Hands On: Max Payne 3

By Andrew Smee on March 1st, 2012 at 5:21 pm.

Shoulder pain? Take two of these and call me in the morning.

Alright, so Max Payne 3 has a cover system, we’ve established that. But stay calm, it’s going to be alright. I played the fancy high resolution PC build for an hour across multiple fights with multiple enemies and didn’t duck once. Can we all settle down quietly now?

The chapter presented to me was set in and around a deserted football stadium in the warm Sao Paulo evening. It’s fairly early in the story, and he’s overseeing a fraught hostage exchange that (and I hope I’m not spoiling anything here) goes wrong. From there it’s an action-packed romp from the bleachers up to the lighting rig and down again as Max introduces gangs of shouty men to his own brand of anger management, which tends to involve Dr. Shotgun prescribing several dozen pills in repeated doses to all afflicted areas and repeat as necessary until the shouting stops. 12 gauge bore, the great communicator.

So I’d run into a room, spot the four or five disagreeable fellows inside and immediately engage in slow motion hyperdeath ballet that was all about positioning and swift headshots. Cover wasn’t hiding behind a waist-high wall so much as occupying space that wasn’t filled with zippy bullets, aided in no small way by Max’s exuberant bullet-dodge dives. Later, beefy enemies turned up and displayed a fairly worrying amount of intelligence, competently flushing me out with grenades, covering each other and even doing a pretty convincing job of flanking the pants off me.

That’s not a position I’m keen to find myself in with a room full of suspiciously well-equipped paramilitary types, and indeed I was outgunned more than once. Here a new feature made its presence known – on his way out, vision fading, I was able to exact furious vengeance on enemies before Max hit the floor. However, managing to kill the chap who fired the final deadly shot before face met lino, Max automatically chugged some painkillers and sprung back into the fight. It’s tricky to pull off and only activates if you’ve pills to spare, but I felt super awesome both times it happened and I think we can all agree that the pursuit of feeling super awesome is why we’re all here.

Instrumental to how super awesome this was making me feel was the tech behind it all. Rockstar have taken the Euphoria physics system and done frankly incredible things with it. Max moves and reacts to the world around him in a believable way, adjusting his weight while leaping around only being the most obvious sign. I quickly learned that diving into concrete walls is probably not the smartest thing to do under fire when Max’s body actually contorts against it, messing up his aim. Euphoria forced me to be aware of Max and his surroundings on a visceral level that I’ve never had to contend with before. It’s not that Max is clumsy, far from it – he’s a very powerful creature to control. It’s just that he has actual weight and heft, so much so that the game demanded me to look after him more than I normally do with heroes I’m peering over the shoulder of. I wasn’t merely controlling the morose bastard; I was guiding him through the world.

This next part may sound a little more psychopathic than I’m strictly comfortable with, but let’s roll with it: one of my disappointments with action games is that enemies never die horribly enough. You know what I mean – it’s either canned death animations which get old after the first time or they just crumple to the ground when their health drops to zero, as if someone snipped their puppet strings. You can’t cover that failing up with incredigore. They’re never convincing deaths.

Well, the same tech that’s animating Max makes it damned sure it’s not the same case here. It’s immediately gripping how much the technology changes such a classic interaction as shooting an angry man in the chest. He’ll jerk back from the impact, not dead yet, and might stumble, trip over something at his feet and lay rolling on the floor while I turn to dispatch his friends, who will throw themselves bodily to the ground and over furniture with equally award-worthy acting. It’s true what they say; no two deaths looked the same. Again, not trying to be psychopathic, but my goodness was it ever fun to shoot these guys. Every death rattle is a real treat, especially when the last goon dispatched is presented in focused super slow motion, rewarding you with filthy bullet porn of the highest magnitude as Max’s bullets continue to plug into his hapless face. Super, super awesome.

So that’s good. Shooting’s good, animation’s great, killing dudes is super awesome. Brilliant. There’s a minor problem with all this, however, and…well. Ok, so Rockstar are good with cutscenes, we all know that. And they’re truly impressive here, well produced and directed like the slickest Michael Man/Tony Scott co-production you can possibly imagine. Rendered in-game, they call back to the graphic novel slideshows of the previous games with multiple frames, super imposed text, camera filters, stylish angles, fast cutting, hardboiled narration, the works. Super awesome.

