Nine years have passed since The Fall of Max Payne. The character has fallen from the public spotlight and the development team, Remedy Entertainment, have moved on with the Alan Wake franchise. The intellectual property was purchased by Rockstar Games, who had previously acted as publishers and the latest entry was announced back in 2009, though it took until the end of 2011 until any footage was seen. The first trailer courted the ire of fans thanks to a seeming change in direction, but Rockstar have managed to quieten this thirst for blood with a carefully controlled hype engine, addressing the issues of long-time fans while managing also to interest an audience that only know the name as a result of the awful 2008 film.
It is under these circumstances that the painkiller-addicted former NYPD officer makes his return. And what a glorious return it is promising to be. Corroborating with the length of time between titles, Rockstar have elected to set Max Payne 3 eight years after the end of the previous game. He’s moved away from neon-drenched New York, growing older and more bitter in the process. A new home has found the weary protagonist in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he works private security for a wealthy family in an attempt to forget about aspects of his past. Following the kidnapping of his client’s wife, he’s pulled into a series of circumstances similar to what he faced back in New York as he finds himself caught up in a war between a number of local criminal groups.
Despite a new setting and temporal lapse, this is the same, deeply flawed Max and the prospect of delving deeper than ever into the mind of this man is tantalising, especially given the proven writing skills of Dan Houser (Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption). Having said that, this game is likely to tax the skills of this auteur like few others in his career. The Rockstar teams are widely regarded as the kings of the open-world format and, indeed, the publishing house hasn’t developed a linear experience since Manhunt 2 back in 2007 and before that, The Warriors in 2005, neither of which featured Houser’s involvement. This means, also, that Max Payne 3 will be the first game to show off Rockstar’s knack for specific level design since the beginning of this generation. If nothing else, the game will be a litmus test for the publisher.
While the efficacy of all of these elements is up in the air, one thing that certainly is not is the technology powering the game. As in previous games, the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine is driving things in concert with NaturalMotion’s Euphoria, a middleware module that allows incredibly realistic animation to be portrayed. The blending of these two forces is more potent than ever before thanks to controlled nature present here, and without the need to densely populate an open world. Enemies reactions will be generated on-the-fly, reminiscent of how someone would were the injuries inflicted on them in reality. This is no idle boast either, as thousands of animations have been created to create this sense of realism, and layering techniques similar to those found in the Uncharted series have also been employed.
Like the earlier games, this is a run-and-gun third-person shooter, adhering to the unique elements that made them so memorable. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Bullet Time mechanic, which slows down time in order to allow players to get a better bead on their adversaries. The other is the shoot-dodge, which sees Max throwing himself to the ground, engaging Bullet Time during the fall, where players will then be free to shoot in every direction. Beyond this, players will also be able to survive a mortal wound if they have a painkiller in their inventory, which will restore a rather significant amount of health, so long as they can kill the enemy that last shot them. It’s an interesting idea that will serve the game well considering that Max will go down fairly easily.
So many aspects of the game are shaping up rosily, but it’s important to note that many fans were originally concerned that, with the change in setting, the noir feel of the originals would be lost. Rockstar has promised that this is not the case, and while I’m not normally one to take such comments at face value, this is a company that is highly attuned to what their fans want and what it means to deliver a high quality product. Furthermore, the folks at Remedy Entertainment have seen the game and have stamped it with their approval. There is nothing standing in the way of success for Max Payne 3 at this time.
If you retain any doubt, go back through the history of Rockstar Games. Their latest games to be regarded in a less than shining light were Manhunt 2 (understandably given the content and subject matter) and the Wii version of Table Tennis, both from 2007. For a game like this however, the brand name is a stamp of quality. Besides this, the Vancouver Studio driving development has only previously created Bully (Canis Canem Edit), as a Rockstar subsidiary, while their earlier games as Barking Dog Studios were also all well-received.
Max Payne 3 will be available for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on the 15th of May in America and three days later for the rest of the world, while PC owners will have to wait an additional fortnight, and garner the benefits of DirectX 11 support and stereoscopic 3D.