You remember back in the late eighties and early nineties when Steven Segal and Jan Clude Van Damme ruled the day in action movies that no one can remember anymore? Fortunately, their limited careers are over at this point and no longer does the world need to suffer through 90 minutes of over-written dialogue and over-the-top action sequences that cost more money than most small studios make in a year. Instead, we have video games such as Max Payne to fill in the small shoes of those terrible actors, and fortunately the game is much better than any movie made by those two clowns.
Max Payne is the star of the game baring his name, and it’s a third-person action adventure for those who aren’t familiar. It’s also a port of the popular PC game to the Xbox game console. So when Rockstar decided to bring this over, I was a bit skeptical so I held off paying the full price for it. Microsoft is a devious company however, and they decided to make the title part of their new lineup of Platinum Hits, a budget selection of games that either sold poorly or very well, I decided it was time for some Payne.
Max Payne is a lot like Doom in third-person; nonstop action, just set in different environments and with humans as enemies. You run around through various levels, such as skyscrapers and hotels, searching for anyone that you can blame for a murder that occurred three years ago. You see, Max Payne was a cop for the NYPD when a group of junkies broke into his house and killed his wife and baby. He soon discovers a trail of evidence, and you are in control of him three years later in his incredibly linear attack on the Mafia and the NYPD, trying to get the ultimate revenge…
There’s something to be said for a plot, and that is its cliché. The basic plot is found on any re-run of an old movie on USA or TNN. The plot is merely an excuse anyhow for the excessive violence and carnage that Max brings with him to every area change. Most areas are full of death and destruction; there’s never a shortage on ammo or enemies to fill with that ammo. Eventually as you progress through the games 3 Acts, you encounter Max’s drug induced nightmares. These levels are like a brick wall, halting the games progression and getting rid of the flow and cohesion of the plot. The 2 “Nightmare” levels are true to there name, and are a nightmare to get through, as paths lead to know where and nothing guides you.
Outside of these Nightmare levels though, the game is a whole lot of fun. That’s really the only excuse at all to play the game, is strictly for the fun level that the title provides. Ultimately you get no reward from playing through the game besides being able to use the cheat codes and unlocking harder difficulties, so fortunately the game features fun to the max. And how you ask? Through Bullet Time.
We’ve all seen the Matrix at this point, and we all remember how cool it was to see Keanu Reeves dodge the agent’s bullets. At this point it’s been overplayed by every comedy movie and TV show since, and it even has moved into video games. Max Payne incorporates the use of Bullet Time, and it’s actually a necessity of the game in more ways than one. The first reason is that without Bullet Time Max Payne would be just another average third-person action game destined for the bargain bins at Wal*Mart. Secondly, you are outnumbered often 4 to 1, and any advantage you can have over the countless swarms of brain-dead enemies is necessary for survival. Seriously, the AI is pathetic at points, sometimes I would kill one guy and the guy next to him wouldn’t react. At some points I would lob grenades at them and they wouldn’t even run for cover!
I know what you are thinking: this guy must hate this game; all he’s done is complain and bitch about it. Honestly, I love it. I played it for 2 straight days, and I loved (nearly) every minute of it. There’s nothing like entering Bullet Time and blasting a guy away with a Shotgun blast to the chest or sniping a guy and watching the camera follow the bullet into him. While the cheesy storyline isn’t going to infect you and make you want to play, the action is what makes the title and it’s defiantly a great action game.
I was quite worried getting into the game that games controls would stink. Thankfully they were easy to get used to and I had no problem adjusting to them at all. Shooting and aiming were no problem at all, and changing weapons was only slightly cumbersome. The only time I had any problem was when trying to line up my shots while sniping and the game would reset my aim to the neutral position. Fortunately you can disable this. Entering Bullet Time was also incredibly easy, with just the push of a single button and the movement of the analog stick for various results.
One really cool feature is how the plot is told, and it’s told through a series frames animated like a comic book. The characters read the bubbles of text as the artistic screens move on. What’s even better is if you can go back and watch any part of the story at any time when you get lost or you’re board.
Speaking of sound, let’s discuss that for a moment. The games dialogue is incredibly over-written, wrought with metaphors and similes that make sense but grow old faster than a New York minute. Fortunately enough all the voice acting is incredibly good, which is fortunate because in the hands of the unskilled voice-talent the audio would be absolutely abysmal. There’s no music during the actual gameplay, which fully accompanies the loneliness of Max during his quest for the truth. There is however music in the cut scenes and it’s quite well done. Though a bit repetitive, it’s a very moody track that fits the mature theme of the game.
Like I said before, Max Payne is a port of the PC title, which was released just months before the Xbox version, so the technology between the two isn’t too different. As such, Max Payne is still a delight to look at. The frame rate stays solid throughout the game and the character models look great, though there are a few jaggies here and there. One thing that I really enjoyed was the flame effects that the game incorporated. They were actually surprisingly realistic, as were all the bullets which are fully visible during and after being fired. Bullet Time as well is very good looking; I really enjoyed diving and triggering the effects and shooting. Sometimes after shooting in Bullet Time you get to see a replay of your shots hitting your enemy, with blood squirting at each hit, which is awesome.
Max Payne, while not the deepest game ever, is a fun little title that is sure to please Action fans. If not for a few levels in the games, specifically the ”Nightmare” levels, as well as some better dialogue and plot elements, the game could get a perfect score as it is. Sadly though, a few mistakes mar this title and its limited replay value is just another bullet hitting Max. As it is, this is a fun game to play through a couple of times, but after that it’s likely to sit on the shelf.