Max Payne is one of the greatest action titles of our time.
Max Payne was an innovative and unique action title for its time. Sadly, its gameplay draws such as bullet time have been worn and torn so bad that if you describe Max Payne to a modern gamer who missed it first time around they'll simply go 'meh, its been done.' Even I for awhile was so worn out from games with bullet time and "John Woo style" gameplay mechanics that I dismissed Max Payne as dated. But a recent playthrough proved to me that this game is just as good as it ever has been.
For the year 2001, Max Payne was an absolutely eye popping game. These were the early days of full 3D acceleration, yet MP actually looked better than almost every other game on the market, better than Unreal
, better than Quake 3
, and so on. The detail and animations were exquisite, and high poly character models and environments were used to great effect. Its still satisfying to tear a room apart with bullets and as the dust settles make out piles of bodies lying in blood and brass bullet casings.
Developers love to use the term "Cinematic gameplay." This term has been around ever since the early days of CD when a fad of "interactive movies" came about. These interactive movies had little gameplay value and were often very poor. One of the only truly good interactive movies was the revolutionary laserdisc title, Dragon's Lair
and it still had little 'play' value but it was saved by an entertaining story and visuals. But when the developers at Remedy
called Max Payne a cinematic experience, they weren't bullshitting around this time. This is as close as you will get to being in an action movie you can actually interact with. Somewhere between "Sin City" and... well, John Woo movies the game is a third person shooter that allows you to use various weapons as well as the now cliche Bullet Time. But even after the glut of bullet time games, Max Payne is still one of the few games that does it right. It can really save your hide, and it looks cool seeing all the bullets, droplets of blood, pieces of plaster, all in slow motion and the "Shoot dodge" moves, which allows you to do slides, jumps, etc. to dodge while shooting in bullet time is still cool and the tight controls make it intuitive and fun. A sort of trademark of 3D realms, you can interact with most objects in the game whether they are important are not, and it is encouraged as you never know when you will find that extra bullet or the much needed health pack (Or in this game, pain pills. Why do so many games interpret pain medication as health? I suffer from arthritis and have pain pills, and sure it helps the pain but it doesn't heal me) and of course there are various jokes or evidence pieces that will help the story come together.
Speaking of the story, Max Payne tells a good one. It's done in a kitschy Noir style, and while this method of story telling as well as the voice acting can be somewhat silly at times, once you get used to it there's a great story that unfolds gracefully and has many satisfying twists and turns.
Guns sound realistic and are fun to shoot.
The AI isn't a push over. Although they are scripted, they can fight back well and are pretty harsh and brutal at times. Bullet time can sometimes be the only way that you can trump a gaggle of baddies, Remedy definitely realized that even a cop isn't going to be superman even if Bullet Time is a somewhat strange power when taken in or out of context.
The MaxEd tool available for the game is surprisingly easy to use and both my wife and I have made some homebrewed levels and campaigns, and it doesn't require a ton of hard coding knowledge to make a well detailed level.
After beating the game, various new modes are unlocked and they are more than just tougher difficulty levels. They change the game in various ways, and there's even a mode built for speed runners called New York Minute. If you're into speed running, try New York Minute, just prepare for the game to hold your balls in a vice grip because its pretty damn tough. You have to beat every level in only a minute per each one. Its hard as hell, but very rewarding when you can successfully beat a level. These modes give the game plenty of replay value.
The game is relatively short. While it may seem lengthy by today's ridiculously short standards, the game will only take you about 11 hours to beat.
The game can be frustratingly hard at times. The box claims to have adaptive difficulty adjustments to make the game easier or harder based on how you are doing, but I have noticed no such thing. Quick save is your best friend here.
As good as the graphics are for the time, they are lacking in one area: Facial animation. It's strange that they wouldn't have it, the game uses skeletal animation, you can tell by various animations and the way fingers realistically move and animate. Yet the characters faces are painted on, and its kinda creepy when they talk and their faces don't move. Remedy could've easily just made .gif files and changed the faces in cinematics if they didn't want to go through the trouble of using their skeletal animation system for full facial animation, and they DO use this effect as Max's face contorts in pain upon death as do the bad guys. Its disappointing, and as I said, kinda creepy how the faces never move and it reminds me of the way people talked on the Nintendo 64.
The voice acting and dialogue can seem hammy and somewhat stupid. "Pain killers: Take away the pain, leave the hurt." What the hell does that mean? Sometimes it uses its "Noir" style a little too much and the descriptions are often silly and sometimes when you'd expect a character to emote realistically, just another cheesy Darth Vader "NOOOO" voice happens. You get used to it eventually, but its still somewhat annoying.
The Bottom Line
Max Payne is still an awesome shoot 'em up and a thrilling third person shooter. It may seem short, but it will keep you in the game at all times and is fun throughout. Its also one of the few games with bullet time that actually still makes it feel fun and unique, but that's most likely because it was the first game to use it. It looks cool and plays cool, and its got a good story despite some silly acting. If you haven't checked this one out yet, definitely give it a look.