Written by  :  Kasey Chang (4625)
Written on  :  Oct 06, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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As close as you will come to "play" an action movie

The Good

The style is evident, from the over-the-top dialogue ("the sun went down with false bravado...") to over-the-top gunplay (everything from Striker auto-shotgun to grenade launchers). The graphics novel interludes gives that stylized art that calls attention to itself. The plot... completely over-the-top as well... From shooting crime bosses all the way up to government conspiracy, even has a few elements of X-files and Twin Peaks... And boy, is bullet-time fun...

The Bad

The style can be too over-the-top for people. There's plenty of blood (heck, EVERYBODY you shoot leaves a puddle of blood, some more than others). The plot is also full of cliches (government conspiracy, Mafia "wiseguys", etc.), even has an evil twin thrown in the mix! In the final levels, the game becomes quite difficult (and that was on the LOWEST level of difficulty!) when you're assaulted by guys in bullet-proof vests armed with the latest weapons. There's usually no room for you to hang-back and pick them off one at a time. It's usually full-speed ahead guns blazing. No saved-replays of your "best" shots.

The Bottom Line

Max Payne is about as close as you will come to "play" an action movie. It may be short (but then, so are most action movies), it may be a bit trite and cliche (but then, so are action movies), and it may be over-the-top (again, like action movies) but it sure is fun.

Bullet-time effect as implemented in the game is a brilliant innovation in action gaming. As you're still able to aim (in real-time), if you have a good mouse or controller you can pull off action-hero style diving shots with side-dives (shoot-dodges) or just "plain" bullet-time like the way Neo went through the lobby in the Matrix. Of course, BT is limited and you can't keep using it (you get more by killing more bad guys).

Being third-person, this game lets you admire your own moves while evaluating the enemy shots. As each bullet IS modelled individually, this can be very important to decide which way to dodge. However, the viewpoint sometimes makes it impossible to see what you actually want to shoot, esp. in constrained spaces like in a doorway or against the wall. Still, it is possible to see "around" corners and that's part of the gameplay.

The game has a way to "leading" you through this one-way maze without making it too evident. There LOOKS like plenty of doors, but only a few of them are functional, and even the doors that seems to lead to alternate paths actually just provide a few more goodies (pain killers, ammo, etc.) for you, and you'd have to backtrack to the main path.

Occasionally when you come to an important dramatic point (come across TV or radio or paper on desk) you get a graphic novel update of your situation, like the police has joined the chase after you, and so on. While it adds to the atmosphere, it also breaks up the rhythm of the action.

The game is quite user-friendly. There are unlimited save slots, as well as a quick-save and quick-load buttons. When you die, you get a choice to reload from the most recent save, and you only need to press one key to load it. This makes you want to retry that part of game again immediately... Wish all games can do that.

The game runs tolerably on older computers, but if you can crank it up to maximum eye-candy, you're in for a full cinematic experience... Shoot a group of bad guys and sometimes that last guy's death will be replayed in slo-mo... Too bad you can't save that to savor over-and-over again... Expect to see realistic shadows, rag-doll physics (not REALLY implemented, but pretty close), and more.

There are occasional situational puzzles that forces you to figure out what to do next, but usually they aren't very hard, as mostly they involve jumping from one to another, or in some cases, shooting things. The solution for the final takedown was pretty ingenious as well.

Overall the game is short, about 10 hours at most. Still, it's one INTENSE 10-hour ride, and one you'd likely to savor over-and-over by going back for the higher-difficulty levels, as well as discover the secrets that lies within... There are quite a few hidden rooms and such for you to find.

And it's NOT really possible to describe the elation you feel when you pull off that perfect diving shot... Just imagine that you noticed 3 bad guys talking around the corner. You arm the grenade launcher... And you did a diving jump... Lobbing a grenade into their midst... They go "what the..." then the grenade goes boom, tossing them in all directions... You take a breath, then shots bounce off the wall behind you... Another group of bad guys to shoot...

This is one heck of a ride, so enjoy it.