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SummaryOne of the greatest disappointments I've ever experienced.
The GoodI admit, I had spectacularly high hopes for this game. There were several reasons: the first is Remedy's first product, the absolutely superb Death Rally; the second is the use of the seemingly revolutionary MAXFX engine in demonstrations such as 3DMark 2000, 3DMark 2001 and XL-R8R from MadOnion. My expectations got only higher when I saw the absolutely fascinating Max Payne E3 demo from 1999; back then I couldn't have imagined anything more spectacular. A game from a company founded on demoscene roots, with music by one of my favorite musicians, Teque? What could be better?
Shift forward a bit: early 2001. Discussing matters with Teque over e-mail revealed that he's been removed from the Max Payne development team. Unfortunately he wouldn't divulge any further information, but something inside me cracked when I realized I wouldn't hear his spectacular music in a game I've been waiting for for so long. Then 3DMark 2001 came out, music also not written by Teque. Still the MaxFX engine, astounding visuals, but the design of the entire demo was lacking. I had a bad feeling about this: these events didn't bode well.
Shift to mid-2001, Max Payne finally comes out. The game I've been waiting for for about three years, something new and innovative. When I finally got around to playing the game, I had mixed feelings about what's coming. I finished it an hour ago, and once again my instincts haven't failed me: I was terribly disappointed. Why? Well lets discuss the good things first.
- Solid game engine. Not as revolutionary as I expected, not the absolutely astounding visuals I've been promised, but absolutely solid never-the-less. It is also reasonably fast. Ah, and the bullets and fire look absolutely gorgeous.
- Max Payne features a decent plot. Nothing as complex or involving as Deus Ex or even Half Life for that matter, but enough to keep me interested as I played along. However, the plot has absolutely no bearing on the advancement of the game, which is indeed unfortunate.
- The absolutely spectacular "bullet-time" effect, as far as I know the first ever to be implemented in a computer game. It really is quite astounding at first, seeing everything in slow motion but retaining decent control over your character. It also makes for some beautiful fight scenes, where for example you jump through a door, ducking a shot fired by a guard behind it, only to spray him with the Colt Commando on your way to the ground. However, the novelty wears thin after a while.
- Plenty of cute in-jokes (upcoming spoiler), for example the Ingram-near-bathroom-with-bad-guy-coming-out-Pulp-Fiction-style scene, or the Buffy bit.
The BadOn the contrary, Max Payne has many shortcomings.
- While the engine is solid, it just doesn't bring anything new to the table. Frankly, I think Serious Sam was more revolutionary, bringing Quake 3-level graphics to the table with detail textures, excellent framerates and no hype.
- Absolutely linear gameplay. I don't think I've ever played a game this linear before. Unlike most shooters, even the earliest ones where you at least got the chance to explore areas, enter rooms etc., in Max Payne you will frequently find yourself in a tight corridor with five doors, only one of which opens and is the way to the next section of the game. Not only is there only one way past any given obstacle, but there is only one way to proceed in the game! The whole game is built like one giant action sequence. I don't know about you, but for me it means only one thing: fast boredom and claustrophobia.
- Level design is nothing to be proud of. The scenes are generally grey, dimly lit and spectacularly nondynamic, unlike older games like Alice, Serious Sam or Deus Ex. Nothing changes in the scenery; there are very few things to interact with; environment mapping (used to a great extent in Quake 3 to improve visual dynamic) is scarce at best. Most importantly, the levels are dull, uninspired and very "square" in design (reminiscent of much, much older games like Doom or Blood), despite the ability to use much higher polygon count to improve visual smoothness.
- The cutscenes that use the game engine are of poor quality, and would befit a game from the era of Half Life (and even that manages better). The worst thing is, you can't skip them (much like Half Life)!
- Poor, uninspired at best background music. I can't shake the feeling that the music is more an afterthought than intended and fully integrated into the game development (as in Deus Ex, and I believe it shows). I just don't understand what happened to what was supposed to be one of the best game soundtracks ever written.
- There are several key sections of the game that even a beginner designer, or at least someone properly versed in computer games, would know not to include in the game. Specifically: the first dream sequence (where you have to go through two different sequences of a maze, one of which also incorporates a minor jumping puzzle). Completely pointless, unbelievably frustrating and doesn't improve the game in any way what-so-ever. The other one is the restaurant where you're supposed to meat the Italian guy, and which bursts into flames. Set aside the frustration and the nusance of having to practice your F5/F9 keys (quicksave/load) for a minute; any person in his right mind would immediately exit the restaurant through the main door (locked? no problem; what are you carrying a shotgun for?). Moreover, a touch of fire may give you a nasty burn, but certainly not kill you; a small fact that the designers seemed to have neglected. In short, there are several frustrating scenes in the game, and the worst thing is, you don't have any choice but to go through them! So much for Deus Ex ushering a new era in computer gaming...
- The problem with the aforementioned beautiful Bullet Time effect is that the game relies on it way too heavily. The novelty will wear off after half an hour, along with the excitement you get from the game. The combats are monotonous, with dumb enemies that never actually change (just pack more and more powerful weapons), and the monotony of the gameplay really gets to you after a while.
- I couldn't help but be offended by the way Max looks. Quite frankly, he looked far better in the E3 demo (and in the "lobby shooting spree" scene of 3DMark 2001). He has a kind of permanent "sneer" on his face that annoys me every time I see it. I can't help but think of Max as a kind of modern age Leisure Suit Larry. 'nuff said.