Before you start reading our preview there’re some things you should take into account. During the course of time quite a few websites have previews already out in the wild. Most of them reveal detailed level information. Our article is spoiler free (it mentions areas / action that can be seen from screenshots and the first articles about Max Payne 3, but not the plot in itself, Kristian’s hands-on has the least amount of story info) and we tend to put emphasis on the experience of the trip and gameplay, rather then revealing lots of spoilery information. While we could, we truly believe you’ll have the best experience when you’ll find out all these things yourself. Enjoy!
Invitation and preperation.
Kristian: Friday the 13th, usually a day you expect bad things will happen. But in April 2012 that was when we got an email from Rockstar Games, asking us if we’d like to come to New York for a fan site event, that included playing Max Payne 3 and obviously meeting them and other fan sites. I was just about to leave for a weekend trip, and knowing I needed a new passport to go to the US I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I immediately told Patrick though, and he didn’t even believe me at first.
Patrick: However, that feeling of disbelief quickly faded after airplane tickets found their way into my mailbox. Since I’d never visited New York City before, this venture was going to be an amazing experience. Count some Max Payne 3 hands-on time with that, and you’ve quite possibly one of the best weekends a gamer could imagine. I was thrilled!
I remember speculating with Kristian a few weeks before if, by any chance, Rockstar would repeat organizing a pre-release event like Kristian enjoyed before. How little we did know.
Krisitan: Obviously it’s been 9 years since I was in NYC to try Max Payne 2 and with mostly new people in Rockstar and a different era with Twitter, Facebook and all being important for publishers I wasn’t expecting anything like this even if we had kept in touch with Rockstar as the release of Max Payne 3 got nearer. Still, we were excited to get invited, we got our passports on time and off we went!
Friday 20th April 2012 – Arrival in New York city.
Patrick: Quickly after I arrived at the John F. Kennedy Airport I shared a car with Thomas, the head administrator of RockstarBase.com. The cab would bring us to the luxurious Grand Soho Hotel where we would spend the nights. I immediately noticed that Thomas was from the Netherlands as well, which resulted in many laughs and good talks in our native language during the one hour drive. The cab driver could not make any sense of our language and often frowned while hearing us laugh.
Thomas and I were the first ones to arrive at the hotel, meaning we had some time to explore the surroundings, get settled in our rooms and meet up with some of the other fansites before we would leave for dinner. I was eager to meet Kristian for the first time since the start of our partnership in 2004.
Kristian: On Friday we went out to a bowling place in Brooklyn which can be best explained as a bar, night club and bowling alley in one. At this point I had been awake for about 20 hours and done a transatlantic flight with a stop in Amsterdam, and many of the other people knew each other so I guess I was a bit of a party pooper. Of course I had just met Patrick for the first time as well, so he can chime in on that. But it was a cool introduction to some of the people there. Though it’s hard to compare to the Saturday as we all knew that would be the most exciting day!
Me and Patrick started the Saturday with a sub for breakfast/lunch then took a walk around the city, including Battery Park where we had a good view of the Statue of Liberty. It was obviously fun to meet and chat with Patrick after being online friends for that long. We headed back around 3PM to get ready to be picked up for the evenings shenanigans an hour later.
Patrick: I had a rough night. The jetlag and knowing that today, after a wait of almost ten years I would get my hands on Max Payne 3, were not really stimulating factors for a good night’s rest. Visiting New York for the first time, I experienced the city as overwhelming but much more fascinating. I kind of liked this urban jungle.
It was not until 4.30PM that we were picked up by ground transport that would deliver us to an unknown location. The location revealed to be some sort of warehouse only noticeable affiliated to Rockstar by their logo sticking at the upper centre of the, with spray paint defaced, front door. We were asked to wait in front of this door until the warehouse was ready to receive us. A passing pedestrian noticed the logo, stopped, and tried to persuade us to enlighten him on what we were about to see. We obviously left him in ignorance and after a few minutes we were allowed entry.
