Max Payne 3 PS3 hands-on preview: gunning for glory

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We’ve spent quite a lot of time with Max already, travelling with him from New York to Brazil, but so far he’s never let us touch. The big tease. So finally getting hands-on with his first PS3 outing has been a long time coming, but thankfully it’s been worth the wait.

Taking the reigns for a hostage exchange in a soccer stadium it’s initially an uncomfortable experience. Because, despite the presence of cover and the presence of shooting – oh so much shooting – this is not a cover shooter. Following on from past Payne games it’s a run-and-gunner and, cheaty as you may feel at first, you have to use bullet-time as liberally as Max popping painkillers into his swear-happy gob.

We’re delivering ransom money to a group of kidnappers holding the wife of Max’s boss, real-estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, hostage. The drop’s going down on the pitch at the local soccer team’s stadium, but a greedy paramilitary group interrupts proceedings, opening fire and trying to abscond with the cash.

The battle to recover the bag takes us through the innards of the stadium, out on to the terraces and even includes a glass-shattering sniper battle from the media centre. We’re pretty sure that’s not what Richard Keys meant by ‘smash it’.

At first it feels sluggish with pad in hand: you can’t move quick enough, aim quick enough, kill quick enough. But what it actually feels is real. The Euphoria engine gives characters genuine heft and so Max – a painkiller addicted drunk – moves less like a finely-tuned marine and more like…a painkiller addicted drunk.

Enemies respond with equal realism, meaning the range of death throes is brilliant: I defy you not to laugh as a flaccid merc copse goes rolling all the way down the stadium stairs.

The gameplay staples are in-keeping with the series so far, doing what those games did so well rather than revolutionising. But what fires this – in super-stylish slow motion, obviously – into modernity is the presentation.

Not just the sumptuous visuals and realistic physics, but the painstaking motion capture (every NPC has unique movements until the moment they become engaged in combat), cinematic narrative techniques and – to keep you hooked – not a single loading screen anywhere.

The first two games combined slick action mechanics with compelling plots that drew the player into a grim and gritty world. MP3 most definitely has the former, so if a promising-looking story can elicit that same investment then we’ll happily forgive Max his nine-year absence. Even if he never wrote like he promised…