- Has an actual story
- Sounds and looks great – better than the PC version
- Bullet-time turns out to be more than a gimmick
- Quicksaving in a console game!
- Plenty of challenge
- Wide open for a sequel
- Modulating challenge
- Good camera
- Some sections can be incredibly
- Clipping problems here and there
- Dialogue is sure to cause many groans
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Score: 9.5 / 10
Slowing down Time ranks third on my
preferred superhero powers. (The first: time travel, the second: reading
the information off barcodes.) With Remedy’s Max Payne I get to explore
number three. Max isn’t a superhero – he lacks any supernatural powers
(save an ability to chomp painkillers like candy) but he is the
Max Payne (MP) attempts to take gaming to a more mature, sophisticated
level. Granted, there’s a lot of twitchy gunplay but there’s a definite
story propelling everything along. It all starts off darkly with the
wholesale slaughter of Max’s wife and baby. The events that follow
resemble a bunch of contortionists playing Twister – you never know
what’s going to happen next even though you know the eventual outcome.
Much of the story is played out through graphic novel pages – something
I’ve not seen since Gabriel Knight I: Sins of the Fathers. The approach
is effective in setting the mood and plot – 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 battles through a variety of environs –
dilapidated hotels, burning buildings, subways, mansions, docks, secret
underground research facilities, and even Max’s scared subconscious – to
reach the climatic rooftop conclusion. If it all sounds like an action
movie, there’s a damn good reason.
MP is the game that has come closest to achieving that action movie feel
– like you’re 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 you’re toting
double-Ingrams or a Jackhammer shotgun or flinging Molotov cocktails.
But Max has a trick up his sleeve – Bullet-time.
Bullet-time was originally coined to describe the slow motion /
freeze-frame moments of the Matrix. While Max can’t 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. It’s essential to gameplay. You can enter
bullet-time and keep moving until your bullet-time meter is all used up.
Or you can use it piecemeal by shootdodging. (Each bad guy you down,
increases your store of bullet-time.) I found shootdodging to be most
useful – jumping sideways, back or forward in a burst of bullet-time. I
got into 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 can’t
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.
Control takes some getting used to – in my case a lot of getting used
to. To alleviate some of the transitional pain are some different preset
control options so that you aren’t stuck with one control scheme, as is
so often the case nowadays. One stick controls Max’s aim, while the
other makes Max move. After the first few levels you’ll have the moves
perfected and be completely comfortable with the controls. (But if
you’re having problems there’s always the tutorial mode.)
With all this action there is humor at many turns. One of my all time
favorite gaming moments comes from MP. I won’t 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.
Aiding all this action are the graphics. If you’ve got the hardware, MP
is probably the best game you’ve ever seen. While not truly photo
realistic, it’s 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 – like perpendicular. And when Max dodges near a
wall, his head disappears into the wall. (Add that to his list of
superpowers – partial phasing.) It detracts a little from the level of
realism but after a while you forget about it. The camera, thankfully,
doesn’t make you suffer. Only once did something block the camera and it
wasn’t at a critical moment.
Levels are linear. Instead of making lots of branching areas to explore,
the linear design allows for more action – you’ll leave a swath of
bodies behind. There are occasional puzzles to overcome but none are
brain taxing and they’re in logical places so you don’t feel any jarring
changes of pace. (Even at the end of the game.) Mostly it’s push this
button to open that door.
To complement the graphics is some stellar audio. The voice acting is
above average – 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. (You’ll begin to love the sound of
There’s been much said about the length of the game – namely, it’s 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 isn’t 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. (Initially the first two difficulty levels are open for
play.) 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
you’re progressing. It’s hard to measure this because it’s 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. It’s slick,
entertaining, and fun to watch – just like any good action movie. I
recommend it, especially for John Woo and Matrix fans. A must have.