Game Over Online ~ Max Payne

GameOver Game Reviews - Max Payne (c) Gathering of Developers, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim

Game & Publisher Max Payne (c) Gathering of Developers
System Requirements 450MHz AMD / Intel Processor, 96MB RAM, 16MB Direct3D Compatible Graphics Card
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Sunday, July 29th, 2001 at 04:23 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

I rarely rate first-person shooters highly these days. I didn’t rate this one highly, either, for the sole reason that this isn’t a first-person shooter. Hmm… let me try this again.

I rarely rate third-person shooters highly these days. After all, Tomb Raider completely messed up the genre, and while Outcast was quite impressive, few other games really entertained. But unlike Tomb Raider, Max Payne kicks ass. It kicks some serious ass. We’re talking impressive graphics, great story, excellent atmosphere, great music, hilarious (though sometimes forced) one-liners, great puns on games/movies, you name it, it’s there. Okay, let me back off and go slowly.

Max Payne is a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective game similar to Tomb Raider. That’s where the similarity ends, though. You don’t play a disproportionate chick, you play a dude instead whose family got whacked by a bunch of winos on V (a new type of drug), and he’s out to get them all. Quite literally. The gameplay mixes elements of traditional first-person blastfests and a little bit of strategizing (such as which weapons to use, and how to arrange it so that you take the least possible damage while inflicting the most). The strategy part is pretty much limited to that, since there are few (if any) alternative paths through the game, and there are two endings to the game, which are, essentially, one where you complete the final objective and one where you don’t (then you die, and the game re-loads from the previous save). That compares unfavourably even with Deus Ex, which had three endings, where you literally decided within the last 30 seconds of the game how you wanted it to end. I’m still bitter over that, because I would’ve wanted something to force me to re-play the game at least from the middle… but oh well, that is another story.

The story of Max Payne is told via the occasional engine-rendered cinematic, but more frequently via comic strips with voiceovers. The comic strips are very well-done, just as the voiceovers are, and everything comes together to build an incredible atmosphere of the game. Max Payne’s character is a bit antithetical to the traditional hero image, though – generally, when we think of a dude who’ll take on the world for revenge, we think of someone along the lines of Arnold or Duke Nukem, who are really limited to three-word phrases (or whole sentences in Duke’s case – “Time to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Damn, I’m all out of gum.”). Max Payne spews out metaphors like a dysfunctional machinegun on steroids with its fire control switch set to “spray-n-pray”, and appears to exhibit knowledge of the occult and some other things (I mean, besides guns), which is kind of neat. The coherency of the story deserves special mention, though. While it’s incredibly cliché (and I can’t stress that enough), I absolutely love it. The basic idea of the story is the same as the one of the upcoming Schwarzenegger movie – big, bad person gets Max Payne’s family killed, so Max Payne says “I’m a-comin’ for ya”, drops everything he’s doing, packs a bag of guns (there’s actually a shot of him carrying a HUGE bag with guns in one of the comic strips), and dives in, legs first. Been there, done that. But not quite this way. As I mentioned, his metaphors and imagery deserve special mention – they are just too well-written for a normal shoot’em-up game (Doom grunts, anyone?). With things like,

- “The storm was a screaming duet with the approaching prowl car sirens”
- “The cops arrived, sirens singing in the off-key harmony of a manic-depressive choir”
- “Gogniti bailed. I made like Chow Yun Fat.”
- “New York sped by on fast forward, dark rooftop water towers and a dead forest of antennas and chimneys, all a blur”
- “Gogniti ran out of steam in a dead end alley with steam boiling out of the sewer grates like all the fires of hell were burning high beneath us. It was shakedown time.”
- “Ragna Rock was as inviting as a headache, flickering and flashing to a machine gun beat.”
- “Everything was subjective. There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is a cliché when it is happening to you.”
- “You’d find that Lady Luck was really a hooker, and you were fresh out of cash.”

There are plenty more, and that is not even beginning to scratch the surface. Granted, some might feel these are incredibly cliché, but … nothing is cliché when it’s happening to you. Of course, there is a large share of movie references, too: after all, this is a gangster game. Pulp Fiction makes a cameo appearance, thugs break the endings of Seven and The Usual Suspects (among others), and Matrix has a special appearance, which deserves a separate mention.

