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Max Payne 3: A mind-blowing hands-on

We spend some time with Rockstar's video game equivalent of a John Woo movie...

It's easy to be impressed when you're standing on the outside looking in.

Consider Roberto Branco, for example. This is a man who looks like he's got it all: a beautiful young wife, a thriving real estate business and an amassed wealth that could send the economy of Switzerland into a tailspin if he makes a big enough withdrawal. How many problems could he have?

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But take a closer look; note the security guards hovering behind him, the connections he's had to make to succeed in a harsh, third-world country and the bribes he's had to pay "to the right people". They combine to scream out a message about this man: his success has turned him, and everything he values, into targets.

GOOD COP BAD COP
And so it is that he finds himself in a boardroom with his brothers Marcelo and Victor and his security detail, Raul and an ex-cop from New York, Max Payne, and all of them are discussing what they should do about Branco's wife, Fabiana. A street gang called Comando Sombra has kidnapped her and they want a lot of money in return for handing her back.

If Branco's life looks less tantalising the closer one looks at it, the same definitely cannot be said for the game in which he features. While Max Payne 3 features aspects that players have seen before - bullet-time, gritty storylines and Max, a bruised, battered and depressing piece of work - the way Rockstar's collection of studios have rearranged and reapplied them all not only feels fresh, it feels downright compelling.

Players who have been following coverage on the game will have already noted how, under Rockstar's guidance, Max Payne 3 seems to have traded the dour, almost Gothic, qualities of the stories in previous games, for a story that feels grittier and altogether less fantastical. Early previews of the game lay out the game's plot that piles misery upon misery on Max until a friend from his past, Raul Passos, offers him a clean break as a security executive for Rodrigo Branco, a wealthy Brazilian businessman. Things improve briefly for Max until Branco's wife is kidnapped and Passos volunteers the pair of them to make the ransom drop.

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Before CVG is handed the controls to Max Payne 3, Rockstar guides us through the demo level's opening sequence in which Max and Raul arrive at the venue for the drop: the stadium of Sao Paulo's premier football club, the Galatians. As they meet gang members from Comando Sombra in the middle of the pitch, Max intones that something doesn't feel quite right.

Suddenly, as the money exchanges hands, rifle fire erupts from somewhere in the stands above them. The gang scatter as Max takes a bullet in his right arm. He staggers to his feet and follows Raul through the corridors of the stadium in search of the club's infirmary. As Max limps through the building, the screen fractures, blurs and shudders, reflecting how the pain in his arm is affecting his senses.

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