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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Take 2 / GOD Games

 

Developer

Remedy

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q3 2001

 

 

- Has an actual story

- Sounds and looks great

- Bullet time turns out to be more than a gimmick

- Editor included

- Wide open for a sequel

- Modulating challenge

- Good camera

- Free mouse pad

 

 

- Some sections can be incredibly tough

- Clipping problems here and there

 

 

Review: Max Payne (XBox)

Review: Aliens vs. Predator 2: Primal Hunt (PC)

Review: Unreal Tournament 2003 (PC)

Review: Serious Sam (PC)

 

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Max Payne

Score: 9.1 / 10

 

Slowing down Time ranks third on my preferred superhero powers. (The first: time travel, the second: reading the information off barcodes.) With Remedyís Max Payne I get to explore number three. Max isnít a superhero Ė he lacks any supernatural powers (save an ability to chomp painkillers like candy) but he is certainly above "normal."

 

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Max Payne (MP) attempts to take gaming to a more mature, sophisticated level. Granted, thereís a lot of twitchy gunplay but thereís a definite story propelling everything along. It all starts off darkly with the wholesale slaughter of Maxís wife and baby. The events that follow resemble a bunch of contortionists playing Twister Ė you never know whatís going to happen next even though you know the eventual outcome.

Much of the story is played out through graphic novel pages Ė something Iíve not seen since Gabriel Knight I: Sins of the Fathers. The approach is effective in setting the mood and plot Ė Max is one nasty guy, revenge being his singular goal. He starts off taking on the Mafia then quickly stumbles on a conspiracy of lies, secret groups, and a massive experiment out of control. Max will have to battle through a variety of environs Ė through dilapidated hotels, burning buildings, subways, mansions, docks, secret underground research facilities, and even Maxís scared subconscious Ė to reach the climatic rooftop conclusion, all of it steeped in Norse mythology. If it all sounds like an action movie, thereís a damn good reason.

MP is the game that has come closest to achieving that action movie feel Ė like youíre playing in a movie. Aside from the plot, the meat and potatoes is the unending action. Bad guys will sometimes swarm you making your chance for survival almost nil, no matter if youíre toting double-Ingrams or a Jackhammer shotgun or flinging Molotov cocktails. But Max has a trick up his sleeve Ė Bullet time.

 

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Bullet time was originally coined to describe the slow-motion / freeze-frame moments of the Matrix. While Max canít stop time, he can certainly make it slow down. The advantage of bullet time is that while everything slows down, you can still aim in real-time. Some of the best and most tense moments come from watching a hail of enemy bullets whiz past as you try to get a bead on them before they fire again. Bullet time is no gimmick. Itís essential to gameplay. You can enter 

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bullet-time and keep moving until your bullet-time meter is all used up. Or you can use it piecemeal by shoot-dodging. (Each bad guy you down, increases your store of bullet time.) I found shoot-dodging to me most useful Ė jumping sideways, back or forward in a burst of bullet-time. I got into a the bad habit of shootdodging through every door in an attempt to get the drop on any bad guys. More than a few times I jumped through a doorway only to find empty space and a ten storey drop. (No, Max canít fly.) I turned Max around just before he hit the ground to see the ledge I overshot. Later, I blasted through a door only to splash into a pool of molten metal.

Aiding all this action are the graphics. If youíve got the hardware, MP is probably the best game youíve ever seen. While not truly photo realistic, itís damn close. Those with 98-pound weakling hardware have to necessarily scale back the detail level, but even then it looks good. The character animations are fantastic, however there are some major clipping problems. More than a few times, downed enemies lie at strange angles to the ground Ė like perpendicular. And when Max dodges near a wall, his head disappears into the wall. (Add that to his list of superpowers Ė partial phasing.) It detracts a little from the level of realism but after a while you forget about it. The camera, thankfully, doesnít make you suffer. Only once did something block the camera and it wasnít at a critical moment.

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(Even with all this action there is humor at many turns. One of my all time favorite gaming moments comes from MP. I wonít spoil it, but the moment is right out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. And taking a page from No One Lives Forever, some of the enemy dialogue between themselves manages to be light hearted.)

Levels are linear. Instead of making lots of branching areas to explore, the linear design has allowed for more action Ė youíll leave a swath of bodies behind. There are occasional puzzles to overcome but none are brain taxing and theyíre in logical places so you donít feel any jarring changes of pace. (Even at the end of the game.) Mostly itís push this button to open that door. (If you think you can design a longer game, Remedy has included the level and character design tools. With MPís popularity, itís a bet weíll see some mods.)

To complement the graphics is some stellar audio. The voice acting is above average Ė even when the dialogue borders on ridiculous the actors play it straight. The same can be said of the sound effects and music, which are both very good. (Youíll begin to love the sound of entering/exiting bullet time.)

Thereís been much said about the length of the game Ė namely, itís too short. I beg to differ. MP is shooting for that action movie feel and what action movie runs 20 hours? For the hardcore gamer, finishing MP in a dedicated day of playing isnít a problem, but average gamers can spend a couple of weeks. When you finish the first time more play modes open and you can test yourself with several handicaps that makes things extremely tough. Playing through Dead On Arrival mode, I limped my way through the early part of the game then ultimately gave up. The manual also claims that the game will adjust its difficulty on the fly depending how well youíre progressing. Itís hard to measure this because itís subtle, but after quick loading one area in particular (right at the end of the game no less) a number of times since I had no health and hardly any ammo left for my trusty Colt Commando, suddenly I was able to get the drop on the swarm of bad guys instead of watching Max jump into a cloud of buckshot and die in slow motion. So, I suppose the claim is true.

Max Payne will surely spawn a number of clones. Itís slick, entertaining, and fun to watch Ė just like any good action movie. I recommend it, especially for John Woo, Matrix fans, and those that want a mouse pad that comes with a game!

- Omni

 

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