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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181654)
Written on  :  Apr 28, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars

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Style over substance

The Good

Max Payne is a very simple, but fun cinematic shooter that takes genuinely old-fashioned gameplay and updates it with some tricks of its own.

The choice of third-person view, relatively rare for 3D shooters, adds the advantage of allowing the protagonist to perform moves that would be pointless in an FPS, such as rolling. We've seen many times how your FPS opponents were rolling to avoid your shots; but now you can finally do it yourself! Quickly navigating Max to save him from the constant barrage of bullets, madly rolling and jumping out of the way in time is often a life-or-death situation. The action becomes more intense and also more cinematic when you actually see your hero performing all those moves.

The famous "bullet time" effect makes the action even more stylish. Max Payne feels like one of those over-the-top kung-fu movies. Getting rid of your enemies becomes even more impressive when they die in "dramatic" ways, even the simplest kill turning into yet another scene.

The graphics of Max Payne are a sheer beauty; the engine is powerful and smooth, and the levels are quite detailed, filled with Duke Nukem 3D-style interactive environments: you can turn on and off TV sets, flush toilets, and so on.

Max Payne kicks in on a very personal note. The uncomplicated narrative is basically a vigilante quest for revenge. The player is easily able to identify himself with Max, and the following elimination of bad guys becomes more satisfying than ever.

The story is told in still screens with comic-book pages on them, which is an original and stylish idea. The dialogues and, most of all, Max's own comments, are well-written and convincingly spoken. An interesting thing is the usage of humor. At first sight, it seems there's nothing to laugh about here, but the more you advance the story, the more you realize it has a double edge. Its stylistic references to action movies are so obvious that it nearly becomes a self-aware parody.

The Bad

Max Payne is a very simple, linear game, almost to the point of turning into an "on-rails" shooter. You are typically taken to locations that look "explorable", but upon closer inspection it is revealed that there is only one path to proceed. Miraculously locked doors, blocked passages, and other assorted linearity enforcers are everywhere.

The gameplay is very basic, going back to the old days of shooters when problems were solved with blasting everything you see to pieces. Since the game is rather short and there isn't much variety in the enemy design, stylish bullet time kills can get quite monotonous with the time.

The game's heavily scripted AI and its reliance on simplistic setpieces make it feel even more restrictive, filled with situations where you are forced to do things a certain way. The difficulty is very much arcade-like, reflexes and quicksave abuse playing a dominant role; essentially, it's all about resorting to bullet time and frantic rolling over and over again. Max Payne is, in fact, short and repetitive at once.

Max's colorful comments may not fit everyone's taste; some of them try to be too sophisticated, making a strange expression. Also, Max has a permanent silly grin glued to his face, which makes him look like a maniacally-minded dork.

The Bottom Line

If your dream video game is an incarnation of those very uncomplicated action movies with ridiculously tough vigilante heroes who shoot bad guys in spectacular ways, Max Payne is just what you need. However, those looking for deeper, richer, and more varied 3D action might want to pass on this one.