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Hard Boiled: Rockstar shows off Max Payne 3

Stace Harman channels his inner-Payne and takes a look at what's next for Rockstar's most put-upon of leading men. New screens inside.

Max Payne: the most cynical of anti-heroes, has sat untouched and all but forgotten whilst Rockstar wove stories of car theft, cowboys and corrupt cops. Now it’s his time to step up. The bitter ex-cop and ex-DEA agent has been through the wringer and paid his dues in more ways than one. Ways that left his wife and baby daughter dead. Ways that left him all but broken and fond of hard liquor and internal monologues.

Arriving at Rockstar’s West London offices I’m met by a friendly and enthusiastic Rockstar employee who asks if she can get me anything to drink. Too early for scotch, I suppose? Tea, then. Black. No sugar. Having signed the paperwork saying I’ll keep shtoom for the next 31 hours or risk a visit from the heavies, I’m accompanied in to a smart lounge. The well-meaning PR guy is telling me how excited they are to be working on Max Payne and that it’s good to meet me for the first time. Sure thing, Tinker Bell, but how about we take a seat and get on with it?

First, he motions to a black folder containing a series of photos from São Paulo, where much of the game is set. This, I guess, illustrates the lengths the Rockstar crew go to when researching a location in which to set a new game. Jeez, tough break, huh, guys? I’d have hated to be the one sent to São Paulo with an expense account to take a few holiday snaps.

To be fair, these are more than just fluffy Kodak-moments: the decadence of rooftop pools, sun-soaked hills and carnival girls is juxtaposed with armed police, graffiti-strewn concrete buildings and victims of fatal street crimes. When they take on a project, these girls and boys do their homework.

My musings are broken by more talk, this time about how the game will keep the soul of the original two titles but bring it up to date with current-gen technology. Meanwhile, the second of my handlers has picked us a 360 pad, a pad I’m forbidden from taking hold of myself with this being an ‘eyes only’ first look.

I consider upending the nearby bowl full of lollipops, cracking it over his head, putting the other guy through the glass table and taking control of Max myself so that I might write up some more substantial impressions, but I figure that’s unlikely to elicit goodwill from neither Rockstar nor my editor’s office and so I keep control of my inner-Max and play nice.

New York City beat

Max in his New York apartment, near the beginning of the game. There’s a snowstorm brewing in the skies above and a shit storm soon to be unleashed within these four walls. For now though, the apartment sports the very best in crack-den-chic: takeaway cartons strewn all over, bottles of bourbon scattered around and about. Max is not house-proud, that’s for sure.

He’s also a little careless, it seems: he’s accidentally gunned down the son of a local mob boss. So, whilst entertaining a friend from Brazil who’s simultaneously trying to convince Max to sign up to his private security detail and decrying his living conditions, Max has to answer the call of one Anthony DeMarco. The mob boss has come for tea and seems none too pleased that Max has no custard creams to share. Max, in return, offers a face full of Bullet Time.

As the dust settles, Max stands on the roof of his apartment block and we’re afforded a not-unimpressive panorama of a grim New York City. As the snow falls and his chances of a quiet life drinking himself into oblivion tumble with it, one thing is obvious: we’re going to São Paulo to see a man about a job.

Helpful red laser sights dance off the walls of the adjoining corridors as Max makes his way down the hallway. Currently, the bullet time meter builds whenever Max is engaged in combat, although this may change before the final build as it’s changed numerous times in the preceding months, I’m told. It may, for example, be a more reward-based mechanic in which Max is awarded bullet time for successive kills, it’s yet to be pinned down.

Not too far around the building Max foolishly runs face first into a goon with a gun - luckily, he has neighbours much like I used to have: what appears to be an old ex-army nut bursts out of his apartment and shoots Max’s would-be-killer in the head with a rifle that he probably did not buy from a home shopping channel.

“Don’t be afraid of the fires,” the scruffy chap mutters as he’s forced to his knees by the recently deceased gunman’s colleagues. He insists that the cleansing fires will wash away all their sins before detonating the explosives he has attached to himself, taking out a handful of Max’s ungrateful house guests and half the hallway in the process.

