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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Jo Garcia: ‘Max Payne 32 better than before

By Jo Garcia
Special to ESPN.com

After a long, long wait, Rockstar Games has finally given us another dose of Payne.

It was back in 2003 that “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne” was released, and we haven’t seen another "Max Payne" title ... until now.

“Max Payne 3” is a third-person shooter in which the player assumes the role of a well-known gaming bad boy, Max Payne. It takes us to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Max accepts a job offer from an old colleague from his days in the police academy. Yes, he used to be a cop, but not anymore. The events that took place in the first two games still haunt him, so he spends his days drinking and taking prescription drugs. Like the other "Max Payne" titles, Max finds himself in the thick of things, trying to find his way out.

 Jo Garcia
Jo Garcia
The game starts with Max working private security with his old colleague, Raul, for the family of an industrialist named Rodrigo Branco and his two brothers, Victor and Marcelo. The three brothers are well-known, wealthy men in Sao Paulo, so it’s no surprise they walk around with targets on their backs. Everything’s fine until Rodrigo’s prize wife, Fabiana, is kidnapped by a gang called Comando Sombra. And Max ends up in the center of something much bigger than a kidnapping.

This being the first "Max Payne" title not developed by Remedy Entertainment, I was concerned. This also wasn’t written by the original series creator, Sam Lake, so I got even more concerned. But my concerns were mostly laid to rest when I learned that Dan Houser, writer of “Red Dead Redemption” and some of the “Grand Theft Auto” titles, was the lead writer on the project and three Rockstar studios were dividing up development of the game. But this news brought up a new concern: I was afraid “Max Payne 3” would become mission-oriented and open like “Red Dead” and “GTA.” "Max Payne" titles usually flow direct and have a fast pace, a lot like “Splinter Cell” in execution, and I wanted it to stay that way.

But thankfully the game held true to its form, and there are some major improvements.

Let’s get into the mechanics, which usually make or break a game. This game does something I wish first-person shooters would adopt more often: make shooting mechanics more important and more customizable. For a third-person shooter, this game gives you so much control of your aiming. The game has three options for aiming: Free Aim (the default setting that is what you see in most first-person shooters), Soft Lock (you use the left trigger button to aim the crosshairs toward your target’s nearest bone, almost like an auto-targeting system; it makes for some interesting ways to kill) and Hard Lock (great for an inexperienced shooter, because it automatically moves to the closest enemy, leaving no room for missing your target).

I’ve always loved the gameplay controls of the “Max Payne” series, even if at times they don’t work that well. The nine-year hiatus and developer change may have been the best things to happen to this franchise, because the developer kept the elements that made “Max Payne” unique while adding some new ones. The interesting part is that the elements Rockstar kept, it found a way to improve. It improved the game’s signature move, the Bullet Time feature, by making it more realistic. Max's movement during this time is familiar -- it reminds me of "Assassin’s Creed." It’s very realistic and true to the environment. For example, when Max is about to hit the ground while shot-dodging or when he hits an obstacle, it affects his shooting like it would in a real-life situation. Because Bullet Time is at the core of almost every function of the game, this was a huge upgrade.

That’s not the only improvement. They fixed the Melee mode to a point that it’s actually enjoyable; Bullet Cams are now available on all weapons; and they added Last Man Standing, which gives an almost-dead Max a chance to come back to life if he possesses painkillers (just like in "Borderlands," but with the painkiller stipulation). Health still doesn’t regenerate on its own -- you have to find painkillers scattered around the game space. Max can carry three weapons at a time, and all are accessible by the weapon wheel. And there’s a dedicated cover system, which is a great opportunity to gather yourself before the next enemy encounter.

All of these elements of the gameplay stand out when you really get into the game.

The game includes story mode, arcade mode and a multiplayer mode, giving you hours of adventure and competition. “Max Payne 3” is available now for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and it’ll be available for PC on May 29. I suggest you check it out for yourself.