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Max Payne 3 Hands On: Gameplay, Awesome Tech & Bullet Time


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Dave Cook

Max Payne might be an old drunk, but he's bringing the fight to the rest of the shooter genre in Max Payne 3. We go hands on with two missions to find out more.

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Published on Feb 28, 2012

Max Payne 3 embodies a different time – a time where action heroes would throw themselves into the fray against impossible odds in a hail of hot lead and raw adrenaline. He's John Maclane, he's Rambo, he's everything in between and he's here to show the new-school action heroes how it's done.

While the industry seems content to peddle out cover shooters and flog the military genre until it's raw, Rockstar's bullet-time extravaganza feels like a breath of fresh air by comparison. 

We sat down with Rockstar to tackle two brutal Max Payne 3 missions armed to the teeth with an overkill payload and a taste for action. Rest assured, if you're a fan of Max's previous outings, you absolutely must check out Max Payne 3. Join us as we explain why.


Max Payne 3 has a proper story

Max is at his lowest ebb, drinking himself to death in New York, hooked on painkillers and living a purposeless existence. That is, until his old buddy Raul Passos shows up to headhunt Max for a private security job in Brazil. 

Reluctant at first, but forced to flee New York due to unforeseen circumstances, Max takes the job, and finds himself protecting wealthy businessman Rodrigo Branco and his family, who are the upper echelon of power and wealth in São Paolo. So far, so good.

Of course, things quickly turn sour as Branco’s wife Fabiana is kidnapped by a ruthless street gang and held ransom for a cool $3 million. Max convinces Branco to let him and Passos drop off the cash at a nearby football stadium.

Just as Max is about to hand the ransom money over to the heavily armed kidnappers, a sniper in the commentary box drills the crowd with potshots, blowing chunks out of Max's arm in the process. The gang member with the bag full of ransom money scarpers.

What follows is an absolutely insane chase to find the gang member with the ransom money before the sniper and his Paramilitary friends get to him first. It's the kind of classic action movie escalation that takes the plot from zero to 50 at the drop of a hat.

Max and Passos quickly get their hands dirty wasting thugs left right and centre, as they wade deeper and deeper into an intense bullet hell. Max Payne 3 starts off chaotic and just gets madder and madder as it goes, so if you're a fan of high octane shooters, you need look no further.


Max Payne 3 has superb dialogue and acting

But aside from the relentless gunplay, Rockstar has kept the noir vibe alive and well, opting to find new ways of implementing it rather than conceding to an all out gun-fest with little to no exposition.

Amid the noise of relentless gunfire, Max still finds time to ramble to himself, spouting snappy dialogue and questioning his station in life. Max Payne fans will be happy to know that James McCaffrey returns to voice Max and provide some incredibly slick motion capture throughout the campaign. 

Aside from Max's hungover ramblings, there is the occasional comic book blip, such as lines of the dialogue flashing up on screen as characters talk, and comic book panels shifting around the screen to really underline the graphic novel tone of the series.


Max Payne 3’s bullet time is essential to gameplay

As you’d expect from a Max Payne game, slow-mo is king. Whenever you click in the right stick to activate bullet time, or perform Max's trademark leaping motion, every gunshot, entry wound and piece of destruction caused by your rampage is a marvel to behold. 

As Max fights through the environment, goons rush him from all angles, causing you to think fast and either enter slow-mo to even the odds with some well-placed headshots, or scramble to cover for a moment's respite.

Yes, we said cover, and no, don't worry, Max Payne 3 hasn't become a boring cover shooter. Instead, cover gives Max a chance to breathe for a split second, and pop some painkillers to top up his health bar. Yep, there's no room for regen health here - Max is kicking it old school.

You absolutely cannot play Max Payne 3 as a cover shooter, as Max's attackers don't make life easy on him- with smart AI causes thugs to flank you at every opportunity, and in big packs. Playing Max Payne 3 in this manner will result in many deaths, as these enemies aren't stupid and will find some way of flushing you out into the open.

