Max Payne 3 is a Rockstar Games production, which means it was originally supposed to be released a long time ago, and it's still not out. First, late 2009. Then, 2010. Later, 2011. Finally, March 2012. Wait, no, May 2012.
It now seems like the return of Max Payne is just a few weeks away, but with Rockstar Games, you never know. Unless there’s an unexpected twist, Max Payne 3 will arrive on store shelves on May 15.
“Max Payne 3 required us to apply the same kind of focus and attention to detail that we’d use on an open world to the design challenges of more linear, more precise action-shooter,” said lead gameplay designer Sergei Kuprejanov recently over email. “Everything has to withstand scrutiny in real time and Bullet Time.”
The world assumed Max Payne was over when Remedy Entertainment moved onto Alan Wake. Max Payne 2 was a sales disappointment for parent company Take-Two Interactive, but as early as 2004, it promised another game. Max Payne 3 was formally announced in March 2009, where it was revealed that Rockstar Vancouver, the studio behind the excellent Bully, would make it.
A few months later, Max Payne 3 showed up on the cover of Game Informer. Max’s new, beard-laden, wife beater-enhanced look was revealed, and fans weren’t universally happy with the new direction. It was clear Rockstar Vancouver was putting their stamp on the series, but it wasn’t necessarily a stamp series fans wanted.
Rockstar had experience taking over an existing series before. Red Dead Redemption was technically the follow-up to Red Dead Revolver, remember? The difference here, however, was that people really cared about Max Payne.
Kuprejanov told me the reaction didn’t prompt Rockstar to alter the direction of Max Payne 3. It was patient.
“To be honest, we didn't change anything design wise,” he said. “Our plans were already pretty tight and we knew that we would give people plenty of what they were asking for. We did, however, hurry up our contract discussions with James McCaffrey, as that wasn't quite finalized at that point, which is why we kept that under wraps.”
McCaffrey was the original voice of Max, and remains the voice of Max in the new game. His involvement was a question mark when the Game Informer story ran, causing fans to question Rockstar's commitment to the past.
One positive sign about the game is the former creatives steering Max have given the thumbs up. Rockstar started showing Remedy builds of Max Payne 3 in 2011, and Kuprejanov described the relationship as one in which Remedy provides feedback to “ensure we got the right overall tone.” Rockstar "didn't want to disturb" Remedy while Alan Wake finished up, and looped them in when that project was complete.
It's not like Remedy's support is a tepid endorsement, either.
"It’s [Max Payne 3] f***ing brilliant," said Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz. "I’ve had a chance to play it and we’ve worked with Rockstar a little bit--obviously, they’re doing the heavy lifting. They’re doing the development. But they wanted our input on a couple of occasions and we’ve had loads of our people, our core group, who worked on the first two games, give input and it’s awesome."
A running theme behind Kuprejanov’s answers was a desire to maintain secrecy to protect the player experience, even when it seemed like my questions weren’t particularly prying. There's a general sense that much of Max Payne 3 is being purposely kept from us, and it's a refreshing feeling. It's hard to predict what will happen when it boots up.
When I asked, for example, about balancing the fourth wall-breaking tone of the previous games:
“It’s hard to convey every aspect of the game pre-launch without ruining parts of it that we’d rather leave for players to discover,” he said. “Max has always been a wry character, struggling to gain some kind of self-awareness, and that hasn’t changed at all. In terms of tone, we wanted something that worked well with modern body and facial animation and still felt very much like Max Payne. I think when you first hear McCaffrey start speaking in one of the early scene-setting monologues, you know you're back in Max's painful psyche.”
It's unclear how far Rockstar will to walk down that road, but I'm guessing no dream scenes with babies crying.
Perhaps the most important question is this next one: will Address Unknown be back? Address Unknown was a fake TV show set in "New Noir City" that players came across in Max Payne 2. Kuprejanov was coy in a very good way.
“We’re going to let fans discover the answer when they play the game for themselves,” he said.
Good enough for me.