I'm leaping down a full flight of stairs in slow motion, firing two guns at a group of Brazilian mercenaries, and the Rockstar representative goes, "That's gonna hurt."
He's not referring to the mercenaries.
The impact of landing costs me half of my health, and the mercs finish the job as I lay prone. My stair-dive was a crazy tactical maneuver that didn't even come close to paying off, but it looked so awesome that I didn't care.
I was neither excited nor dismissive of Max Payne 3 before I had a hands-on demo at PAX East on Sunday. At the very least, I found it odd that developer Rockstar Games would bring back Remedy’s noir-action series nine years after the last installment, and I full-on balked when I saw the hero’s new look: bald, fat, and desperately in need of a clean shirt. How could Rockstar make a proper Max Payne game without the nutso hyper-metaphors, the comic-book cut-scenes, or Sam Lake’s pained “gotta poop” face?
That last one was a genuine concern.
By the time my demo was over, however, I was convinced: Max Payne 3 is going to fit right in with the rest of the series, and here’s why.
For starters, this game is as hard as its predecessors. You’ll learn pretty quickly that just because Max can dive and fire, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best idea (like, say, stupidly jumping down a some stairs into a group of heavily armed opponents). Whereas recent titles like Bulletstorm have encouraged audacity and played up risk/reward, enemies will cut you right the hell down if you don’t take time to strategize.
You can’t wait too long, though, because while this new installment includes a cover system, that doesn’t mean that the bad guys are happy to wait you out. They’re pretty big fans of rushing your hiding spot and forcing you to act. It is an action game, after all.
Max’s health also does not regenerate; the series’ all-important painkiller health packs are back. The Rockstar rep was nice enough to point me towards them during the demo, but it was easy to see the challenge in trying to hunt them down while still dealing with the five or so guys who will be shooting or throwing grenades at you at any given time.
This is a skill that has fallen more or less out of fashion in recent years. It brought back memories of all the times in the first game that I found myself low on ammo and trying to get to a pill cache all the way across a room full of enemies. Getting out of desperate, no-win situations like that were a big part of what made Max Payne fun for me and why I like the character so much.
Speaking of the character, the biggest thing Max Payne 3 has going for it to tie it into the older games is probably the continuity of its audio. Specifically, Bullet Time sounds like Bullet Time, and James McCaffrey returns as the voice of the eponymous grit factory. Remember when you saw Superman Returns, and John Williams’ original theme started playing, and you felt like everything was going to be okay? That’s what happened to me when the demo began and McCaffrey (as Max) started rambling about getting into barfights with sailors. This consistency goes a long way towards making this game an authentic Max Payne experience.
I couldn’t tell from the time I spent with the demo whether the writing lives up to the originals’ lovingly overwrought insanity (admittedly a tall order), but this feels like a Max Payne game, and that’s saying a lot.
Max Payne 3 comes out on May 15 for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
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