Max Payne 3 Preview (PC)

Max Payne was released ten years ago on PC, the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. Whilst it was a standard third-person shooter with unbelievably cheesy dialog, it was a smash hit because of its standout technical innovation: bullet time. This emulated The Matrix's famous visual effects in which perception is slowed down so much, individual bullets can be seen in flight. That, and its Hong Kong action film style, made it a darling among fans.

I'm sure he deserved it... right?
The game enjoyed a sequel in 2003 and a bad Mark Wahlberg movie adaptation in 2008, which was when Max Payne 3 was actually announced. The only thing that gamers got to see of Max Payne 3 were a few screenshots showing a bald, bearded Max, looking more like Command & Conquer's Kane than James McCaffrey, whom Max's image was based on. After that, the game almost vanished from sight, though that seems to be a growing trend in Rockstar games; both Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire went months, even years without a peep before storming back into public view late in development.

The story finds Max a broken man. Not only is he an alcoholic, but he's no longer a member of the New York Police Department. Worse, when we first meet Max, a local mobster is determined to ventilate him in his Hoboken, NJ apartment for killing his son. This attack convinces Max to accept his friend Raul's offer to become a bodyguard in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The opening scenes feature the classic Max that gamers know, who is still modelled on McCaffrey - thankfully, the tech is good enough that he no longer looks like he's constantly smelling a skunk - and also voiced by McCaffrey as well. The Hoboken scenes are to connect the third game with the previous two Payne games, establishing Max as a New York City man; one gorgeous scene features Max standing on the roof of his Hoboken apartment building, staring out into the New York skyline as snow falls.

However, when the scene shifts to Brazil several months later, he's now bald and bearded, and in the slums of Sao Paulo. Bad luck follows Max, however, as a local Brazilian crime ring kidnaps a member of the rich family he's been hired by, and it's up to him to rescue the member.
I'm getting the feeling they'll be a lot of this...
It is here in the demo where some of the new tech is shown off. The character animation is the smoothest and most realistic seen in a video game, ever. Aside from using the Euphoria engine, the developers used hundreds of motion capture sessions with the actors to make motion as natural as possible. Even when Max walks, you can feel the weight of each foot hitting the ground, while his legs buckle and shift realistically when he changes direction when running. When he dives to the ground while firing, his free hand will brace for the impact of the floor. When Max is on the floor and prone while firing, his body will roll to compensate for his shifting weight. The level of realism has to be seen as the game is being played to be believed, because the animation looks like a pre-rendered cutscene, not an on-the-fly gameplay session.

Another advanced feature is the enemy AI. At one point, a group of enemies hunted for Max in the middle of a dilapidated lot, checking everything realistically and thoroughly - looking under ruined cars, peeking through windows - with absolutely no preset search path. Should the player keep Max in one place, the enemies would eventually find him. Similarly, when the bullets start flying, the enemies will behave naturally. When bullets do fly, incidentally, the entire environment is destructible, so expect wood to fly and metal to get deformed. Enemies will also react to bullet strikes, depending on where they are hit, though most players will remember that aspect of the Euphoria engine from Red Dead Redemption.

Of course, Bullet Time makes its return, but has been built upon as well. There is a new Last Man Standing mode in which if Max is fatally wounded, he can consume a bottle of painkillers to gain some health and go into Bullet Time. When Max kills the final enemy in a scene, it automatically goes into a "follow the bullet" slo-mo that players saw with the sniper rifle in the first two games; now, any weapon will go into that mode on the final kill.

It's a nice feature in that players will know they can relax because they've cleared out the level. Another nice touch is that any weapon Max is holding will be what he's carrying in cutscenes. The game will also have contextual grime, in that the more enemies Max kills, the more grime and blood will appear on Max. The game will also feature the current standard of a cover mechanic. Thankfully, in this game, this feels more natural, and is challenged by the destructible environment, so not all cover will remain safe for long.

Once seeming to be bordering on vapourware status, Max Payne 3 looks like it'll be an amazing game that surpasses what even Max Payne fans are hoping for. The game looks and feels incredible, even on the console version that was demoed for Strategy Informer. Expect the game to be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Spring 2012.

Most Anticipated Feature: We love a bit of bullet time, so it's nice to see that make a return. We're interested in seeing what's going to be 'new' with it...

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