Max Payne might not be a household name, but he is still regarded as a gaming icon. The original Max Payne PC game was revolutionary. Despite the laughable writing and the goofy, constipated expression that Max wore throughout his violent adventure, the video game bearing his name was a unique experience that few other games had matched at the time. The emphasis of the game was on gunplay, but it also attempted and amazingly succeeded in being one of the first games to deliver the cinematic-style gameplay that is now common place. Driven by dialogue and cutscenes, Max Payne took a typical action game with a gimmick and made itself look and sound cool. And while it won’t win any Academy Awards for “best writing” or “best actor,” Max Payne certainly delivered a fresh experience that is still enjoyable several years after its release.
In case you haven’t heard, the story goes a little something like this: Max Payne is a noted detective in the NYPD. He’s spent years on the job busting bad guys, but he’s taking care of himself now because he’s got a wife and a baby to take care of. Or did. One day, Max Payne arrives home to find armed gunmen in his house. Before our hero can save the day, these drugged up gunmen lay waste to his family. With nothing to live for, Max goes deep undercover to destroy the drug that caused the lunatics to kill his wife and baby.
Theme WeekThis review is part of our inaugural “theme week” of content. Please click this link for more information!From there, you take control of Max and so begins one of the worst nights in Max Payne’s life. The evening begins simply enough. One of Max’s bosses tells Max to meet him down at the subway station for a meet-up. But the meeting goes sour. When Max’s shows up, armed thugs have taken over the subway station and his boss is nowhere to be found. Even worse, the gunmen are now gunning for him.
And so begins Max’s journey to the source of the drug. Along the way, he’ll kill hundreds upon hundreds of thugs and goons that stand in his way. If that sounds implausible, that’s because it is. Max Payne isn’t about realism. It’s about Max Payne flying in slow-motion into crowds of thugs and blasting holes in their skulls, all thanks to the now-standard-but-at-the-time-revolutionary bullet time. As you progress through the various warehouses and tunnels and office buildings of Max Payne, you’ll constantly be engaged in intense gunplay with dozens of goons. And if you don’t use your bullet time effectively, they’ll quickly and easily make short work of you.
Thankfully for us, the gimmick worked great. Unlike Red Faction’s underutilized “Geo-Mod” feature or the more recent TimeShift’s time control feature, Max Payne’s bullet time feature is just fun. Diving through a door head first and unloading bullets in slow motion into the skull of some goon, being able to actually see each bullet, each drop of blood as it squirts out of his chest on impact – it’s always awesome and it’s always useful. Even if you can get by without using bullet time, you won’t want to. If you’re anything like me, you’ll often find yourself using it out of combat just for fun – diving down stairs, diving through doors – just because it’s cool. Bullet time is a huge part of the reason why Max Payne was so successful initially (and why it is still entertaining now).
Of course, it isn’t without fault. The dialogue is atrocious. It’s entertaining, but Max is simply too melodramatic. He needs Prozac or something. It would be fine if he were simply sad, but every sentence he utters is just full of goofy metaphors and just plain silliness. Stuff like: “but who was I to talk, a brooding underdog avenger alone against an empire of evil out to right a grave injustice” is plainly too much. The voice acting, along with the sound effects, are all very effective, but the writing is just simply too unrealistic. I understand that the writers were trying to ramp up the drama and go for a dark tone, but that’s just silly. No one talks like that, even if they are sad.
Another low point of this game are the so-called “nightmare” levels. These adventures into Max’s subconscious are some of the worst levels I’ve ever played in any video game. Both levels are best described as mazes you have to work your way through in the dark. One in particular has you trying to navigate you way to the end of the level by following a blood trail on the floor. If you go the wrong way, you die, and you have to start the whole thing over again. The nightmare levels break down to simple trial-and-error as you struggle your way through them (or resort to FAQs for the answers). The only reason I can imagine they were included was to artificially inflate the length of the game because without them you could easily beat the game in one or two sittings.
But I do need to compliment the developers in one more area: the graphics. This game is nearly 7 years old now and I must say, the graphics have held up surprisingly well. Though the environments aren’t particularly complex, it still isn’t all that bad to look at. Any decent computer should be able to run the game at the highest graphics options and it’ll reveal a remarkably playable experience. It certainly isn’t Crysis or Half-Life 2 but the graphics are more than serviceable.
And so, perhaps the best, simplest thing I can say about Max Payne is that it is still fun. Busting goons in the face with a shotgun or the various other tools of death that Max walks around with is satisfying and entertaining. While there are a few trouble spots and the game is definitely aging, it’s showing few signs of wear. If you’ve never taken the time to check out Max Payne, you owe it to yourself to don his trench coat and take a trip into one of the worst nights of his life.