easily see the potential for where they were headed, and its future looks pretty bright.
The game directly continues the game’s story, taking place several years after the events of Max Payne 2. The demo starts us off toward the beginning of the game with now former NYPD detective Max Payne (voiced, modeled, and mocapped by James McCaffrey!), and acquaintance, Raul Passos, entering Payne’s unkempt, gritty, NYC apartment, discussing opportunities for private security work. A local mob boss, Anthony DeMarco, arrives to shoot the place up (because that’s what mob bosses do), and we’re thrust into the same Max Payne that we remember: in dirty hallways with little color, Max and his dual pistols have to make their out of the building to survive.
The gameplay was familiar, with the circular reticule and painkiller health in tact, but the visuals were amazing. Max Payne 3 uses the weapon wheel reminiscient of Red Dead Redemption, where you can assign weapons to the left/right hands or a two-handed weapon. All chosen weapons appear physically on Max in game and in cutscenes. The destructible environments are very well done (despite this being an early build), and, to top it all off, there was a delightful hobo with explosives.
The second part of the demo skipped ahead to after Max accepts the private security position in Sao Paolo, Brazil. With a shaved head and full beard (I admit, this look for Max is still jarring), the chapter opens with a nod to the previous games’ use of graphic novel-style cutscenes, updated for modern times with a “motion comics” twist. In this chapter, Max is tasked with protecting a young woman, Giovanna, from the armed forces of the Cracha Preto.
Showing off some cover mechanics new to the series, Max and his charge hides behind the walls of a bus. You’re still encouraged to run-and-gun; cover just gives you some moments of reprieve to pop a painkiller and assess the situation.
The AI is smarter this time around, too. The Cracha Preto are hunting for you, so they won’t just go in a fixed travel path. The soldiers will actually spread out to look under objects or in vehicles to try to find their prey.
Of course, to help combat them, you’ve got the game’s famous bullet time. The feature’s been copied in dozens of games since its first display over a decade ago, but Rockstar seems to be taking the crown again. Because of the “hundreds of hours of motion capture” that’s gone into this game, Max Payne 3’s bullet time features realistic environment interaction and shootdodge. Max will react accordingly to his environment as he runs and jumps in any direction (full 360 motion) in bullet time slow mo, fluidly bracing for impact as he reaches the ground/wall. The game also features a final kill cam, where the camera follows the last bullet in cinematic detail, as it enters the final enemy and paints their brain matter all over the environment. Of course, the final kill bullet is dynamically rendered, letting you speed up or slow down that bullet to savor as much or as little of it as you want. Watching that scene makes one realize how far we’ve come as a people.
In case you couldn’t tell so far, this demo was fantastic. The visuals were stunning and the gameplay looked familiar but fresh. We can’t wait to hear more from R*, and there’s plenty more to tell. For one thing, multiplayer was announced for the game, but no further details were given other than it exists.
It’s still too early to tell where this game will fall among the gamut of other “cinematic action shooters” that have come and gone since Max Payne first pioneered the genre, but keep an eye out: this one’s worth watching. Max Payne 3 is slated for a March 2012 release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC.