The hostage exchange doesn't exactly go according to plan. A bunch of paramilitary chaps show up moments before the switch, resulting in a three-way gun battle between Max and his buddy, the street gang, and the heavily-armed newcomers. Max takes a bullet, and amid the chaos the girl and the money go missing. If they handed out prizes for cocked-up kidnaps, this one would take the biscuit. Or as Max himself puts it:
"I had a hole in my second-favourite drinking arm, and the only way we were likely to get Fabiana back was in instalments".
Of course, to get the full effect of those words, you have to hear them in James McCaffrey's inimitable growl. Make no mistake, Max Payne 3 can get away with leaving New York, ditching the leather jacket and shaving the hero's bonce. But leaving out McCaffrey? That would be a step too far. He is Max Payne, and when you hear that voice again - the weariness, deprecatory humour, and strange, gravelly poetry - it'll take you straight back to the turn of the Millennium.
As far as the fans go, there seem to be two set of concerns with Max Payne 3. The first group of worries tends to clump around the changes to which I've already alluded - the shift to São Paulo and Max's new appearance. As I've said before, I think most of these anxieties will melt away as Rockstar shows its hand: the game's timeline leaps back and forth between Brazil and Max's former, more familiar life in New York, but beyond this, even the South American scenarios feel like they're carrying the essential Max Payne DNA.
The tone is a little closer to the coldness of films like Collateral and Man On Fire, tempered by the fact that your enemies chatter in untranslated Portuguese; it's more disturbing to watch a bunch of military psychos torturing a gangster when you can't understand what anyone is saying, but then actions speak louder than words. Meanwhile, Max's bullet dives and balletic gunplay still feel like a love letter to John Woo, a gleeful celebration of silver-screen shoot-outs - only you're the one who gets to pull the trigger.
This brings us to the second set of concerns: the controls. The original Paynes were notable for their easy handling, and so there's a question of whether Rockstar can follow where Remedy led. After finally getting to play the current code for myself, I'm happy to say these fears should also be put to rest. I played Max Payne 2 exclusively on the PC, but here the twin stick approach still offered up the precision I wanted, allowing me to set up slow-mo, bloody headshots on moving targets. Or at least, it did when I got my act together and wasn't being shot to bits by flanking paramilitary types, who seem remarkably competent.
As it goes, the game's proximity to its predecessors can make for a bumpy ride if you're used to the molly-coddling of contemporary shooters. There's a cover system, but you'll never have to use it - the sprint command is mapped to a different button, so you'll never run into hiding unless you're specifically aiming to do so. In any case, cover is of limited use here: it only keeps you safe if you're not being attacked from the sides, and as I just said, some of the better-trained foes are quite capable in this regard (in a neat touch, the gang-bangers have wilder but less professional AI). More to the point, there's no regenerating health here, so cover merely exists to give you a quick breather and a chance to plan your next move.
Bullet time, and Max's famous bullet dodge, are the still the mainstays of your attack and defense, minimising the threat from incoming rounds while affording you the chance to fire off killer shots. Max Payne 3 borrows Red Dead Redemption's aiming setup, allowing players to choose from two tiers of aiming assists that lock you onto the nearest foe - one rigidly targets a foe's centre mass, while the other allows you to move your reticule after the initial snap-to. For the full experience, however, you have to play on free-aim. This is a game about showing off, as much as anything else, and taking full control of your reticule results in the greatest pay-off.
Another borrowed toy from Red Dead arrives in the form of close-up executions, which automatically kick in when you pull the right trigger at close range. Here Max wrestles his victim into a compromised position before finishing off with a point-blank shot. As you'd imagine, these moments are pretty grisly, with the player directly taking control of the kill shot. The game consistently encourages you to revel in its theatrical violence: as in Max's past outings, you're treated to a burst of bullet time when you kill the last enemy in a given area, and during these sequences you're free to keep blasting at your unfortunate opponent, peppering their broken body with bullets.
Max Payne 3 isn't going to do much for the argument that games glamorise violence - but who cares? This is action porn of the highest quality. To play, it really does feel very close to the old games, and if you've seen any of the trailers released thus far, you'll have already seen the effort that's been put into the animations, the way Max crunches in preparation as he dives towards a wall, for example.
I've purposefully stayed away from spoilers here, but the attention to detail remains consistent throughout. A deserted football stadium serves as an unusual location for a botched kidnapping meet: a gatecrashed handover on the pitch, followed later by gun fights in the locker rooms and giftshop, and a stand-out sequence where Max has to protect his partner by sniping at thugs in the seating blocks. Even in the more familiar setting of a dockyard warehouse, things are kept fresh by the constant desire to showboat. Why duck behind a doorway and wait for a guard when you could leap face-first through a window, machine guns blazing in each hand?
Why indeed. Nine years on from the last game, Max's suicidal approach to detective work is still unlike any other franchise on the market. It's great to have him back.
Max Payne 3 is due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 on May 18. The PC version will follow on June 1.