But blimey, were there a lot of them. I mean, an awful lot. I don’t mean the long story ones that bookend the chapter, those were fine. I mean small, tiny breaks in the action triggered by walking into the next room. The way it’d usually happen is that I’d run Max towards a door, excited about all the way I’m going to kill all the chaps inside before suddenly having control taken away from me, to show Max walking through that door, looking around while grumbling a line or two of internal monologue. Then I’d have control again. An average of 5 or 6 seconds, which is quick enough to be admissible as a stylish flair, apart from they’d interrupt the start of literally every single room that led to a gunfight.

Now that’s a minor irritation, but sadly it gets worse. There’s a bit where Max was out in the stands of the stadium, hunted by a sniper, the red laser sight ready to kill any signs of movement. Ready to run through the bleachers dodging incoming sniper fire, I lent forward in my seat in anticipation – only to watch, faintly bemused, as a high-octane escape sequence played out in a cutscene before me as Max ducked and dove with bullets pinging all around him, finally crashing through distant doors. Safely inside away from the sniper, the game finally returned control and I got back to being super awesome again.

There’s a broad rule of thumb with cutscenes, and it’s Never Show Something That Would Be Cooler To Play. It’s just going to be frustrating, especially as in a sequence earlier on in the chapter, I actually got to dodge sniper fire while running and shooting bad guys in the bleachers and it was awesome. Super awesome. Why deny me super awesomes, Rockstar? That’s what we’re all here for.

So that’s what I saw. Max Payne for the modern age, combat defined by breathtaking advances in technology, a story that begged me to carry on playing at the end of the chapter and gunfights that frequently had me grinning stupidly wide as I executed yet another impossibly cool dive while headshotting three guys at once. There just seemed to be quite a lot of interruptions that spoil the effortlessly cinematic presentation Rockstar have so painstakingly developed. From what I played, there was no need to add that extra sprinkling of style. Max Payne is style enough, and it looks like they’ve done a heck of a job giving the weary old boy another dance in the spotlight.

Max will be with us once more in the month of May.

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67 Comments »

  1. Chris D says:

    Now I’m not saying it isn’t fun to troll Fox news every once in a while but you don’t want to make it too obvious.

  2. Khemm says:

    Bummer about those cutscenes, hope they become increasingly rare as the game progresses.
    How were the k&m controls? Floaty or with tons of acceleration? Accurate? Quake-like solid?
    Are the comic-style panels still there?
    Most importantly, does it still feel like Max Payne or just a great third person shooter?

    • sneetch says:

      Yeah, the cutscenes sound a bit much alright, I don’t like excessive cutscene ness, how hard would it be for Max to grumble his lines as you approach the door or open the door and allow you to maintain control of Max rather than take away control just to show a different angle of Max?

      Other games have a “look at the interesting thing button” that you can push that takes away control to look at the interesting thing that is happening but it allows you to not push the button, keep control and ignore the interesting thing if you want.

    • Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

      Cutscenes are often used to disguise loading times, do you think that might be the case?

      Plus, I don’t mind cover systems if they’re not completely invulnerable. You didn’t hide once in the whole time you played the game? YOu can’t really call yourself a game reviewer if you deliberately avoided what to some people would be a significant part of the game.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    “However, managing to kill the chap who fired the final deadly shot before face met lino, Max automatically chugged some painkillers and sprung back into the fight. It’s tricky to pull off and only activates if you’ve pills to spare, but I felt super awesome both times it happened”

    This is an excellent idea for this type of game. It’s always frustrating dying because you were to focused on being super awesome to remember pressing the “heal me” button so having the game give you an opportunity to rectify this error by being even more awesome is rather neat indeed.

    Anyway, definitely looking forward to some more Max Payne action.

    • Kyrius says:

      Who would guess that “super awesome” could die? :D Maybe there is no such thing as “super careless”… Boo with “super careless”!

  4. Unaco says:

    This sounds good. Will hopefully make up for the let down that was Syndicate in the recent AAA manshoots category.

  5. Xocrates says:

    Ok, the gameplay was awesome, gotcha. That’s good to hear.

    Cutscenes were annoying, gotcha. That’s bad to hear.

    But what I really want to know is this: Did it feel like Max Payne?

