You find yourself standing on the roof of a New York City skyscraper. It's snowing and a cold wind is blowing -- you've got a sniper rifle in your hand and you hear police sirens somewhere far below. How did you get here and what could have possibly caused you to do such a thing? The camera moves in closer and focuses on your face -- Max Payne, fugitive DEA agent with nothing left to lose. Your only goal is to avenge the murder of your wife and child, killed by crazed drug addicts.
With this introduction, you are plunged headfirst into the dark and sometimes disturbing world of Max Payne, presented in the style of Hong Kong action cinema and modern noir detective movies. The much touted Bullet Time feature gives you the powers of a master assassin and lets you experience all the grizzly action in slow motion. Just like the action star Chow Yun-Fat, you kill with grace and precision, every bullet perfectly aimed and the feeble shots of your enemies dodged with ease.
Max Payne truly captures the moment of every shootout and inspires you to not just kill the bad guys, but to do so in style. Remedy Entertainment recreates the atmosphere of New York City with a combination of authentic, varied sound effects, photo-realistic textures, and excellent lighting and level design -- indeed, other than a complete lack of pedestrians, it seems real. Only the worst blizzard in a hundred years explains the empty streets, and only drug addicts roam the city, no doubt looking for their next fix.
The levels are so well designed and the action so immersive you soon forget about the missing populace. As you fight your way through the snow-covered streets, subways, slums and skyscrapers, you seek answers to the underlying mystery of why your family was executed. Why are the police now seeking you as a notorious criminal? Although the developers attempt to weave the story seamlessly into the game by basing all action around the premise, the result isn't perfect.
The story is, at times, predictable and full of clichés, about the quality of a straight-to-video "B-movie" and seems to miss the mark in terms of fluid gameplay. Unlike Half-Life, where the action is integrated perfectly with its simplistic, yet appropriate story, Max Payne frequently yanks you out of the game and forces you to look at a badly-drawn in-game "graphic novel" and listen to mediocre dialogue. If only Max Payne had NPCs, it would be a masterpiece.
The game does have style, though, and provides several memorable moments and delivers on the promise of movie-like action. The visuals provided by Bullet Time are almost as good as some of the shootouts in The Matrix -- even John Woo didn't make every bullet visible as it flew through the air, something the Max Payne engine manages quite well. The lack of a good story is disappointing, but the game is still enjoyable because of the action and level design alone.
The particle and sprite effects in Max Payne set a new standard of quality for the PC. At the time of release, no other game has featured such realistic flame or detailed ballistics effects. The textures are almost all taken from photographs, making the levels and characters appear extremely lifelike, and the lighting is as good as the lighting used in Quake III.
Playing Max Payne is like stepping into an action movie, and most first-person shooter fans will be instantly hooked. The pace is maintained throughout the game and nearly compels you to finish in one sitting, with the occasional awe-inspiring moment driving you to continue. Although the weapons are standard fare, they're effective and made more interesting through the use of Bullet Time effects. If action-packed stories and expending entire clips of ammo from dual Mac-10s in slow motion appeals to you, Max Payne is a sure-fire hit.
Graphics: Seen in slow motion during Bullet Time, Max Payne provides an amazing, almost jaw-dropping visual experience. It's a game that can grab your attention from across a crowded room. The levels are sometimes immense and, at one point, almost an entire skyscraper is simulated -- you can jump off the roof and fall all the way down to street level.
Sound: Several soundtracks complement the mood of the game perfectly and play only at key moments to heighten tension, rather than repeat aimlessly as filler. The sound effects are top notch and depict the sounds of New York City accurately while creating a believable environment. The voiceovers and character voices are generally very good.
Enjoyment: While the action could have become monotonous, since the enemies are only slight variations of the same basic type, the addition of the Bullet Time feature keeps the game more interesting than many of its contemporaries. In fact, the action is good enough to make one wish the playing experience were a bit longer than the day or two required to complete the story.
Replay Value: The game is extremely short and doesn't offer multiplayer or any significant variation -- nothing to inspire replay. The extra difficulty levels and the "New York Minute" gameplay mode where you are timed to see how fast you can finish offer nothing more than a chance to establish bragging rights. Max Payne, if viewed as an interactive movie, might be worth playing again but not for new action.
People who downloaded Max Payne have also downloaded:
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, Halo: Combat Evolved, Half-Life, No One Lives Forever, No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way, Return to Castle Wolfenstein
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