First of all, the slowed-down time effect of the Matrix is duplicated. It is called “bullet-time” in the game, and what happens when you use it is everything slows down, and you can perform actions in slow-motion. It is powered by your adrenaline gauge, which fills up as you run around and kill people, and is used up for bullet-time. To give an example of bullet-time action, you can approach a doorway, jump with the bullet-time modifier (Shift by default), and time slows down as Max Payne flies into the room, giving you the chance to look sideways and fire off a few shots, as he rolls over and crouches, ready for the next shot. It’s difficult to describe this mode of play, but all I can say is it’s incredibly cool, and is absolutely amazing and invaluable. Nothing quite like jumping into a room while spraying gunfire in a circle. Some people may argue it’s unrealistic, but come on – this is an action game, not a sim, and that is an absolutely wicked invention that I’m sure many games will try to duplicate now. The second Matrix derivative that you encounter in the game is the famous camera spin: when you kill important characters, such as bosses or whatnot, time freezes, and you get a full pan of him as he dies, then he drops to the ground. The third (okay, this isn’t directly out of The Matrix, but it’s sort of related) is the sniper rifle: when you take aim at someone and fire the bullet, time almost stops and you see the bullet from behind speeding towards its target, then the view switches back to your laser scope, and you watch the guy double over and die. As for direct Matrix references (that I saw, anyway) is the fact that you can see bullets speed by in bullet-time (just like Neo on the roof), the entrance to the secured building scene (which turned into a “Welcome to Safeway. Do you have a club card?” scene, and, of course (how could this game have Matrix references without missing this?), the famous lobby scene. It even includes the décor and the wall finish being smashed up, just the way Neo did it!

Last, but not least, the posters on the walls are fun. Dopefish makes an appearance (Dopefish lives!), and Finland gets some free advertisement: “Suomi Vodka: From Finland - Land of Booze and Polar Bears”.

There are other things to drool about in the game, though, such as the computer AI. For once, enemies will actually pretend they are NOT dumb sitting ducks. People roll, hide behind corners, call for support, and run away. Their grenade throwing skills are pretty stupid at times, and sometimes they don’t see their comrades being in front of them (friendly fire has been an issue at times with them), but overall, enemies are quite good. They actually miss sometimes, too, adding to the realism: when you have green nobodies fighting you, they will frequently miss with the shotgun, point-blank. When you have elite forces taking you on, though, they’ll use SMGs, roll, and still hit you.

There are some issues with Max Payne, though (I guess nothing is ever perfect). First of all, it is way too short. Let me emphasize: IT IS WAY TOO DAMN SHORT. We’re talking 7 – 8 hours of hardcore playing time, or about 12 – 15 hours of normal playing time. There are three chapters, and about 8 parts to each chapter. It seems like a lot (24 levels, after all!) but somehow, it just ends up being much too short. The credits for the game claim more is coming, but I really hope it is soon, and it is at a reasonable cost, for this comes out a bit expensive in terms of per-hour play (like someone on the Max Payne forums put it). There are also numerous bugs with the game. I seem to have been one of the lucky ones, since I experienced very, very few problems besides occasional crashes (which I could easily attribute to my computer, since my stupid AMD/VIA combo has been acting like crap lately). But I suppose this is similar to my Tribes 2 experience: while the world suffered, it ran flawlessly for me. However, credit be given where it is due: Remedy is being extremely prompt about patches, and one is already out, and they’re working with the community to get things going properly, something not often seen with some other developers.

It is unfortunate that Max Payne is so short, but for me, it was worth playing it. I absolutely enjoyed this game, and I would recommend it to anybody looking for a good action game with plenty of entertaining dialogue and story twists. The noir theme is not to miss, as well – while not quite as intricate and involved as Discworld Noir, it still is worthy of notice, just as are the easter eggs. The only thing I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t find any Second Reality easter eggs (after all, Pixel and Skaven work for Remedy! Respect.) Maybe I missed them… but I don’t think they’re there, unless I didn’t look hard enough. And why aren’t the TVs and other audio electronics made by Radiation King? Come on, Remedy!

[ 50/50 ] Gameplay
[ 10/10 ] Graphics
[ 09/10 ] Sound
[ 09/10 ] Story
[ 06/10 ] Replayability
[ 06/10 ] Bugs


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