    • Andrew Smee says:

      Yep.

    • Xocrates says:

      That’s VERY good to hear.

    • Ett_1762 says:

      Since we’re on the field of “feeling like a Max Payne Game”: What about the metaphors? Are there enough of them? (This is a serious question!)

      And: Does the change of scenery (goodbye NYC) kill any of the atmosphere? Did you get to see max in the bright sunshine? If so, did it work?

    • rockman29 says:

      I don’t think you read the article properly if you didn’t realize he indicated it feels like Max Payne. He even says it feels even better, because now he has to control the weight of this guy and guide him through levels.

      So OBVIOUSLY :P

    • bill says:

      It sounds great (except the cutscenes) and it looks great – but it looks and sounds more like a Die Hard / Full Contact / Hardboiled game than a max payne game. (even though hardboiled was clearly a big influence on MP, it doesn’t really share the style).

      So i guess we’ll just have to trust you Mr Smee…

  6. Premium User Badge

    felisc says:

    “Max will be with us once more in the month of May.” >>> well yes but in the very last days of may :(

  7. Lev Astov says:

    “hunted by a sniper, the red laser sight ready to kill any signs of movement.” Are you saying they did the stupid thing where snipers have visible lasers? Why does that nonsense persist in games? Especially when you can see the bullets coming as in Max Payne.

    Still, the gameplay sounds fantastic, and I’m hopeful that at least some modding could eliminate annoying and useless cutscenes.

    • RakeShark says:

      Same reason why movies do the visible line of laser sights: It fulfills the need to visually inform the audience that dudes are looking for something in the dark, and also providing visual reinforcement of action tension (ie WILL THAT LASER SPOT OUR HERO!?).

      Besides, I don’t care HOW close you sit to you monitor. Unless you’re playing TF2, you will never spot the red dot of a laser sight unless you’re specifically looking for them at the expense of everything else, or it’s outright telegraphed to you.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Are you saying they did the stupid thing where snipers have visible lasers? Why does that nonsense persist in games?

      Probably for the same reason as the unrealistic balderdash where your character isn’t permanently incapacitated by a handful of bullets: because sudden, unpredictable, unavoidable death isn’t fun.

    • siegarettes says:

      For the same reason you can see tracer lines from every single bullet fired. It communicates visually the threat and the direction it comes from.

      Good game design is always more important than realism.

    • Memph says:

      I’m missing the part where the tracer trail of the sniper bullet that just hit you in the face is a fair way to the player of telegraphing an incoming sniper bullet to said face.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      That would be the part where you have already died from facebullet when the tracer trail becomes visible, making telegraphing the trajectory a little redundant. You want to be able to avoid the shot, not get killed by it and restart.

  8. Erwin_Br says:

    Screenshots I’ve seen so far say one thing to me: Generic.

    • Shooop says:

      That is why you read the words that are in between the screenshots.

    • Maldomel says:

      Just what the man says. Seriously, do it. It’s worth reading, and you’ll feel smarter when you’re done.

    • Reapy says:

      All the other max payne stories I was looking at the screen shots saying the same thing and not paying attention.

      Actually read this one now and am highly interested in seeing it in motion with those animations.

    • HothMonster says:

      Video game screenshots looks like video game and do not grant intimate knowledge as to how this game separates itself from other games in which you shoot men in the face. Pictures not fully reflective of gameplay mechanics and style. News at 11.

    • Reapy says:

      That’s the thing, not many manshoots actually do anything differently from one another. After a while, you usually can look at screenshots and say ‘generic fps’ and be pretty close to the mark.

  9. Shooop says:

    Can’t come soon enough. I’ve found most 3rd person shooters the past few years (aside from Saints Row 3) depressingly bland.

  10. Maldomel says:

    Can’t wait till may, when my psychopatic side will resurface one again.

    • Hematite says:

      I’m happy for you, but don’t go too wild or you won’t have time to play Max Payne.

  11. DrGonzo says:

    I was very worried about this. Probably shouldn’t be as its the developers of Bully, one of my favourites. Sounds like they’ve got the combat absolutely spot on.

    Another worry I probably shouldn’t have is that it won’t be funny like the originals. It’s Rockstar after all.

    Was it funny? Please tell me it’s a tongue in cheek spoof of action films.

