The original Max Payne game came out in 2001, with Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne arriving two years later. Both are still regarded as minor classics, despite Mark Wahlberg’s ill-fated (and quite frankly god-awful) cinematic adaptation tarnishing the brand’s reputation.
Now, nearly a decade later and the company that took over the Max Payne franchise, Rockstar Games – also known as the guys behind GTA, Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire – are finally releasing the franchise’s follow-up, taking the bullet-dodging antihero and planting him in the seedy underbelly of São Paulo.
The reason for his jolly holiday? Well, after the tumultuous events of the first two games, Max has, would you believe it, hit the bottle hard, so when a friend offers him a private security gig in Brazil, he takes it... but that doesn't mean trouble isn't too far behind.
It's no secret that die hard Max Payne fans weren't dancing in the street when they first heard news that their Bogie-like detective was suddenly out of his snow-and-shadows New York ‘comfort zone’ and strolling about the favelas in a John Lasseter-esque Aloha shirt – not to mention his suddenly shaved noggin.
But after playing the game ourselves at Rockstar’s UK offices in west London, we’re more than happy to tell you that despite his attention-grabbing haircut and fresh passport stamp, Max is the same Max we know and love: popping pills, blasting Berettas and slowing down time to nail that perfect headshot.
It’s this bullet time mechanic that really set the original Max Paynes apart, taking what could have been a simple neo-noir shooter and setting it apart from the competition – and Rockstar know it, making sure that this new and improved Max adventure gives players the same slow-motion thrill, but making it bigger, better and prettier thanks to third generation graphics and their love of perfecting all the little things.
Using a combination of motion capture technology and careful animation, for example, Max can now move back and forth and leap from side to side fluidly and beautifully, looking and behaving like a real person would… if they were shooting hired thugs in slow motion, that is.
Slamming the bullet time button once more, it’s a refreshing feeling knowing that without any painkillers your health won’t come back if you hide behind a wall and your bullet time bar won’t regenerate all on its own – to survive, you'll need to hit yout next target soon, and, ideally, in a particularly stylish way.
The level we played was based in an empty football stadium. Empty, that is, apart from a gang of mercenaries hell-bent on putting a hole in the back of your skull. Running and gunning again, straight off the bat the game feels like it designed to make you move, not to cower, to go out with guns blazing and not hide in the shadows.
Making mistakes and coming back knowing where enemies are hiding seems par for the course in certain sections, and the game certainly doesn’t suffer for it, with an immense buzz coming from moments you nail first time, as well as particularly tricky bits that require a few more attempts to master.
It’s a throwback to more old school shooters, but with the top-drawer graphics you’d expect from Rockstar, full of gloriously cinematic set pieces and set-ups designed to make you punch the air. A sniping section of this particular stadium level was undoubtedly the highlight, for example – something you’ll find out for yourself once the long-awaited shooter hits shelves on May 18.
As for the seeming lack of noirishness, well, that’s taken care of by Max’s habit of getting down to business under the cover of night, maintaining the freshness required of any long-awaited follow-up by changing the location but not compromising on atmosphere.
Rockstar have been releasing a number of detailed trailers to help newcomers and older fans alike get their head around a man who, from a distance, could well be Breaking Bad's Walter White running around with an uzi, and just to get you in the mood, here are a few for you below.
Draven Cage Posted on Saturday May 12, 2012, 15:49
I absolutely love the first two Max Payne games (and recently downloaded the first one - for free - from the PlayStation Network and completed it with a smile on my face), so had been counting the days until the third one was officially announced never mind released.
Truth be told, the games could be classed as shallow (walk into a room, shoot a load of guys, walk into another room, shoot a load of guys, etc, etc), but they're done in such a way that the style comes across perfectly and the characters were all standouts.