There were two things that long-time Max Payne fans griped about when Max Payne 3 was revealed. First, was the lack of hair. Max became yet another bald protagonist with a gun in a sea of games full of similar-looking heroes. Then we noticed Max was no longer in New York City, which has been his neo-noir stomping ground in the first two games. In Max Payne 3, he quits his detective job, moves to Brazil to act as private security and sheds his hair and noir trenchcoat for a wife-beater, a beer gut, and the Yul Brynner look. With barely any gameplay footage to scrutinize at that point, there was little left that looked like Max Payne at all.
At New York Comic Con’s huge Rockstar booth this past weekend, a few things were explained. During a press walk-through we saw Max Payne exactly as we remember him: Black trenchcoat, gaudy necktie, full head of hair, and James McCaffrey’s world-weary voice-acting. Max lived in a squalid Hoboken, NJ apartment; not quite New York City, but it’s basically an extra borough at this point anyway. Eventually, there was a gorgeous, snowy view of the NYC skyline once Max got outside on the roof. To get there he had to gun down mafia types through the hallways of his building in series trademark bullet-time, a.k.a. the slow-motion effect that lets Max slow down time to line up a shot. It looked fantastic. Goons got blown away, bullet casings flew through the air and chunks of plaster and debris chipped off the walls and surrounding environments, bringing video games even closer to the iconic lobby shoot-out from The Matrix.
It was nice to see Rockstar take the extra time (the game was originally due to come out in 2009) to incorporate more details the series has been known for, but at the same time, I wonder if the company had to sacrifice a lot of other assets to give in to fan demand. Hopefully, the final product doesn’t sacrifice for the compromise between dapper trenchcoat Payne and their original vision of a rounder Payne in sunny climes.
Once in Brazil, we saw some of a few gameplay changes in store for Max. Naturally, this being 2011 and all, there is now a cover system. We were assured it was only an option for players, though it did seem to add some strategy to the gunplay. Cover allowed Max to take a breather between jumping and dodging in slow-mo constantly, and in one case it allowed him to stay out of sight completely in an abandoned bus as a squadron of mercenaries searched the area for him. Until he popped out and murdered them in stylistic slow-mo anyway.
All animation is motion-captured now, allowing for greater detail in Max’s walking, running, dodging through the air, as well a new ability for him: laying prone on the ground and shooting in any direction. Painkillers, which recover Max’s health, make a welcome return, eliminating any fear that Max Payne will now have namby-pamby regenerating health. Those happy pills play an even bigger role now that they can rescue Max from death, so long as he shoots the guy who “killed” him and has at least one painkiller on him. It looks to add another element of strategy to the game.
Cinematic set-pieces will show up, too. One had Max jump, hang from a chain, and go into bullet-time to gun down mercs pouring into a warehouse. There will apparently be plenty of opportunities like this to enhance the “cinematic” feel the Max Payne games. Similarly, story scenes are now entirely done with in-game graphics though there are also in-game scenes framed in graphic novel-style panels set to McCaffrey’s traditional narration. As they are now, they appear shoehorned-in and the way text shows up onscreen to repeat arbitrary lines of dialogue strikes me as a little more than hokey. It’s another compromise between the old-style and the new, only this one doesn’t gel that well. Or it doesn’t gel yet, anyway. We were assured these scenes were still in the works.
Obviously, Max Payne 3 will focus on the single-player experience, though an in-depth multiplayer mode with several game modes, a variety of maps, and a progression and reward system is also promised. There will also be clan options and the ability to choose your own load-out before matches. We didn’t get to see that yet, but it sure sounds interesting.
How will all that slow-motion John Woo acrobatic gunplay work out in multiplayer, hmm?