The more I see of Max Payne 3, the more I like it.
As Rockstar ramped up its focus on Max Payne 3 and pinned it down to launch as their banner title this year, I'll admit I was a little disappointed. Not that I don't like the franchise, but I'd been living on the glorious high from Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire for two full years.
In Red Dead especially, Rockstar was able to create a beautiful, living world that I never tired of exploring. To hear that they were leaving the open plains for a linear, room-to-room tale had me feeling blue.
I saw the game in New York last year, and that mentality survived unchecked. It looked good, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't as excited for it as I had been for previous efforts from the company.
At PAX East this past weekend, that changed. Rockstar, without the restrictions (believe it or not) of an open world, have been able to make Max Payne 3 more detailed, more gritty and more atmospheric than either Red Dead or L.A. Noire. The game, especially the moments in New York City, looks fantastic. There's a sense of darkness, dirt, grime and depression pouring from every asset within the title. That, of course, matches up perfectly with Max himself, and it adds another layer of drama to the already dramatic brand.
With the Rockstar rep leading me through the demo, I made a complete fool of myself during gunplay. Here's the thing: I make use of auto-lock and soft-lock when playing with aiming systems in third-person games. Max Payne 3 has those things, but the hands-on was offered up with full manual targeting engaged. That meant I was a complete mess when it came to clearing out sections of mean dudes with guns.
I still pulled off the odd skilled shot every now and again, but, because of my ineptitude as a gamer, Max Payne 3 never fully felt like Max Payne. I played the originals on a PC where aiming is much, much easier (or perhaps I was more used to it). It says a lot about me as a player, but full manual targeting in third-person games with a console controller and I just don't match.
With that all in mind, I still really enjoyed the gunplay in Max Payne 3. As I found myself restarting sections over and over again, I tried different strategies and tactics with each go. That style of non-frustrating exploration in gunfights is not too common in today's world of shooters. Linearity in battlefields dominates the blockbusters of this generation; MP3 takes combat linearity in third-person shooters and tells it to go have a seat in the corner.
The action flick feel that comes from popping into Bullet Time and diving down the open stairs of a stadium and into a section of opponents remains in place for the game. Trust me, my poor shot made it so I got to pull that move off three or four times.
My favorite thing about the demo, and this is a feature Rockstar's been touting quite a bit, is the way the narrative is delivered. There are no black or loading screens in MP3. Motion comics with traditional voiceover serve as segues from moment to moment and locale to locale. Players are constantly kept engaged with the game and its story. There are no natural breaks or pauses to take you out of what's happening to Max.
The potential downside there? Gamers need breaks, man. For, like, family and stuff. This system doesn't really make that feasible. Oh, it's great for delivering a story and maintaining a sense of fantastic pacing, but my bladder will likely curse it the rest of my life.
This article originally published as part of our PAX East hub coverage. Head over to the site to read more articles from our weekend in Boston.