A real treat for action fans.
Max Payne's major strength lies in its compelling, surprising plot. It's true that it was flawed in some parts (particularly the stuff that dealt with Mona), but very good, nonetheless. The plot lost some of its speed about 1/4 of the way through, but it never got boring or particularly slow. The plot is filled with surprises, as well as a few juicy plot twists to keep things interesting. Overall, the game has one of the best story lines I've seen in an action game, even better than Half-Life in my opinion.
The story line of the game is delivered through slick comic book style cutscenes. The "panes" of each scene appear sequentially as events transpire, complemented by some good voice acting. While it detracts from the immersion factor a bit, it's a very unique approach to the traditional way of presenting cutscenes.
Second only to the plot are the game's graphics. Perhaps it's because I'm running the game on a fairly high-end machine, but I found the game's graphics to be astounding. Not many other games I've played feature such a gritty, convincing atmosphere or minute attention to detail. Some minor tweaks would have been nice, such as the characters moving their lips when they talk during the in-game cutscenes. Overall, though, the graphics are fantastic.
Despite being one of the best games I've had the pleasure of playing, it isn't without its flaws. I'm going to echo what the other reviewers on this site have been saying, and point out that there is indeed a great need for bullet time to get through tougher parts of the game. While it's a really cool and unique feature, the game only allows one to have a limited amount of it. With the way I played, I ran into some spots where I didn't have enough bullet time to approach a situation that seriously called for it. I like the idea of limiting bullet time, so it's not heavily over-used by players, but it would have been nice to have more bullet time "ammo."
Other than that, I have no real major complaints. The game got frustratingly tricky in some parts, particularly the garage sequence, but nothing I tore my hair out over.
The Bottom Line
When I first started the game, I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much. I guess I just got tired of all the hype surrounding the MAX-FX engine and Bullet Time. The first third of the game wasn't particularly spectacular (but still really good, nonetheless), which left me doubting whether or not the game was really worth it. Needless to say, when I got further into the game, I saw what makes it so special.
Probably the most notable thing about Max Payne is the slickness and style of the whole package. The way the graphics, storyline, and overall presentation come together makes the game superb. The game has a great plot, great graphics and most importantly, the game is fun. A lot of developers these days forget this critical point. It's nice to see some that haven't.
The bottom line is that Max Payne is without a doubt one of the best shooters to be released, ever. If you're a serious gamer, or a fan of action games, you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot.