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It's been eight years since Max Payne 2's release. No one would've blamed new developer Rockstar Games if they decided to reboot the series. Instead, though, they've chosen to develop a proper sequel. Max Payne 3 continues the traditions of the two games created by Remedy Entertainment while also updating the gameplay with today's standards.
The most obvious update is to the game's visuals. MP3 is powered by the same engine as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV, albeit with some improvements. In the first scene of the hands-off demo - a shoot-out at Max's New York apartment - Max stepped onto the roof and gave us a jaw-dropping, winter time view of the Manhattan skyline. Furthermore, all the characters have been motion captured, making every little movement realistic.
Max Payne has never been about realism, though, and MP3 has its share of fantasy touches. The hilariously over-the-top "Bullet Time" has returned, allowing Max to slow down time and dispatch foes while diving or twisting out of the way of their return fire. The player will be occasionally treated to a slow-mo killcam, too, letting them watch a bullet as it dispatches an enemy.
While the story mostly has a serious face, it has moments of absurdity like the first two games. While fighting through his apartment building, Max is given some unexpected assistance by a pants-less military veteran who lives down the hall. This vet, spewing religious gibberish, wipes out a group of enemies using dynamite strapped to his chest.
MP3 doesn't use comic book drawing cutscenes like the first two game. Instead, Rockstar opted for in-game footage. These scenes are presented in "motion comic" fashion, though, with the screen occasionally splitting into panels. It's a compromise between nostalgia and modern standards. Many of the smaller cutscenes interspersed through gameplay avoiding use the motion comic technique, preventing it from going stale.
Perhaps the biggest departure from Max Payne orthodoxy in this game is the inclusion of stealth. The Rockstar rep giving the demo says that stealth is a pretty natural addition to a shooter in 2012. In the scene illustrating this new mechanic, Max is hiding in a wrecked bus in a junkyard while a group of paramilitary troops search for him. The troops - again, motion-captured - circle the area, peering in and under some of the ruined vehicles in the yard.
I've read that Max can perform melee attacks in the game, but didn't get to see in the demo whether that meant he could do quiet takedowns of unaware foes. Either way, stealth seems more like a supplement to the shooting rather than a separate mode. Like Uncharted 2's stealth, it will give players an opportunity to plan ambushes and determine their point of attack. That element of choice makes a linear shooter feel a little less restricting.
While Max can duck behind cover, this isn't a cover-based shooter. The combat is a lot quicker than GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption. Cover can be rapidly chewed up by gunfire and explosions so there's little incentive to staying put. Bullet Time lets the player dance around in the open while gunning down enemies.
That's not to say you're invincible, though. You keep yourself alive by using painkillers you find throughout the world, rather than simply waiting behind cover for your health to regenerate. If you have painkillers in your inventory and are dealt a killing blow, you have a small window of time to pull off a "revenge kill" that staves off death. That last feature sounds like a great way to keep the action going and avoid constant reloading from silly mistakes.
The Max Payne series is in good hands with Rockstar. It's clear that they understand the root of the first two games' appeal and has kept many key elements (the run-and-gun gameplay, Bullet Time) intact for Max Payne 3. Regardless of how the final product turns out, I don't think anyone will be able to deny this is a true sequel.