  12. Fumarole says:

    So what I’m taking away from this is that it’s super awesome.

  13. MistyMike says:

    I’m hoping for a surprise return of Mona Sax in the full game.

  14. Paul says:

    Hmmmm that sounds super awesome, actually.
    I think I might have to get this. No Remedy, but if Rockstar does not fuck up, it will be great. Both Alan Wake (already finished) and Max Payne 3 same year? Hell yeah.

  15. rockman29 says:

    Sounds excellent. Really can’t wait! Loved both Max Payne 1 and 2! :D

    Definitely disappointed by the too many cutscenes, but I’m finding it hard to imagine a TPS more fun to shoot people in after this one :)

  16. ResonanceCascade says:

    “I quickly learned that diving into concrete walls is probably not the smartest thing to do under fire when Max’s body actually contorts against it, messing up his aim.”

    Oh yeah. I’ve been waiting for someone to bring back those kinds of sim elements — and do them right this time — ever since Trespasser.

  17. mestido says:

    GOD! I so hope it will not be an bad console port.

  18. tur1n says:

    Rockstar and their cutscenes. I was already annoyed with GTAs latest installment.

    I wish they’d just make a movie already and get it out of their system.

    • caddyB says:

      At this rate they’re going to make one and sell it to us as a game.

    • BreadBitten says:

      Don’t ever play any of the Metal gear Solid games.

  19. WotevahMang says:

    Wow I’m surprised this actually sounds good. Gonna keep an eye on this one for sure now.

  20. caddyB says:

    So it’s actually good? WHAT THE?
    Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to spend money on this instead of ME3 then. Unless Max also wants me to install Origin.

  21. hosndosn says:

    No word on the cover? The noir atmosphere? PC controls?

    Weak preview, maybe the weakest I’ve ever read on RPS.

  22. LennyLeonardo says:

    Is this Smee fellow new? If so, hi! If not, hi!

    Glad to hear this game is still looking good.

    • Brun says:

      I noticed that as well. Perhaps the result of that recruitment drive they had a few weeks back?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, I was selfishly hoping that wasn’t the case because I’m still awaiting a response to my application. Sorry!

  23. BreadBitten says:

    “It’s immediately gripping how much the technology changes such a classic interaction as shooting an angry man in the chest. He’ll jerk back from the impact, not dead yet, and might stumble, trip over something at his feet and lay rolling on the floor while I turn to dispatch his friends, who will throw themselves bodily to the ground and over furniture with equally award-worthy acting.”

    No surprises there. As anybody who’s played Red Dead Redemption would agree, Rockstar have honed and perfected how a digitized bullet impacting a digitized man/woman should feel like.

    • bigblack says:

      Totally agreed: RDR had amazingly entertaining impact mechanics; ever single enemy was an opportunity to make something happen, rather than simply knock a pin down. Very relieved to hear MP3 will have similar shooty mechanics to offer on a superior gfx platform!

  24. rockman29 says:

    Oh yea, loving the death animation stuff. I was super excited about that in Killzone 2, but here it seems even better. I liked also in some of the trailers how headshots didn’t cause major whiplash to every enemy, but like a normal bullet would it would just go straight through the head. Even in if does it probably wouldn’t move the head (15lb) that much since the mass of the bullet is so small anyway (0.2-0.4g) and even if it did get stuck in the head and transfer all it’s momentum it wouldn’t be that much…

    Anywho… yay for satisfying death animations!

  25. Premium User Badge

    Vartarok says:

    I don’t really understand all the whining about the cover system. If you replay the original games you’ll see Max actually TAKES COVER in the cutscenes. Why? You’ll be wondering, well because taking cover is inherent to all shootouts in which you don’t want to end up like gruyère cheese. And, you know what too? Max Payne is a game about shootouts so please, stop being silly when for once cover system acually makes sense.

    • Shooop says:

      The fear was you’d be spending more time behind a chest-high wall than diving in slow-motion while shooting.

      When they first announced it had a cover system everyone had a reason to be skeptical. But that’s turning out to not be the case at all after a few previews. Unless Rockstar is pulling an elaborate and horribly mean-spirited joke on us all.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Shooop means mean-spirited joke like the one Bethesda played when they told us Skyrim was a Role Playing Game.
      .
      Seriously, though…I was planning a big, fat “meh, move along” moment for Max Payne. No longer so sure about that, though. This actually sounds really good. More importantly, it also sounds fairly innovative, as well…and that’s something shooters – both first and third person – need badly.
      .
      Think I will take a look at this indeed.

