Learning how to 'shootdodge' with Max Payne 3

Did you know that "bullet time" is a term copyrighted and owned by Warner Bros.? It was news to me when I went looking up the term this morning, searching for a way to contextualize the evolution of Max Payne that I experienced when playing Rockstar's Max Payne 3 recently. According to Wikipedia -- which totally has its own listing for the term, of course -- the "word" was copyrighted alongside the first Matrix film. That film came out in 1999, two years before Remedy would reappropriate the concept for its first Max Payne game.

No similarly bizarre history can be applied to the term "shootdodge," the portmanteau a Rockstar rep used to describe "Max's classic dive move." In Max Payne 3, the maneuver plays as crucial a role as ever. The majority of the time during my demo I spent with Max leaping in slow motion, or shooting in slow motion, or shooting and leaping in slow motion, all the while desperately trying to shoot dudes in their domes. Yes, fans, bullet time is still here, ready for use in tandem with the newly minted "shootdodge."

Max Payne 3 didn't hold my hand during that hour, though I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want it to given the whole "addicted to painkillers/alcoholism" thing. Like Max's life during the setting of Max Payne 3, my playthrough was all sink or swim. But despite some initial skepticism over the difficulty, I walked away excited about the design choices Rockstar has made, such as taking the safety off of shooting and forcing precision from players conditioned to aim-assisted console offerings. (Which describes me, by the way.)%Gallery-149060% Following the cut scene depicted (for the most part) in the trailer below, Max and his partner Raul are all set to deliver $3 million large in cash to kidnappers in exchange for their boss' wife, Fabiana Bronco. As literally anyone who's ever read a story could guess, things don't go so well, and the duo end up trudging all over a fictional soccer stadium trying to put things right. There's only one problem -- the place is crawling with armed adversaries who are also interested in tracking down said cash.

I learned this quickly, as did Max, because the armed foes started shooting at me. My first instinct, of course, was to jump into cover. This, as it turned out, was a very bad idea. Rather than patiently waiting for me to pop out of cover and carefully murder them, the bad guys chose instead to flank me while keeping cover fire. It wasn't long before I died like a coward, hiding behind some stupid wall while gun-toting thugs outsmarted me.


You'll forgive me, but it's been over eight years since the last Max Payne title, and this other kinda big deal third-person shooter has since taken over the market. The concept of having to engage enemies in a third-person shooter in a way other than via cover was ... unfamiliar, to say the least. "Use shootdodge!" the game's representatives reminded me. And so I was, leaping out of cover into a controlled dive, guns blazing, which proved far more effective. Rather than carefully lining up my ironsights out of cover, I was desperately trying to line up headshots while floating through the air in slow motion.

Unlike bullet time in Max Payne 3, the "shootdodge" move is unlimited, meaning you can spend all the time you want leaping around in slow motion. After taking the leap, Max remains an open target on the ground, which puts pressure on players to make the leap count every time.

Bullet time offers a far more forgiving twist to shooting, giving players a chance to carefully execute a dangerous room, though it's limited by your own ability to quickly and stylishly murder bad guys. A gauge in the lower right hand of the screen dictates how much slow mo time is available at any given moment, only bolstered by your own daring actions. A combination of both "shootdodge" and bullet time with Max's new cover ability helped me to chain together what I'm calling 'Max Moments.' They're basically like those incredible Battlefield Moments, only you're a grizzled ex-NYC cop in Brazil instead of a unnamed soldier in the Middle East. Go figure!

And for those occasions where you do end up on the floor, firing mercilessly against a crowd of trained killers to no avail, there's a final failsafe that should help you to press on: "Last Man Standing." Essentially, when you're finally out of health and can't go on (the game uses a traditional health/med pickup system), you're given one last shot at staying alive, literally. As he draws his final breath, Max's gun slowly drifts toward whoever killed him and, if you fire back at the right time to kill said assaulter, you're rewarded with the equivalent of a single health pickup to get back on your feet. It saved my hide in several instances during the demo, which is more likely a measure of my own (lacking) skill rather than the game's difficulty.

From what I saw in the stadium, as well as a brief sojourn through some dangerous docks, Rockstar's staying true to Max Payne's roots while simultaneously updating the franchise. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for noir style (which this game has in spades), or maybe it's because the concept of AI actually flanking me and forcing me out of cover is one rarely explored in shooting games, but Max Payne 3 looks to be living up to the hype Rockstar has built around it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.