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Max Payne 3 [Preview] – Slow-mo with style

1 Mar 2012  by   John Robertson

Max Payne 3 is probably the most stylish third-person shooter I’ve ever seen. We’re told that Rockstar’s goal here is to create a game in which you never want to put the controller down. As far as the presentation goes, they seem to be well on the way to accomplishing their goal.
As with previous games in the series, the presentation, the gameplay and much of the satisfaction is based around the trademark Bullet Time feature. For the one person that doesn’t already know, Bullet Time sends everything into slow-motion (Matrix style) and allows you to perform near-impossible acts of marksmanship until the accompanying meter runs out.
In this build of Max Payne 3, Bullet Time builds up whenever you’re in combat – although the exact nature in which it’s earned has yet to be finalised. Whatever the case, you’ll be using it a lot. Not only does it look great, it can save your life. More than once in our demo we ran into trouble thanks to our refusal to check our corners properly, and more than once slowing down time helped us get away intact. Our enemies fared less well.
A brand new feature, Shot Dodge, works in much the same way as Bullet Time but can be employed at any time – independently from any meter building. Induced by jumping in any direction, Shot Dodge is limited to the amount of time you’re in the air. Obviously, if you’re jumping from a height (down some steps, for example) your Shot Dodge will last longer than if you’re launching and landing on the same level. Whatever the case, it’s an extremely fancy get-out-jail-free card.

The incorporation of Shot Dodge, as well as Bullet Time, demonstrates just what kind of game Max Payne 3 is. Yes, the game would undoubtedly be more challenging if Shot Dodge was removed… but it wouldn’t look as good, and you wouldn’t feel as badass as you do with its inclusion.
It’s not just the slow-mo that provides a sense of style, however. In typical Rockstar fashion the attention paid to narrative elements, and how they’re incorporated into the gameplay, is brilliantly engaging and creative.
One such example took place at the end of the first of two missions we played. After an audacious leap from the top tier of a soccer stadium, we make it to a waiting helicopter and jump into the pilot’s seat. Rather than the all too easy edit of flying away into the distance, the camera pans around Max and, as it does so, the stadium backdrop dissolves into a bar scene. At the same time the big, bad, bald Max morphs into the dark-haired, trench-coated New Yorker we’re used to.
It’s a brilliant edit and evidence that the dev team are going the extra mile to make every moment impactful and unique.
When Rockstar say that they’re looking to create a game in which you don’t ever want to put the controller down, they mean it literally as well as provocatively. Cut-scenes merge into the gameplay seamlessly, one minute you’re watching Max run towards the enemy and the next you’re in control of him running towards the enemy.

Throughout the two levels we’ve played, this kind of transition happened numerous times. Being used to cut-scenes that are essentially used to separate gameplay segments, the seamless transition caught us off guard every time. Like so many things in the videogame world, Rockstar are looking to set a new standard. Frankly, it’s about time the cut-scenes format got shaken up.
In addition to the high-octane, death-defying jumping sequences of the Brazilian soccer stadium, we also played a level set in a dilapidated dockyard. Having snuck into the area, it’s possible to make your way past the guards and into the series of warehouses that may or may not hold the kidnap victim we’re looking to save.
To help us in the silent and deadly approach, we were equipped with a silenced pistol. A silenced pistol that we used to shoot out the blocks preventing a pick-up truck from rolling down a hill. Sending it rolling ended the lives of two unlucky bastards, but our visit didn’t stay secret for long. Just like during the stadium level, failing to check our corners resulted in bringing a stream of bad guys down upon us.
Unlike the highly trained and well organised enemies of our first level, the encounters at the dock were against a comparative rabble. Their style of offense, while primitive, was effective primarily because they threw caution to the wind and attacked ad nauseum in groups of three of four.

Having ruined the opportunity to infiltrate the docks through stealth, and being faced with untapped aggression, the best option is to fall back on the ever reliable dual-wielding of Uzis. These are proper Uzis, not the reduced impact variations that seem to have infiltrated every game from Call of Duty to the Syndicate reboot. Get hit with these and you’re not getting back up again.
Max is able to carry two single-handed weapons and a dual-handed weapon at any one time. Any two single-handed weapons can be used in conjunction with one another, for the purposes of our demo that was limited to pistols and Uzis. You already know our preference…
Max Payne 3 is every bit a Rockstar game. Along with the visually grabbing cut-scenes and ferocious gameplay comes top notch voice acting, graphics of the highest quality and a story that promises to reveal not only Max’s rampage through Brazil but the circumstances that led to your journey there.
Having only played two levels, it may sound like an exaggeration to say that Max Payne 3 is the most stylish third-person shooter I’ve seen. But it’s not. If anything it’s an understatement – those two levels are among the most stylish I’ve seen… third-person shooter or otherwise. 

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