  26. Drayk says:

    I said I had a good feeling about it ! Max is back ! Yeah !
    Also, I don’t mind cutscenes that much… I played Gears of war . It can’t be worst.
    *Happy*

  27. orange says:

    Sounds like the F.E.A.R. of third person shooters. Can’t wait :D

  28. TheStealthyOne says:

    Did it run like ass, akin to GTA IV and LA Noire?

  29. notenome says:

    I’m really really torn about this game.

    On the one hand, I love max payne. Love everything about the two games. Style, monologue, fear that gives men wings, action everything. Plus this one looks like its being really well made.

    On the other hand… the fact that its in Brazil (I’ve commented about this before) is really biting me right now, especially São Paulo. Most of the drug gangs in São Paulo and RIo (really in all major urban centers), they’re kids. Most start before adolescence ages 9-12, as lookouts and runners, get their first AR 15 (the Ak 47s cousin) around 14-15 and die before 25. Either they get killed by rival gangs or by the police. Brazil’s police is ludicrously violent, Rio’s police alone kills more than 4000 people a year.

    So that’s my dilemma with MP3. It sounds like a lot of fun but, ultimately, even if not literally, to me its a game about killing kids. Kids mostly who come from communities that frequently have little to no school, day care or public sanitation.

    • El_Emmental says:

      that’s the burden of knowing what’s going on around the world, the same stuff happened with all the “recent” real-is-brown games set in the Middle East.

      if you want to enjoy these games, you have to unplug your conscience for a few hours and pretend it’s all fiction.

    • notenome says:

      I thought a lot about that, how many middle-easterners (arabs, persians etc) get shot in games such as MW, but the major distinction for me is, as aforementioned, these are kids, sometimes not even in there teens. It’s like the scene in band of brothers (the tv show) when the captain (forgot his name) is in holland and he’s sneaking up on a german soldier, the soldier turns around and smiles, and he realizes he’s at most, sixteen or seventeen, and after a pause shoots him. Just feels wrong.

      And another thing which has to be said, Brazil is an extremely racist society, and most of the people who get murdered in the drug trade are overwhelmingly black. I was in a debate that Mano Brown, Brazil’s most influential rapper, said that according to statistics, eighteen black men are murdered per every white homicide. In his words: ‘Now I’m not saying that 17 more whites gotta die, but that 17 more blacks should live’.

    • Carolina says:

      I seriously doubt that Rockstar would include kids in the list of things you can shoot to death.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      Yeah, the real setting might be an unconscionable failing of humanity.

      The fictional setting will no doubt be shooting 20-40 year olds who hate kittens and punch grandmothers. I mean no-one in those screenshots is looking as fresh-faced as they are freshly-perforated.

  30. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    This preview only confirms my rampant excitement for the game, I still enjoy the ballet of death that is Max Payne 2 (the hard-coded 4:3 aspect ratio forcing me to play in windowed mode aside), the gunplay still holds up beautifully all these years later. Given the combat is now several orders of magnitude better I foresee myself replaying this outing many years into the future. Can’t wait for the release.

  31. deadly.by.design says:

    What most of us without i5s or i7s are wondering:

    How does this Rockstar PC engine run?

  32. Tremendosaurus says:

    Is there any word on the save system yet? I was a bit of a perfectionist in MP1 and 2 and used the quicksave system extensively to play through the whole game without being shot once, hoping I can do the same in this. Being Rockstar though I’m expecting a checkpoint system instead :(

  33. TheBigBookOfTerror says:

    Damn. First RPS changed my mind and I have started to gleefully anticpate Far Cry 3 and now I want to play Max Payne 3.

  34. UncleLou says:

    Sounds fantastic. I know I am repeating myself, but the Euphoria engine is the best thing that happened to gaming in a long time. Its only problem is that it makes most other efforts feel dated. Red Dead Redemption in particular has spoiled me, and this sounds even better.

  35. RegisteredUser says:

    Andrew Smee. You seem to get gaming.

    (Moar Super Awesome Deaths and less cutscenery)