The first two Max Payne titles are remembered for a lot of things. Darkness. Bourbon. Rain on brickwork. Hallucinatory trips over immense black, bleeding chasms towards the wailing of Max's inner child. Those gorgeous air-brushed graphic novel storyboards.
But perhaps above all else, they're remembered for Bullet Time, easily the slickest and most successful videogame interpretation of Neo's favourite party trick. Battling gangsters on the streets of New York, you'd use the move to swim through hails of fire and line up perfect nickel-plated ripostes - but more than that, you'd use it because it looked so trouser-tentingly cool.
So, what has Rockstar Vancouver done to jog things forward with Max Payne 3, recently disclosed to public notice? Answer: plenty. Today's gamers "expect a more fully realised cinematic experience, even if the main mechanic is still shooting," says art director Rob Nelson, and the studio's next title will meet that lust for spectacle head-on, twin pistols blazing.
Speaking in one of OXM 74's numerous developer interviews, Nelson explained the centrality of Rockstar's battle-tried, much-upgraded Euphoria engine to the new Max Payne. "Depending on if you're crouching into a wall, flying down a set of stairs, or landing on something - when you're shoot-dodging - Euphoria is really helpful in making those situations feel natural."
Much as Lara Croft now winces away from flames in the new Tomb Raider, so Max now reacts in advance to bruises and buffets, raising his arm to cushion a collision with the wall, for instance, as he hurtles sideways across a corridor. "Rather than having Max crash into things like a ragdoll, we can make it feel like he's anticipating an impact before it happens.
"Every game we do, we're thinking about how to push [our NaturalMotion technology] in new directions," Nelson told us. "We've put a lot of attention on the AI reactions, making sure that the force of the bullet feels right." Motion blur and custom animations for actions like blind-firing bold the point, drawing on "dense" motion capture work. "Every aspect has to be perfect," Nelson added. "We're shooting more motion capture than we have in the past."
Fold everything together, and you should have a regular John Woo fanclub's worth of mid-air marksmanship, bullets crawling lethally through clouds of propellant smoke as hulking avengers fly away from each other. We're looking forward to seeing how the souped-up mechanic meshes with the game's generous approach to destructible scenery.