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Max Payne 3 preview

by Andrew Yoon, Oct 14, 2011 12:30pm PDT

Rockstar made one thing clear when demoing an early build of Max Payne 3 to me: it is Max Payne, through and through. For fans, that must be entirely reassuring. Seeing Max jump side to side in bullet time in his snowy New Jersey apartment, with the New York City skyline in the background, it's easy to think "Max is back."

Many have doubted if Rockstar could make Max Payne without Remedy at the helm. But, the better question to ask is: do we want Max back in the first place?

The original Max Payne was revolutionary when it launched in 2001, offering gamers a gritty, noir shooter that was unlike any other game. But, games have progressed quite a lot over ten years, and I couldn't help but think the shooting looked antiquated.

Sure, there are a few attempts at modernization. For example, Max can now take cover. There's also a weapon wheel, inspired by Red Dead Redemption, that allows Max to quickly switch between three weapons.

I'd be lying if I said that seeing Max dive in slo-mo didn't immediately stir up nostalgic joy. But I couldn't help but find the combat mindless, and repetitive. Rockstar PR says Max Payne was designed so that "players could get the sensation of placing or reacting to every single bullet with precision and style, giving them the opportunity to enjoy each individual shot." But I got precisely the opposite effect. There's no impact when enemies get hit; enemies show no reaction when getting fired upon. Maybe Max's guns are filled with tiny candy pellets instead of bullets?

Admittedly, Max Payne 3 is still far from release. It's just disappointing that my first glimpse of the game in action wasn't so much a bang, but a whimper.

Rockstar's strength has never really been gameplay, with the company's claim to fame being its impeccable presentation. Max Payne 3 continues the trend. The game is unquestionably stylish--even its menu reeks with a cool vibe. James McCaffrey has a lot to work with; the script offers no shortage of wonderfully sardonic quips for the beaten and broken Max. Is it noir? It's still too early to say. But, the character is undoubtedly Max.

Max Payne 3 is quite the looker, thanks to some great art direction and terrific animation. Particularly noteworthy is the physics engine, which encourages you to shoot explosives, and generally wreck havoc. The "final kill-camera" is an empowering addition, even if the ragdolls look a bit ridiculous. Finally, the new graphic novel-inspired cutscenes look sexy thanks to dynamic text overlays, and Michael Mann-inspired camera and lighting work.

It all looks wonderful. But the real question is, will the game feel as great? It's quite disconcerting that what I saw felt like an early prototype--not a game that's been in the works for years, set to release in six months time. Rockstar has rarely disappointed, so hopefully further demonstrations will be far more impressive.





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