The warehouse was a dark and gloomy place. As soon as I set foot, I stepped on something hard. When I lifted my foot I noticed several shell casings laying on the floor. In fact, the whole room seemed to be dotted with them. Max Payne obviously had visited this place before us. The whole room was decorated in an army like fashion.
On the left side of entry was a small bar, filled with literally every drink you could think of. Opposite of the bar were various Brazilian snacks and food. In the far end of the warehouse a DJ was playing music which seemed to be all linked to Max Payne somehow (by the keyword Painkiller for example). Above the DJ was a large, beamer powered, display which greeted us with the Max Payne 3 TV commercial. I was in awe when I counted 20 Xbox 360 consoles and three PC’s, accompanied by invitingly comfortable chairs.
Kristian: We didn’t actually try the PC version, I’m so used to playing on Xbox 360 now, and I was busy enough playing on that while having some drinks and food. The experience should be similar enough to not ruin anyone’s fun (actually they’ve already said it’s made specifically for PC and it is not a port). I was glad to have lots of Rockstar people around me when we played because the control scheme was a bit unfamiliar and from the point we played at least, there was no tutorial section.
Thinking back on that day the hours really flew by. Drinks, food, friendly bartenders and Rockstar representatives and a really REALLY fun game. But more on that from me later, first I’ll let Patrick share his thoughts on the game.
Patrick’s single player hands-on:
Around 15 Rockstar employees joined us during play and made sure we’d kept the drinks flowing! All were very polite and interested in meeting us. That lead to some great talks. After a short welcome speech from a Rockstar representative, I was allowed to grab the controller and play. Rockstar was about to show us great many things. Some of which I’m allowed to describe, some of which I’m not. First up, three single player levels!
When I unpaused the game, I encountered Max in his apartment in Brazil. He was heavily drinking and fighting himself, in vain, not to throw up. When he recovered, he tried to remember how things got this messed up.
James McCaffrey’s voice over work is rock solid. Less poetic but much more personal. This felt a bit strange at first yet very immersive later on. Max allows you to get more into his head. They also kept Max’s sense of humor, which nicely seesaws between the intens and throat gripping drama. Noticed these strange fuzzy, blurry and color shifting effects in the trailers? That’s Max, disoriented and recollecting what happened with his alcohol inflicted mind.
Max goes back to the night of Fabiana’s kidnapping. Fabiana, trophy wife of rich real estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, is on her way by helicopter to a club together with her sister Giovanna. Escorted by Max and Passos. Max immediately heads for the bar and thus loses track of Fabiana. After Fabiana is taken, the proverbial shit hits the fan! I was compelled to get her back to safety. I made like Chow Yun-Fat, equipped with double PT92’s, an insane body count that increased with every goon that stared at me. Sending bullet after bullet onto a slow motion journey. I couldn’t stop grinning watching them reach their final destination.
While playing, the enormous screen in the back of the warehouse randomly displayed a screen of a player in the room. I was featured quite a lot so I guess I did well!
Controlling Max felt responsive and fluid. While GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption do share the same engines with Max Payne 3, the game cannot be compared to their controls at all. It felt much better. However, the button mapping was a bit confusing at first and needed some getting used to. You’re able to adjust aiming settings to your liking, which might also ease or harden gameplay. Gun- and gameplay feels exactly like Max Payne 3 should. Trusted and improved. To survive you need to constantly be on the move. Running and gunning alone won’t cut it. You need to run, roll, pick up a weapon, shootdodge, empty your clips and roll into cover smoothly. No room to catch a breath.
Yeah I said roll into cover. The cover system works, but I barely used it. Killing enemies while shoot-dodging or in slow motion was just too damn fun. When I did use it, I was mostly out of ammo and trying to lure an enemy towards me. Only to brutally slay him with my melee attacks.
Over-the-shoulder aiming felt out of place and I didn’t bother with that at all, however it does enable the player to aim with higher accuracy yet at a slower pace.
“I died quite a few times because of this, but I didn’t care. I could play the same section a hundred times more. I could not get enough of it.”
