PAX East 2012 – Max Payne 3 Hands On
Publisher: Rockstar / Developer: Rockstar / Seen On: Xbox 360 / Release Date: May 15, 2012 / ESRB: M
Even with the sometimes unwieldy, unpredictable nature of the open world games they’ve become known for, Rockstar has always managed to inject compelling narratives and tight mechanics into their games. What’s kind of exciting about Max Payne 3 is that it’s example of what happens when the Grand Theft Auto developer allocates their resources in different ways. The result in one of the most interesting third-person shooters I’ve seen in a while and one that will set a technical benchmark of this generation.
If you haven’t been following along, Rockstar’s pill-popping protagonist has left New York and finds himself in Sao Paluo, Brazil, working private security for the wealthy Branco family. When Rodrigo Branco’s wife gets kidnapped, it’s up to Max to navigate the warring factions of Sao Paulo to get her back. Or, to put it simply, he has to blast a bunch of bad dudes in the face with guns.
If you’ve played the series before you know it would be misguided to write off Max Payne 3 as another stop and pop third-person shooter. Yes, there’s a cover mechanic but don’t assume that just because Max has hid himself behind a pillar or chest-high wall that he’ll be safe. The game’s resourceful and dynamic AI has you jumping, rolling, and running around in order to survive the combat encounters. You’ll also be relying heavily on the franchise’s signature bullet time mechanic. Pressing down on the right thumb stick will cause time to slow down and initiate a free aim mode, giving you independent control of where Max is aiming.
But the cool part about bullet time isn’t just its usefulness in combat, it’s also the cinematic style it adds to the game. I found myself pressing the right bumper to perform Max’s bullet time dive at just about anytime I could: over balconies, down flights of bleachers, into walls. I guess my point is that in many of these scenarios it wasn’t necessarily strategically useful but it looked totally awesome.
In fact, there’s a lot to dig about the way Max Payne 3 is presented. Rockstar has promised you’ll see no load screens while playing the game. Instead slick, grindhouse-like animations, that really blend well with the series’ noir sensibilities, will transition you seamlessly from cutscene to gameplay. And drastic color separation in the game’s lighting and the occasional double vision really enforces just how messed everything in Max’s head is.
But Max Payne 3 isn’t just stylistically awesome, it’s also technically impressive. Rockstar’s Advanced Game Engine (or RAGE) and Euphoria Physics tech, that have powered GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, give Max Payne 3 some of the best looking, most realistic character animations I think I’ve seen. Since they don’t have to worry about committing resources to a huge open world, Rockstar can put a greater focus on what’s happening on screen. Enemies will grab the part of their bodies that are shot and Max’s movements while he jumps and rolls around are borderline life-like.
I think it’s hard to get a read on exactly what the expectations for Max Payne 3 are right now. It’s a game with a long and winding development road that’s in the hands of a different studio than the previous two games in the series. That said, there’s definitely a clear understanding from Rockstar about what makes Max Payne cool and what needs to be done to modernize it. Combine that with their technical wizardry and solid mechanics and we could be looking at another Rockstar hit next month when the game releases.