Note: Screenshots courtesy of GameSpot.com
It's certainly been a while since I've written a game review. I'm largely going to accuse Real Life, but part of the blame must be deferred to the lack of quality PC games on the market. It's not to say I haven't been playing, it's just that I haven't been keen on finishing most of them. By the time I'm a third of the way through, it drops my interest and I drop it off my hard drive. The only games I still consistently play is Quake III and Midtown Madness 2 (1 on 1 capture the gold is FUN!), and they're not exactly considered cutting edge anymore.
So picture my average routine of late: I pick up a new title, install, and play. A week later, I stop playing it regularly and soon after that, it gets the shaft. I was desperately searching for something to awaken the jaded gamer within me.... Then a couple of weeks ago, Max Payne hits the market.
Ah, ha! There were a couple of initial indications that this was the game that was going to break my funk. First of all, although Remedy is a rookie developing company from Finland, it was backed by 3D Realms, the muscle behind the Duke Nukem franchise. Secondly, its impressive preview showing at E3 earlier this year drew raves and cranked up the hype machine. Alright! So with sweaty palms and trembling fingers, I popped in the installation CD...
In a nutshell, Max Payne is an R-rated unadulterated third person shooter complete with gore, booze, and whores. Crack it open, however, and you'll find the most entertaining single player blast-fest since Soldier of Fortune. It's calling-card feature is what Remedy coined "Bullet-Time", which is in effect slow motion. More on that later.
The game's thinly veiled pun-as-a-title is also the name of the main protagonist you'll be stepping into the shoes of. Seriously though... who names their kid Max these days? Anyway, you start the game off as an NYPD officer living the American Dream. You wife Michelle and your baby live comfortably in a posh suburban home while you beat up punks on the streets of Manhattan for a living. However, one day, suddenly and inexplicably, your life takes a 180 degree turn... and that really pisses you off.
Although other Max Payne reviews detail the plot even further, I'll stop at saying that it sort of pays homage to Mel Gibson's Payback. The story line is gripping to begin with, but sort of loses steam towards the end. Not many characters except yourself is really fleshed out. Overall, it's short, but sweet, because it complements the action part of the game perfectly... which is really the most important reason why a story line for shooters exist. It'd never survive the box office, but it doesn't have to.
Max's tale is transcribed via a variety of ways, some directly rendered by the game engine, but mainly through comic book style panels. He narrates it all in the background, film noir style. His lines are filled with metaphors and similes, used in a melodramatic fashion, while speaking in a monotonous tone. For example, one dialogue went something like "Freezing wind tore at my face like sandpaper and razors. And somewhere in the background the wail of sirens howled after me..." Good for people who enjoy hyperbolized drama.
Max Payne is powered by Remedy's own proprietary engine called MAX-FX, or something like that. I love the way programmers coin their own little technical terms with play on words... like UnrealED. Heh heh. Digression aside, it's foundation is on Direct3D, and it serves its purpose well, rendering high resolution textures beautifully on my GeForce 2 GTS. My favorite feature is the snow storm. Man, I got cold just playing the game. There were some quirks though, such as this once when my head suddenly dislocated from my shoulder and started bouncing up and down like a bobble-head doll. And the lip sync is shoddy at best, which is, as you may all know, my pet peeve.
As such, you'll need a pretty beefy system setup (say, 500+ MHz) to play Max Payne smoothly throughout. My PIII-700/GeForce 2 was able to churn through the early levels at 1024x768, but later when I encountered hordes of baddies, I had to crank it back down to 640x480. Honestly speaking, I didn't find it that big of a difference. The setting is in the shady sections of New York City, so most of the time it's dark and dirty anyway.
As I mentioned earlier, Max Payne's calling card is its Bullet-Time feature. That's just a fancy way of saying slow motion, but damn, it works incredibly well. You bind it to a button on your mouse or keyboard, and when the need arises, mash it. Then *BAM!*, there's a big rush of air, and everything around you melts into slowmo. You can see bullets whizzing by and the sound effects degenerate into this deep baritone.
The point of this toy is for you to clear out a grip of enemies at once, because you'll be able to take aim at them. You only get a limited amount, and to recharge the Bullet-Time meter, you have to kill more people. Of course, for mischievous gamers, it also opens up opportunities for goofing off, like hurling yourself off a skyscraper or diving head first into a burning vehicle in slowmo. It's hilarious. I nearly fell off my chair the first time I did it. ;)
There's no multiplayer mode for obvious reasons (how would you effectively implement Bullet-Time?) , and I for one am glad. There are enough quality titles out there to satisfy our multiplayer needs. Instead, Max Payne focused on the single player aspect, e.g. the story, the action, and gameplay. I'd hazard it took me about 15 hours to beat it. While many people complain that it's way too short, I feel it was just right, especially since the accompanying storyline had already ran its course. Anything more would be an exercise in tedium.
My beginning in a nutshell summary still holds: Max Payne is a polished, no nonsense action adventure from beginning to end. It follows a strictly linear plot, leaving trails of blood and empty shells in its wake. Bullet-Time never ceases to be thrilling, especially when you're diving in with dual beretta's blazing in your hands. I really hope Remedy doesn't hog the idea to itself. It'd be awesome to see what other tier-1 developers do with slow motion. Max Payne may not be revolutionary, but it's a game that actually does what it was advertised to do... really, really well. And as gamers, you can't ask for more than that.
Final Grade: A
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