As my killing spree continued, the gameplay was sometimes intervened by cutscenes. This happened seamless without loading times and was so well executed, that I sometimes was caught off guard unknowingly that gameplay had started. Because I was admiring the game so much, I totally forgot searching for ammo and painkillers. I died quite a few times because of this, but I didn’t care. I could play the same section a hundred times more. I could not get enough of it.
The events in and around the club are followed by the infamous Stadium level. Payne and Passos are about to deliver ransom money when a third party intervenes. Max wouldn’t be Max to not only hunt down this third party, but to also retrieve the money as well. Easier said than done. Quite literally actually, as this level probably was the hardest of all three.
And finally, we see Max in Hoboken, New Jersey. “Slumped in a bar, drunk on self pity.” Through unfortunate events, Max somehow upset mafioso overlord Anthony DeMarco and needs to escape New York. This event was a tad confusing, as you’ll soon find out. Even Max agreed with me.
During your escape through Max’s apartment building, you’ll notice many familiar elements from the previous installments in the franchise as well as typical Rockstar gags. For example, I crossed paths with a bum who wanted to help me. So he decided to drastically change the course of events with explosives. Thanks, I guess? Max’s apartment building and clothing look very similair to the ones in Max Payne 2. These little details will bring up good memories guaranteed! It feels very engaging, refreshing and yet oh so trusted.
I finished the level and expected the game to shut down since this was the third and final level. But it continued! I caught a glimpse of a fourth level but was quickly interrupted by a Rockstar employee who took away my controller and whispered; “Damn you’re fast!I Have you been practicing?”. Hell yeah, for ten years I have!
I set down with Kristian afterwards, who was still struggling at the Stadium level. We quickly finished together while discussing about the game. We were impressed and content. Next up would be a few rounds of multiplayer!
Kristian’s single player hands-on:
Now let’s first make it clear, I was struggling to complete the levels we could play because I had the game on “free aim”, not “soft-lock” (baby mode) like Patrick (to be honest I may be using soft-lock when I play the full game though). It always takes me some time to get the hang of free aim. Now that that is out of the way, let’s move on to my experience with Max Payne 3’s three levels that were playable for me.
I sat down in a comfortable chair with the controller and started the game. It started with a long cutscene with a thirsty Max being disturbed by a gang of gun happy thugs (yeah, I’m dumbing it down a bit). The cutscenes weave perfectly in with the gameplay. Now I don’t know if they technically made the cutscenes into HD video files (could explain the game’s huge filesize at 35GB on PC) but it’s all made in-game and it makes the transition from cutscene to gameplay extremely fluid. The story telling is extremely cool, like a beefed up version of RDR’s way of telling stories. We were playing in the same room as 15-16 other people so it was a bit hard to catch all of the dialogue, but the game sounds and looks stunning and James McCaffrey probably had more work here than ever before!
I want to clear a couple of fan concerns out of the way right away. Just because Max is in Brazil doesn’t mean he’s chilling on the beach in the sun with cold drinks. This game is dark, gritty, violent and rough! R* have reportedly mentioned its length at 7-10 hours. I think that depends on difficulty and whether you play with free aim or soft-lock on console. Having said that, I struggled at a few points, especially in the stadium level. That did give me a chance to replay and approach things differently, it also revealed that enemies don’t behave in the same way from one time to the next which heightens replayability. I will also say this, if you stand behind cover and think you’ll get a rest, forget about it. Some enemies will hide, some will rush at you like mad men.
The controls are fluid, and Max feels more weighty than the previous games (and perhaps comparable games). I was having a shootout with a couple of guys in a kitchen and shoot-dodged over the “kitchen island” in the middle of the room while I shot the enemy, it looked incredibly cool, and the way Max landed and got up from that looked flawless. You can feel him thump into things and get knocks. There was a few times where the transition animations failed a bit, but that was rare and it’s impossible to cover ALL cases. Usually though, anything you do transitions perfectly into the next thing you do as can be seen in the Tech videos Rockstar have released.
“With all due respect to my friends in Remedy, there’s nothing they could do here that Rockstar haven’t done.”
