On May 15, the hardest hitting cop in the business makes his long-awaited return, silencing his critics with plenty of slow motion dives and a whole lot of bullets. Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3, a project that’s been anticipated over the past year or so, introduces a whole new storyline to the kind of hard-edged gameplay that players first got used to back on the PC and Xbox (and more recently on the iPad).  Rockstar recently invited us to try out some single player action for the upcoming sequel and we were impressed!

In the game, Max has aged a bit but hasn’t lost his edge.  He’s taken up work as a private contractor, providing security protection for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco in the hopes of forgetting about his problematic past.  He’s still got his painkillers though, so it doesn’t entirely wipe away from his memory.  

One day a street gang manages to kidnap Rodrigo’s wife, but what appears to be a quick snatch-and-grab is anything but as a number of factions arrive that want to put Rodrigo out of business.  Max finds his back against the wall as he struggles to save the Mrs. while trying to figure out what’s happening with the groups – and what conspiracy hides within.

The story, concocted by Rockstar Games and development director Sam Houser, is a different change of pace from what Remedy Entertainment did for the first two Max Payne games.  Instead of the gritty environments of the first game, you’re fighting through more detailed areas, from a bar in New York where you take on the mob to the villages of San Paolo, Brazil, where renegades with guns are running around protecting their turf.  They’re good looking graphics and set the stage for Max to do some major damage as he does best.

When we played through the playable demo that Rockstar had available, we discovered that Max hasn’t changed much when it comes to delivering blood-spilling action.  He still has the power of “bullet time” on his side which enables the action to slow down as you maintain your sense of accuracy.  That means you can do a slow dive in front of a gunrunner, aim for his head, and fire off a few rounds before he even has an idea what’s going on.  

Bullet time use continues to be limited, however, so use it sparingly.  You can also use it when you’re generally running around so, if you see a group of guys, you can decide to get the jump on them quickly.  This was definitely the case with a garage full of thugs!  We just ran up and started firing, somehow living to tell the tale.  Good ol’ Max.

If for some reason Max does take damage, he’s able to down a few painkillers and keep himself alive provided you have an ample supply.  You can pick up some more if you manage to run around but you’ll want to limit their use to when you really need them.  One thing Max won’t run short of, however, is firepower.  He’ll pick up plenty of guns over the course of the game, including his traditional twin pistols and a slew of assault rifles and shotguns.  Par for the course when it comes to cleaning up the criminals that enter into your crosshairs.

Max Payne 3’s presentation may be a jarring change from how the games used to be, but it’s a sensational looking one nonetheless.  The environments are fantastic with a number of locales to run through that change pretty often, providing new challenges around every corner.  The motion capture work of the actors continues to be second-to-none as they resemble real, grizzled characters put into a hellish world.  

Rockstar’s really come a long way with this tech and it can only get better from here.  As for the audio, the game includes quality voicework with James McCaffrey once again returning in the role of Payne backed by several terrific secondary actors to help fill in the gaps.  The music is fitting for each stage too, playing in just the right spots to keep the tension going.

Max Payne 3 also comes with multiplayer, and though we weren’t able to go hands-on with this part of the game it’s looking quite promising, especially if Rockstar is able to incorporate the bullet time effect into it.

Max Payne 3 looks like a great sequel that’ll live up to the legacy’s name.  With its refreshed appearance, bold new storyline and fun run-and-gun action, you should have a blast.  You can find out how it fares for yourself when it hits stores on May 15 for Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3.