A cynical remark echoed off the stadium walls, as the deafening sound of a sniper rifle could be heard across the night sky. The pain from a bullet wound was becoming too much to bare as I shovelled a handful of pills into my mouth, taking cover beside a trophy cabinet. Who would have thought a trip to Brazil could bring so much excitement.
This was the beginning of my hands-on preview with Max Payne 3. It was dark, gritty, confrontational and ultimately satisfying. A lot had changed since I first saw the game back in October of last year, but from what I could tell, action fans are in for some excitement.
Without going into too many details in regards to story, Max and his partner Raul Passos find themselves centre pitch of a football stadium, carrying a duffle bag full of cash, ready to pay some extortionists for the safe return of their employer's wife. Surprise, surprise - after handing ovet the cash Max is shot in the arm from a long-range sniper rifle, and that is when I take control of the dishevelled hero.
Raul gets me inside the stadium as I stagger up the stairs in desperate need of medical attention. Enemies are coming through the halls, yet Raul takes them down with relative ease. Crisp and delightful animations are on display, as we truly take in the power of the Euphoria engine.
We eventually pass through a locker room and into a medical office, where Raul finds a compression bandage and hands me a healthy dose of painkillers. It's here when I realise something, like a lightbulb exploding in my fuzzy little brain; there have been no loading sequences whatsoever. Rockstar have ensured that gamers are as immersed as possible; the comic-inspired cutscenes actually act as loading screens, so players are fed the story without dropping out so to speak. At crucial moments in the game, control is gently lifted from the player as the story progresses and thrust back into their hands when the first bullet is fired. It works well, extremely well in fact, and is definitely a great way to lose yourself in the story.
Now I was back on my feet thanks to those nifty painkillers, my trigger finger was certainly ready to fire. Gunplay has been the most crucial element to the Max Payne franchise since day one, so it's wonderful to see that Max Payne 3 has built upon that legacy in a huge way. As I rushed into a practice pitch, I was immediately met with two guards intent on shooting my face off, yet I wasn't got to have any part of it. I immediately leapt over a plastic barrier and activated Bullet Time, my legs bashing into the barrier and reacting accordingly, shooting through the air at my enemies. I landed on my belly, smoke clearing in the air, and I rolled around to check my surroundings. Max can move a full 360 degrees when prone, giving players access to a whole new layer of combat options.
The next twenty minutes had me running through a number of hallways and through bleachers, taking out enemies with a variety of weapons, creating some interesting combinations while dual wielding. One thing Rockstar has definitely managed to get right was how the weapons "feel"; the distant rumble of a pistol feels weighted and powerful, while the Uzi feels light and inaccurate. Each weapon "feels" different, which is quite an achievement on the developers behalf.
Attention to detail has always been part of Rockstar, but Max Payne 3 seems to take things to a whole new level. Hot Dog stands are fully stocked with all the condiments, trophy cabinets have a variety of different awards, and the area in general feels like a foreign place, not just a level with some artwork slapped on to feel like Brazil. Concentrating their efforts on a closed world has worked in their favour, with Max Payne 3 feeling more realistic (setting wise) than any other game they have ever attempted.
Now that I've sung the praises of the combat, setting and general feel of Max Payne 3, let's talk about something that didn't sit well with me during my play through - cover. For the first time ever, players will be able to take refuge behind practically anything you can see to protect themselves from gunfire. At times, the cover system really worked well and felt like a smart inclusion, but other times it seemed to disrupt the flow of the game. Max Payne has always been about over-the-top, John Woo type moments, and those seem to dissipate when you're concentrating on whether you should take cover behind a bar or press on. I feel it gives the player two ways to take a situation; head on or tactically, and for the most part, players will feel the need to play it safe.
Another feature that will catch most players off-guard is the fact that there is no regenerating health. "WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!" I hear you scream in worry. That's right folks, Rockstar have opted to keep players scrounging for health via Painkillers, which is certainly a little jarring after half a decade of regenerating health. It makes the game feel unique, a little hardcore, and definitely increases the tension in certain areas.
Before long I found myself taking out a pesky sniper and protecting Raul who was running around below. The bullet drop was fairly realistic, and seeing enemies meeting their demise by the hand of a high-powered rifle in Bullet Time was certainly satisfying.
The demo came to an end as a climatic shootout on the roof of the stadium took place, before falling into a flashback of Max and his days in New York City. My time was up with my old friend, but it left me wanting more.
For those worried about the PC version of the game; I confirmed with Rockstar that the PC version is not a port. It has been built from the ground up to suit the PC, sporting better resolution, refined controls for keyboard and mouse and various graphical options. There will be no quick save option, although the checkpoints seemed frequent enough that it shouldn't upset too many gamers out there.
Max Payne 3 is a powerful game, allowing the player to be the conductor of their very own masterpiece. Players can control when they burst through the door, open fire with a booming roar of a shotgun, the subtle twang of a sub-machine gun and the crescendo of an assault rifle. It's every action movie you've ever dreamed about, surrounded by a compelling story that takes Max from the unbelievable hero and turns hum into a human character that is easy to empathise with. It's been a long time, but it was well worth the wait.
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