We take a time out to enter the apartment of Max’s recently self-obliterated neighbour, examining the incidental details: this apartment is full of maps, graphs, military paraphernalia and bomb making equipment and I’m told that the power of an open world engine has been poured into a linear game that is to be full of these instances well fleshed-out locations should you wish to take the time to appreciate the scenery. “That’s all very nice,” I say into my cup of tea. “Now jog on”.

Rejoining the action sees further use of bullet time: the air shimmers in Max’s wake and every individually-modelled bullet traces a trail through the air. When the last goon in the immediate area is dispatched, kill-cam kicks in - following the path of Max’s bullet from gun to recipient. It too is affected by bullet time, slowing its path as the action is shown from multiple camera angles and we savour the inevitable gory impact as the projectile reaches its final destination. Y’know what? This shit works.

As the dust settles, Max stands on the roof of his apartment block and we’re afforded a not-unimpressive panorama of a grim New York City. As the snow falls and his chances of a quiet life drinking himself into oblivion tumble with it, one thing is obvious: we’re going to São Paulo to see a man about a job.

Município de São Paulo

Fast-fowarding to around two thirds of the way through the game – though my new friends are being precious and so won’t tell me what that means in gameplay hours – I’m looking at a very different Max. He’s not all smiles and butterflies, of course, but his head is shorn, he has a full beard and he’s wearing a distastefully-named wife-beater. In short: he’s ready to kick some arse.

As the scene opens I get a look at Rockstar’s take on the comic book panels of the previous games: where the original used goofy-but-effective photos and the second game went the hand-drawn route, Max Payne 3 is opting for game engine rendered freeze frames. Multiple camera shots fill my view, some frozen to depict key elements of the scene and splashes of Max’s internal monologue are rendered in text creating a stylish storyboard effect.

Max 3's only trailer to date so far, released
last month.

As we progress, I’m slight wary that the words “escort” and “mission” are being thrown around – we all know how that usually works out - but a shoot out in a sun-drenched though grimy bus depot does, at least, serve to show off some of the new tricks the Rockstar kids are implementing.

Full motion-capture – though not the much lauded Motion Scan seen in LA Noire – is being used to ensure performance fidelity from James McCaffery who once again reprises the role of Max, this time in physical acting as well as voice work. Subtle movements make Max’s passage through the world believable, particularly evident in bullet time where he braces himself for impact with the gravel strewn ground whilst shoot-dodging. There’s also the option to remain on the ground after a dive and swing through 360 degrees, shooting whilst lying prone.

Some smart environmental kills raise a wry smile – collapsing a bus that’s up on stocks for maintenance so that it crushes a bunch of nearby enemies looks particularly satisfying. Max’s charge, Giovanna, is the girlfriend of the gent whose bright idea it was to come to São Paulo in the first place and happily she’s smart enough to seek cover and stay out of harm’s way.

The demo ends with Giovanna clumsily driving a bus out of the depot and Max hanging out of the door unleashing hell on the security detail sent to bring him in. It’s an on-rails section which allows for more stylised killing as the beleaguered Giovanna struggles to keep the bus under control but it’s brought to an abrupt halt when the bus crashes into the side of a building. The screen fades to black and it’s been one hell of a ride.

My new best friends highlight some other points worth relating: multiplayer will feature, apparently this will fit the ethos of the game and not feel tacked on as it can in many other character-driven single-player experiences, though I’m reserving judgement on that until I see it.

Dynamic AI will actively seek to make use of the dedicated cover mechanic, which basically means the bad guys won’t just stand there whilst you deal death by way of dual-wielded pistols. Most reassuringly, Max’s depths will be plumbed to tell the story of a man with little left to lose but his sanity.

Max is most definitely back and more people than ever want the poor bastard dead. Tough break for him, but it’s looking to be pretty good news for the rest of us.

Max Payne 3 is slated for release in March 2012 for 360, PS3 and PC.

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Stace Harman


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