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PAX East 2012: Hands On – Max Payne 3

After a long journey to reach PAX East, the first stop on our agenda was to visit our friends at Rockstar and get a hands on look at their upcoming title, Max Payne 3. There, we finally had the opportunity to see the new Max Payne in action, get some information on the story and some of the key technological features being touted this time around.

We were given some time to play on the third stage of the game, an area which was roughly about a third of the way into the game. Here, we assumed the role of the titular character as we pursued the kidnapped wife of a powerful politician, in what was promised to be the first story element of a large and increasingly deeper experience.

The stage saw Payne scouting out the kidnappers as they rendezvoused with their boss. The first stage gave us a look into some of the stage flexibility Rockstar was going for this time around. When we finally got control of Payne, we were crouched behind a car and observing the kidnapper’s cronies as they unloaded a shipment into a truck from a riverbed. The truck was on a slide incline, apparently held in place by a little yellow wedge. “Aim at the yellow wedge,” we were told by Simon Ramsey, head of Rockstar PR. We did, we fired, and the truck rolled backwards, running over the first cronie and sending him and his friend (and the truck) into the river.

Of course, in classic Max Payne style, the focus isn’t on stealth. If you wanted to, leveling a shot at one of the henchmen’s head then engaging his buddy in some gunplay is also an option. The traditional Payne style of survival is present, as well: no regenerative health, only painkillers. Instead of acting solely as a health boost, painkillers also act as a last ditch means of survival.

If you take fatal damage in a firefight and have at least one painkiller in your inventory, you’ll enter a last chance bullettime mode, where your target reticule will drift slowly toward the last person who shot you. If you manage to assist it the rest of the way and kill your would-be killer, you’ll be rewarded with a sliver of health and one last chance to survive the stage. The only issues we saw with this in the test version we played was that it can be tricky to tell which person shot you sometimes, and also if there happens to be any environmental item in the way – in one case, we were stuck behind our shooter and a subway sign – you’re not going to be able to exact your last second revenge.

Another aspect of the game that we got to see in person was Rockstar’s promise of no load times mid-game. The transitions between cutscenes (which, by the way, are beautifully rendered using the in-game engine) and gameplay is seamless, meaning you won’t be stuck waiting for some pre-rendered clip to load or the next room you’re about to go in. Just run and gun.

And run-and-gun is still the cornerstone of Max Payne 3. While the game does take advantage of modern FPS elements like a cover system, the AI is designed to flush you out and keep the action moving. According to Rockstar, the game is designed around using cover only as an opportunity to reload, get your wits, and plan your next move. Remember, no regenerative health.

All in all, the games looks impressive. James McCaffrey reprising his role as Max Payne adds the familiar touch to the series that will keep players returning, the multiplayer elements look and sound impressive, and the story of the game – including an explanation for why Payne winds up shaving his head and growing a crazy beard – will be explained as you play and as part of Max’s evolution throughout the game.

Max Payne 3 will be available for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on May 15th.

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