What’s it all about? It’s been eleven years since Max Payne last bullet-timed his way into our hearts, not that he’s been forgotten – his game’s having been made available on Xbox Live and (soon enough) Apple’s app store – but perhaps now a tad less relevant given his Matrix-style slow motion stylings have been copied time and again in the intervening years.
Rockstar being masters of the hype generation game have still succeeded in whetting our appetite for his third outing though, so it’s with no little excitement we put the game through its paces.
We’re given free reign of the third chapter of his misadventure entitled ‘Just another day at the office’. For those keeping up with plot details released thus far it takes place in Sao Paolo just after the kidnapping of Fabiana, trophy wife of Payne’s employer, businessman Rodrigo Branco. With the kidnappers having issued a ransom Payne goes to drop off the money at a football stadium with a fellow employee – what could go wrong?
Before you can shout ‘Look out!’ Payne’s hit in the arm by one of several snipers who open up on the pair, thing is the same snipers are taking out the kidnappers too in what’s rapidly proving to be a bad day for our hero. Dragged into a nearby treatment centre within the stadium Max gets patched up and dosed up – seems all those previously downed painkillers have left him addicted – and he’s soon unleashing revenge, Payne style.
The first thing to strike you is the instant flow of action, cutscenes and playable sequences blended together perfectly without any break in the mayhem. One impressive cutscene for example depicts Payne throwing himself from a hospitality box into the stands, once he stands, you’re in control, having to dodge and weave through sniper fire to get to the next door, and shelter.
It’s hard to believe this is essentially the same Euphoria engine that handles the open worlds of games such as GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar focussing on linear progression this time around, so challenging their developers to hone the little details – the way characters crumple to the ground say, or the shattering of glass and other shreddable objects.
Then there’s the return of Payne’s patented bullet time and bullet dodging antics which prove just as thrilling this time around, the emphasis placed firmly on momentum rather than the stop-and-go approach of cover-centric shooters.
That’s not to say that Max can’t dive into cover as well as the best of them – in fact taking cover is one of Max Payne 3′s many additions – but he’s happiest when leaping and rolling his way passed incoming fire.
Painkillers play an important part in keeping the player constantly engaged in action too, as rather than adopt the approach of the self-healing hero character, Payne has a health indicator which only replenishes upon the consumption of said pills. In order to maintain momentum pills don’t carry any kind of time penalty – Max clearly well practiced at dealing with those fiddly child-proof caps – so leaving him free to swallow meds while blasting away.
Fans of the series will remember the dual-wield uzis, the time-slowing, aim-assisting effects of bullet time (which, incidentally, looks fantastic with breakable objects and physics combining to unleash chaos), and then those bullet dodging leaps and rolls which slowed time in a similar manner.
What they won’t have encountered before however is ‘Last Man Standing’, a new addition to Payne’s repertoire of moves which, at the expense of a painkiller, gives him a vital extra few seconds of life once he’s taken a fatal hit. Kicking in automatically, LMS slows time and drags your reticule to the vicinity of your would-be executioner, successfully expedite his own passing and you’ll escape death, so free to fight on and stay within the moment.
Worth the wait? It would certainly appear so. Max Payne 3 shines with the production values Rockstar are famous for, while our time with the game felt all too brief. Action packed, polished, breathless, this is gaming’s equivalent of a John Woo movie and it even packs what appears to be a nicely implemented storyline which weaves between his current life in Brazil and the past streets of New York.
Needless to say, this is a game we’re excited about, and that’s before we’ve even had chance to test the game’s multiplayer which apparently incorporates all the time-slowing trickery of the solo experience. Roll on May 18th.