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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Rockstar

 

Developer

Remedy

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

December 2001

 

 

- 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 tough
- Clipping problems here and there
- Dialogue is sure to cause many groans

 

 

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Max Payne

Score: 9.5 / 10

 

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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 protagonist.

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

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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

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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.)

 

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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 entering/exiting bullet-time.)

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.

- Omni
(January 2, 2002)

 

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