I must admit that before I played the game I was a bit worried that this old run and gun recipe might have grown a bit stale. After all it’s 9 years since the previous game. That worry is gone now though, the changes Rockstar have made are perfect, and it was incredibly fun. Replaying things which is something I hate in games (I’m a bit impatient) was totally cool here, after all it was just more people to shoot in slow motion. With all due respect to my friends in Remedy, there’s nothing they could do here that Rockstar haven’t done. The story telling which was a big concern may not be as heavy on the metaphors judging from the portion we played, but it’s still noir and gritty, and very personal from Max. This isn’t some quick money milking, it’s a proper modernization of an old excellent recipe of a third-person shooter. It was delayed because they took their time. And it works, and I can’t wait for 18th of May (European release date).
The amount and quality of cutscene storytelling material overwhelmed me, positively. There’s a lot of throw backs to the old games to please us fans just in the stuff I saw. I can’t and wouldn’t want to tell you what, but if you’re an old time fan you’ll be happy! When this game is released I’ll get rid of any plans, turn up the volume on the 5.1 system and enjoy myself immensely.
Kristian: I must admit I’m a single player person. I always play the story mode of games first, and I rarely play much – if any – multiplayer. I have put quite a few hours in Battlefield 3 online, but that’s a rare exception. So when I heard multiplayer was added to Max Payne 3 I could control my enthusiasm. I always felt that it would be added as a sort of afterthought and not be that good. I was once again proven wrong. The multiplayer felt really good, and there’s some really cool game modes that could prove to be good fun if you create a crew and spend some time here.
Multiplayer gives you a choice of soft-lock and free aim, and if you choose soft-lock you’ll meet other people that chose that, giving you fair competition. The amount of options in multiplayer was huge, a lot of things to unlock. We kind of saw the whole unlocked set of options so we don’t know the specifics of that.
Patrick: While sharing Kristian’s point of view on the multiplayer aspect of games, I can enjoy a few rounds of multiplayer, most games tend to become repetitive after a few rounds of playing. Max Payne 3 tackles this situation with cunning solutions.
We played some classic Team Deathmatch first. I experienced this mode as chaotic. The average lifespan of all players was around 40 seconds, so there was no room really to explore the map and try different strategies.
It’s in the modes “PayneKiller” and “Gang Wars” were the solutions come at play. These modes are designed as unpredictable and require you to work together.
For example, in PayneKiller two players as Max and Passos are set against all others. Wandering off too far from your partner will weaken you considerably. When you die, your killer will now be either Max or Passos and gains the ability to rack up points.
During “Gang Wars”, a mode where events from the singleplayer are used for the narrative, the outcome of each round effects the overall story of the match.
Kristian: The maps were based on the single player but modified for multiplayer. They had a good size and took advantage of the movement options the game gives you. We had some gun blazing battles through many of the game modes. I wasn’t at the top of my game though, I blame the drinks. The fact that the gangs progression can be brought on through to GTA V is very interesting and shows that R* have been thinking of ways to make the multiplayer more than some one off thing. After all a lot of people are still playing RDR online.
Conclusions and going home.
Patrick: We released our fingers from the controllers, and then the evening was over. When discussing about the game in the car back to the hotel, I realized I had played Max Payne 3 for over five hours three weeks before everyone else could. I felt honored and satisfied. The long wait was absolutely worth it and I can’t wait to finish it. Max Payne 3 is everything I have been waiting for.
Back home my colleagues and friends were very envious, and regret they supported me to make the trip because I can’t stop talking about the game now.
Visiting New York city was an unbelievable experience as well. As a foreigner, I had the constant impression I was walking on one of the world’s biggest film sets, as I only knew this city from games and movies.
I would very much like to thank Rockstar for everything, and most importantly, for continuing the Max Payne franchise! Furthermore, I’d like to thank Kristian as well for the great times!
Kristian: You can’t go wrong with a trip to New York, playing Max Payne 3 and getting some new friends just adds to it. It would have been nice with another day like the Saturday, to play some more and talk to even more people, but understandably the logistics of having almost 20 people there for a weekend is enough already for Rockstar. I really appreciate them letting us come to try the game, get to meet them, and it was also a chance for me to finally meet Patrick which was good after all these years.