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Max Payne 3: Hands-on with the first 3 hours

We discover why Rockstar's campaign is worthy of the best Hollywood blockbusters...

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The gunfight takes Max through dancefloors of disorientating lights and thundering house music, and out onto the roof , where it emerges Marcello somehow managed to evade all of the kidnappers and get back to Passos in the chopper. Passos then takes Max up and around the side of the building where he has to cover Giovanna's escape with a scoped SMG. Then it's back onto the roof and to the rooftop bar to save her; Giovanna's sister, however, is in the clutches of a gang called Commando Sombra, and it's not long after the Club Moderno shootout that the Brancos receive a ransom demand.

The chapter that follows Club Moderno is one previously played by CVG, and it takes place at a football stadium in Sao Paulo, where Passos and Max intend to make a ransom drop. The level hasn't changed much since the last time we played it, although we can report that it contains a couple of collectibles and assets that will probably prompt knowing smiles from veterans of the series.

The tempo of the level also feels less harried and near-the-knuckle than the scenes in Club Moderno. Whether this is down to our feeling like we were back in familiar territory, or the fact that the audio track and flashing lights in the club combined to discombobulate us as we snapped off round after round is unclear. The pace of each level, though, feels as though it reflects Max's mood. In the club he's drunk, so the player feels fuzzy and unsettled until the action moves outside. At the stadium, the tempo feels frenetic, reflecting Max's desperate mood as his objective changes from re-taking the ransom money to simply getting out of the stadium in one piece.

Max's mood is also reflected in the level following the botched ransom drop. The pace is quicker and the level is altogether easier and perhaps this is down to the fact that it takes place in Max's backyard. In a flashback, we're taken to a snow-covered New Jersey where Max is forced to flee through the skidrow slum dwellings he's called home up until now, after a brief flash of anger caused him to gun down the son of the local Mafia don. The don is rather peeved about this, and so dispatches a small army of henchmen to put Max in the ground.

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In a sequence worthy of a Ringo Lam film, Max hurtles through corridors avoiding sniper fire, cuts through several rooftops while dropping bad guys en route and drops down on a crew of thugs through the roof of a chopshop. The environments he blazes through - the dilapidated apartments, the slush-covered roofs and a booze-slick bar - look disgustingly seedy. It's almost as though someone took the interior of Club Ragnarok from the first Max Payne game, and expanded it to the length of three city blocks.

Max, however, doesn't look as out of place in this dump as he does in South America. Once again, Rockstar's plotting works in tandem with its game's pace as over a series of gun battles we hear how Max has basically hit rock bottom and really, it was a matter of time before the neighbourhood he inhabited killed him. When Passos offers him a job at the end of the level, it really does sound like he's giving Max a pathway out of hell.

Having seen where that pathway lead Max, we know this isn't the case, but unfortunately we can reveal no more - our demo ends right there. Still, what has become apparent with our time with Max Payne 3, is the fact that Rockstar have kept everything that fans expect from this franchise while putting their own indelible stamp of authenticity on the IP. Max Payne 3 isn't the bundle of action movies tropes the first game was, or the dramatic bloody valentine its sequel was. Max Payne 3 is a tale of murder, intrigue and betrayal. It's the perfect marriage of stylish action and hard-boiled noir. And we can't wait to get our hands on the final build.

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