Preview: Max Payne 3 puckers up to breathe life back into the bullet-time shooter

This daylight action rankled numerous Max Payne fans who were worried that the sunshine would detract from the film noir settings of old. Not so. If anything, Max Payne 3 is grittier than it’s ever been. Plus, scoring a slow-motion headshot in clear light allows you to see every fragment of brain that escapes through the exit wound.

Another staple of the series is the ability to pick up weapons on the fly from fallen victims. You won’t be able to upgrade these along the way but flicking through the standard issue rifles, uzis, pistols and the like with a Red Dead Redemption style weapon wheel, means that you can mix up the action enough so it rarely feels one note. Obviously, this may change after many hours of play but during the demo it felt varied enough.

Max is now bald and is accompanied in Sao Paulo by Passo’s girlfriend, Giovanna. It's sort of an escort mission through a bus depot as your female companion screams at every cackle of gun-fire. Don't worry though, Giovanna stays far enough away to avoid the cross-fire so Max is free to blast away at will.

The new common features throughout Max Payne 3 are the set-pieces. Stitched into the action you'll come across huge, arena like areas where cinematic shoot-outs happen. All of these, we're told, were played out by actors in a similar studio style setting as what you see on screen. The one unfolding in front of us now sees Max and Giovanna crouching inside a beaten-up old bus. Four guards are stalking the grounds and there's a sustained feeling of anxiety as they inch closer to our hero's hiding place. Apparently, there are a number of ways this could play out. But after a soldier peers into the bus and spots Max, all hell breaks loose.

Here's where we get a proper look at the new cover system. Max Payne has always been about gung-ho gunplay rather than cowering behind low walls, but while you can still do this, the blind-fire and wall hugging is surprisingly effective. You can slide behind cover then leap out in slow-motion to finish the job in style.

When you do dive to the floor, Max can now spin 360 degrees while still shooting from this prone position. It all plays out seamlessly and the Euphoria animations make the action feel meaty and realistic. Well, as realistic as a bullet-time game can be.

The claustrophobic action amongst the wrecked transport vehicles is soon over, signaled by the final-kill camera. This is basically a close-up of the last bullet used to kill the last enemy on screen. It's particularly impressive when the last round is from a shotgun and it shows the buckshot break up and the multiple pellets fly into the bad guy's gut. BOOM!

As Max and Giovanna make their way into the bus terminal we're treated to another set-piece. This time it's all played out in slow-motion as Max leaps from rafters onto a chain that slowly lowers him to the ground. As he descends he pops off the on-rushing guards without breaking a sweat. There's even time for some environmental kills as Max pops some caps into the lift mechanism that's holding a bus aloft. It immediately drops and squashes the unsuspecting blokes below.

There's an on-rails section where Max is firing from a bus as Giovanna drives at a frantic pace. This is quite a change of pace to the run and gun action leading up to this but it all makes sense in the context of the story, apparently.

Our current impressions after the brief demo? Well, Max Payne 3 certainly shows epic potential. By creating a linear world for Max to blast his way through, the action feels more focused and as a result you never feel too far away from the next epic shoot-out. The new 360 degree, prone shooting is excellent and makes Max even more bad-ass than ever as he blasts guys while rolling to the next position. And the cover system, while not critical to your success, does add a nice extra dimension to your gameplay strategy. We're already looking forward to getting our hands on it in a few weeks and then hopefully we'll have a better idea of how the bullet-time veteran is really feeling.

Oct 6, 2011

Nathan Irvine
Hi, I’m Nathan. You may remember me from such websites as, erm, this one circa 2011. Been hustling in games for over a decade and write for Official PlayStation, Official Xbox, Gamesmaster and more.