It was Kermit the Frog that once told the world “it’s not easy being green,” but, in the case of Max Payne 3, it might be a more accurate statement to say that it’s not easy being bald; in my brief time with the title at this year’s PAX East convention, I saw Payne alternate between being attacked on all sides within a bar and being attacked on all sides within the massive confines of a Brazilian football stadium. There existed precious little time in which the hairless hero wasn’t being confronted from every conceivable angle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Max Payne is, as a franchise, all about shooting thugs and looking cool whilst shooting said thugs. In Max Payne 3, the same emphasis is placed upon aesthetic violence; bullet-time mechanics, the feature upon which the house of Payne was built, return with the perks of past and present generations. Little has changed in your ability to leap from side to side, backwards, or forwards while aiming for your enemy’s vital points, but much has changed in what happens upon successful contact. Kill-cams, which you might remember from such titles as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, provide an up-close shot of Payne’s bullets penetrating the opponent’s skin in such key situations as striking the last villain in a room or landing a shot while in a near-death state. These visuals are as gruesome as they are impressive and help to spice up the homogeneous nature of encounters in action games.
The aforementioned near-death states are a condition that will come into play often throughout the entirety of Max Payne 3 as Rockstar has made great strides in presenting a modern game with a difficulty curve. Enhancements to the challenge aren’t made through arbitrary alterations, such as implementing a broken aiming reticle or pumping up enemy mobs, but instead through legitimate conceits to a more potent artificial intelligence; opposing forces, instead of allowing the player to stow away behind cover for long periods of time, will flush out Payne frequently in an attempt to draw him out of his comfort zone and into the open where their bullets can freely assault his health bar, a meter that requires use of series-patented painkillers to be refilled. In my time with the two stages being presented at PAX East, I died an inordinate amount of times for current generation software, a fact that should affirm to franchise loyalists the continued adherence to a more hardcore experience.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement in Max Payne 3 isn’t the fact that it maintains a difficult standard in our current generation but instead the fact the game, published by Rockstar Games, runs under the same engine that has been used in the making of Grand Theft Auto IV, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption. Though each of these titles is undeniably fantastic, none of them have been known for a particularly strong combat system; battling through enemies in each of the three games is akin more to a light chore than anything else. In Max Payne 3, it is nothing short of astonishing to see how the same engine works so seamlessly with the run-and-gun, action gameplay of the franchise.
One facet that is yet to be seen in the new engine is the franchise’s comic-book style of storytelling. The Rockstar representative facilitating my gameplay session assured me that, alongside the title hero’s fascination with a metaphorical style of speaking, the familiar cinematic sequences that so charmed audiences last decade would make at least a nominal return. In the demo, little of this was shown outside of a completion splash screen that approximated the end of every level which appeared to take hints from the original games’ presentation. It wouldn’t feel quite right to play a Max Payne game which lacked this particular flavor, but that might be a feeling we have to grow accustomed to in the near future.
Visually, Max Payne 3 is a reminder of how far graphics have come in the span of only one generation. Its qualities won’t overwhelm the senses, but, when looking back at the Max Payne we all collectively grew to love, this iteration presents a setting far more desirable than its predecessors. The unique, Brazilian setting is one that opens up plenty of opportunities to extend the campaign into franchise-atypical locales that will help to distinguish it from the rest of the pack, and my time with the game helped to exemplify that very point; fighting my way through an authentic football arena was an experience I’ll not soon forget as one of my favorites in all of gaming both for its level of detail and unusual departure from the typical genre tropes of abandoned warehouses and rooftops.
Max Payne 3 is a title with which I would have loved to spend more time at PAX East. The demo, albeit longer than a majority on display, offered up only a brief sample size of what is to come on May 15 when the game launches in North America. It did my heart good to see a challenging, diverse action title afloat in the sea of generic, modern combat inspired knock-offs that only aspire to be the next Call of Duty. Max Payne 3 aspires only to be the next Max Payne, and in that it finds unquestioned success.