PAX East 2012: Max Payne 3 Hands-on 0

After what seemed like a century in hiatus, Max Payne has recently seen the light of day in a Rockstar developed and published project. At this year’s PAX East we got our first hands on.

Taking place several years after the end of Max Payne 2, the third installment in the series finds Max as a private security guard for a client in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has drank and painkilled himself into another deep hole of metaphors and soliloquies and is ready to get back into action. As his client’s trophy wife is kidnapped by a rival drug gang, he finds himself in a ton of trouble from which he can only bulletime himself out of.

The level we played starts off in New York City, as Max and his old police academy partner Raul Passos are in the middle of a heated chase. A new component to the Max Payne formula is the addition of a cover system. By pressing X on the 360 controller, Max will hug any piece of cover available to him. However, Rockstar made a point of not marking each level with obvious cover traversal. The cover is there, but Max’s ability to slow down time with his patterned bullet dodge move is the best way to approach each situation. Furthermore, the amount of environmental destruction in each level is such that no object will remain too sturdy after a frenetic firefight.

As the chase continues, and enemies try to stop your path, the ferocity of the combat comes into view. Every bullet is an individual model in the game, meaning they will pierce skin and break bone as they travel through the body. Some cringe worthy deaths were in full display  as headshots piled up. Adding to the realism and intensity of combat is Rockstar’s Euphoria physics engine. Used in GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, this innovative physics system mixes rag doll physics with artificial intelligence to give each character some real weight and believable reactions when getting shot. More importantly, it prevents Max from clipping through any objects in the game as he flies though the air during a dodge. One needs to be careful about where they are dodging, seeing how a a collision with a wall can end your streak of badassness in a heartbeat. However, if you do land wrong, Max will remain on the ground, letting you pivot and twist around while you are shooting, without needing to get up. It needs to be played to fully understand, but it works really well in the heat of battle.

James McCaffrey returns as the voice of Max, this time further embodying the character by providing his likeness as well as some mo-cap work. The is just a fraction of the work done to amp up the presentation. When cut scenes break the action it will be through in-engine comic book style panels, where important events are cut up into frames and dialogue is displayed on the screen. The transition in and out of these is seamless, and when partnered with Max’s classic somber monologues, the film noire atmosphere comes off strong.

As the demo wrapped up we got to play a level further on in the campaign where Max is in a shootout at a Brazilian soccer stadium. Max Payne 3 sticks close to its roots retaining the painkiller driven health system from the previous games. You can gain back part of your health if you use a painkiller, but if you are out you will die a merciless death. Added to this mechanic is a type of “last stand” feature in which if an enemy lands a lethal blow, bullet time will activate, giving you a second chance to finish them. If you manage to kill them, a painkiller will be used with a bit more style than simply pressing up on the d-pad.

It is good to see Max back in action. The game is well on its way to come roaring into next generation consoles and the new additions are set to help enhance an already perfected gameplay mechanic. Hardcore fans are sure to be pleased and newcomers cannot ask for a better time to join. This game better be on your radar.

Max Payne 3 will release on the XBox 360 and PS3 on May 15th and PC on May 29th.