The carnage during each shoot-out is exhilarating, bolstered further by the superb Euphoria engine, but we'll focus on that later on, as it really is the backbone of this new and improved slow-mo mechanic. Even outside of slow-mo, Max Payne 3 is a brilliant run n' gun shooter.

Skip to a later chapter that sees Max working alone to rescue Fabiana from a dockyard warehouse teeming with gang members, and Rockstar throws even more fun tools into the mix. Although it's merely aesthetic, leaping through windows guns blazing in extreme slow-mo while killing enemies is aurally engaging.

But then you have other staples that should be rote, yet benefit from Max Payne 3's slow-mo mechanic, such as exploding gas tanks and leaping out of the way of enemy grenades as they erupt slowly beneath you. Everything that exists in Max Payne 3 is there to look incredible at slow speed, and thankfully, everything does. 


Max Payne 3‘s gameplay is tactical

Although Max Payne 3 sounds like an impossibly ludicrous action flick, Rockstar has rooted some elements firmly in reality. For example, Max doesn't have bottomless pockets, meaning he can only holster two single handed weapons at any time, as well as slinging a double handed weapon over his shoulder. 

This stripped back payload actually works better than giving you too many toys to play with at once. Pistols work a treat when dual-wielded, as do UZIs, while riot control shotguns make short work of thugs at close range. Then you also have assault and sniper rifles. 

It may seem like a restricted payload, but bear in mind that Rockstar has yet to reveal other potential weapons. But at this point in the game, Rockstar has kept things simple to really nail the feel of each weapon class, and it really has perfected these fundamentals.

Another neat touch is that whenever Max wastes the last goon in an area, Max Payne 3 enters bullet chase view, following your last round straight into the victim. You can hold down slow-mo to slow down time even further, as well as hammering the fire button for repeated overkill rounds. It's insanely violent, and in a sadistic way, makes you feel badass.

Melee takedowns are the same - executed by pressing fire next to an enemy - as Max batters thugs before whipping out his gun to finish the job. Even then, you have to press fire to deliver the lethal shot, putting you in full control of the trigger.


Max Payne 3's physics and tech enhance the experience

None of what you've just read would be possible without Rockstar's superb Rage engine, as well as some incredible use of Euphoria physics that make even one of Max's bullets impact the body often enemy realistically, causing them to jerk and contort accordingly. 

When it comes to open world Rockstar games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, the game is streaming so many things at once that it's difficult to place too much emphasis on physics. 

But because Max Payne 3 is more linear, this results in some of the most impressive character physics to date, as well as increased detail and some truly slick motion capture.

For example, the way Max stumbles and reaches out to walls to steady himself when injured is convincing and best of all, entirely in realtime. However, it's when leaping around in slow-mo that the Euphoria engine truly radiates.

Every time Max leaps into a wall, he slams against it with a sickening thud, stopping his leap, and breaking him out of slow-mo, rather than just diving against walls with no consequence like in the previous Max Payne games. 

The most impressive moment was when we accidentally threw Max against a low fence. As his hip connected with the metal railing, he spun around it violently and slammed into the ground, leaving us open to intense gunfire for a brief moment.

So while you can jump around like a lunatic as much as you want, you need to be spatially aware, taking your surroundings into account at all times, and making every shot count. This heightens the already considerable excitement that Max Payne 3 delivers. 

Static screenshots simply don't do the action in Max Payne 3 justice, as you really have to feel and experience them for yourself to really appreciate how all of the separate parts - the detail, gunplay, slow-mo and Euphoria physics - come together as a whole.

As such, action fans simply have to check Max Payne 3 out when it launches in Europe 18 May.



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Xbox 360
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Rockstar Games
Rockstar Vancouver
Third-person shooter
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Summary: Max Payne 3 is shaping up to be a shooter fan's dream.
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