Max Payne 3
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says ‘noir’? Double Indemnity? The Maltese Falcon? The French word for ‘black’? Any of the above would be considered ‘normal’ answers, but not if you’re Rockstar Vancouver, because if you’re Rockstar Vancouver, ‘noir’ means a sun-drenched Favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a stark haircut and a few hundred beers’ worth of stomach fat.
Yes, Max Payne 3 is somewhat of a change of tack for a series that has prided itself on mood, shadow and incomparable grime. From first glance, this just looks like every other shooter™, and it’s a little bit disappointing. Until, that is, you remember the facts. This hasn’t been farmed out to some second-rate studio, it’s being produced in-house at Rockstar Vancouver. It’s the company’s big game this year, and there’s no way in hell the big R is going to damage a brand as strong as Max Payne. So let’s look at the facts.
The team at Rockstar Vancouver has actually taken the time and effort to travel down to Sao Paulo and actually scan the city streets, map out certain areas and do everything in its power to capture the feel of the Favelas. As poor and dangerous as they are, there’s a sense of hope and camaraderie there, echoed in movies like City Of God, and Rockstar has tried to capture that sense of tension; of despair mixed with hope; of an extremely rich area directly overlooking abject poverty.
Rockstar has always done fantastic work in creating a sense of place, and it looks to have succeeded again with Max Payne 3, despite the lack of ‘traditional’ noir touchstones – lashing rain, perpetual darkness etc. Not that the whole game will take place in the scorching sun; expect to see a decent variety of environments and situations. In fact, the only thing that should remain completely consistent is Max’s proficiency with his handguns.
As in GTA IV and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3 has been built using the proprietary RAGE engine, and all of its combat physics are played out in Euphoria, the amazing tech that allowed Niko Bellic to be flung believably between multiple car bonnets. In real terms, this means some highly enjoyable death animations when you’re blasting bandits, and perhaps more excitingly, a much more organic, weighty version of Max.
While bullet time is still very much a part of the action, the focus on Euphoria means cover and environmental manipulation will also feature in the gunplay. A simple example – Max will lean realistically on ledges as he moves and shoots, or hug walls when under fire. It should elevate the action above the likes of Stranglehold and Wet, featured in this very issue.
So the action sounds excellent, the setting interesting and the prospect of a truly burnt-out Max makes for a compelling game character, but will the franchise fans ease their reservations and fall in love with Payne all over again? The blogosphere has backlashed quite vehemently in a typical example of ‘resistance to change’, clamouring for the dark skies and hammy monologues of the previous two games, but Rockstar has always stuck to its guns, and rightly so.
As long as Max Payne 3 maintains that sense of stress, depression and sadness, then the time of day shouldn’t matter at all. Film noir is not categorised by night, it’s defined by femme fatales, by Oedipal journeys and by downtrodden, gumshoe detectives. And, in Rockstar’s world, just a teeny, tiny bit of bullet time. And that’s okay.