Max Payne. A hard man, but... hard enough? Hard times call for hard measures, as the overwhelming weight of everything threatens to stifle a city underneath an icy blanket, the snowy cape of apocalypse, signaling the end of the world like a blinking hazard light...
Welcome to Max Payne, the comic book video game with attitude. You are Max Payne. You are Max Payne's hard-boiled dialogue. You experience Max Payne's suffering. Originally appearing on the PC, Max Payne has finally been released for the PS2 and the Xbox, the former being the subject of this review. As a hard-boiled New York detective, you've been framed for murder and set up like a stooge. With only your wits, and a few bullets, you've got to find out who's trying to put you six-feet under and, somehow, stop them.
It cannot be understated how much this game relies on its story. Every time a level is getting a little boring, or you're running up against more than you can handle, you'll probably get a little breather in the form of the in-game comic book. The gameplay takes some new twists on the traditional first person shooter, making it a third person perspective game and adding great new features like bullet time. Solving Max's problems won't just require the judicious use of firepower, 'cause you'll need a healthy dose of tactical ability. Max may be an action hero, but he isn't invulnerable, but if you handle his unique abilities right, he just might seem like it.
Just to give you some more background, Max Payne is a New York detective who has been undercover for the last three years, following a personal tragedy, trying to setup a bust on one of the largest mafia families in the city. A drug called Valkyr infests the streets and New York itself is in the grips of the worst blizzard in a century. With this hard-boiled, intense backdrop, Max will have to prove himself time and time again, waging his own personal war. When the cover of the game says, 'A man with nothing left to lose,'? it isn't kidding. With symbolic references to Norse mythology, there are enough interesting little quirks in the storyline to keep you interested, and Remedy has meshed it well with Max's detective story. A linear storyline, it's obvious that Remedy wanted to give you a good story, rather than sacrifice it for the sake of player freedom.
There's a lot of ground to cover in this game, from the photo-realistic texturing to the absolutely amazing gameplay. A proud child of its PC parent, Max Payne takes good use of the PS2's power, providing you with a fun game that, while not exactly suited for a console, is still fun to play, even with its flaws.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
This game is a story. A really long one punctuated by many bullet holes, but a story nonetheless. To start, you'll need to understand one simple thing. Like many of the best hard-boiled detective novels, the game itself is a flashback. In fact, Max himself will let you know this in the first cut-scene. From there, you're transported to a time three years previous, where you've got the unfortunate task of reliving one of Max's most painful (and if I might say, most poignant) moments, to see how exactly it put Max on this dark and bitter road. As you're playing, you'll get two different types of cut-scenes.
First, the in-game cut-scenes are played out with voice acting, using the game engine itself. It'll look just like the game, only from weird camera angles. Second, you'll get these little comic book moments, where you get a few frames of the story told from Max's perspective as he remembers the whole experience. Both of these work really well in the game, but I was extremely bitter to find out that they'd changed the font in the comic book scenes. The comic sequences are drawn just like a comic, complete with that slanted comic book font that everyone and their brother knows about from reading them as a child. While the PC version uses that same font, this version drops it in favor of a slightly less complex font, which, in my opinion, ruins every sequence.
That said, let us skip to the gameplay. Your camera view is always situated behind Max's head and you use your right analog stick to aim, look, and fire your weapons. Controls are of the normal configuration for a console based FPS game, with your analog controls, using your right analog for movement and your shoulder buttons for crouching, jumping, firing, and the like. Since Max Payne is a third person game that plays like a FPS game, you're better off treating it like a FPS right off. The controls on the PS2 aren't bad, but I've noticed, the more I play with other controllers, that this isn't really what the PS2 Dual Shock 2 was designed for. For those of you not familiar with this sort of game, the tutorial mode from the PC version is alive and well, ready for your use.
You'll start off with Max's Beretta, a good little pistol, but pretty soon you'll want to start using the different guns that you take off your enemies. There's not an abundance of ammunition, so if you're careful and cautious, you should be able to conserve enough to keep yourself alive. The gunfights in this game are very fast paced and the opponents are usually fairly easy to kill. This changes slightly toward the end of the game, when the opponents take on a more inhuman toughness, but nothing that doses of lead poisoning can't change. I can't say as I've got a favorite among the weapons, as they're all pretty useful. You'll be able to use two different shotguns, grenades, a sniper rifle, berettas akimbo, and even a set of Ingram Mac-10s.
Given the opposition you're going up against, it's a good thing you're Max Payne, otherwise you'd be dead meat. Max has two things going for him. First, he's an action hero, so he never gets really truly wounded. He just suffers pain, which means he can heal 'pain' (read: damage) by downing painkillers to ease the suffering. It's just an excuse to exercise the same game mechanic every other title uses, but I love how closely it follows the hard-boiled feeling Remedy wanted to generate. Next, Max gets to use Bullet-Time. This is what makes the gameplay absolutely rock. At the touch of a button, Max slips into slo-mo, just like The Matrix, letting him dodge bullets and conduct amazing gunplay. You've only got a certain amount of Bullet-Time and it only refills after a gunfight or very, very slowly as you proceed through the game.
If you're wondering, yes, this title recreates the entirety of the PC version of Max Payne. Level layout, cut-scene design, and even voice acting are exactly the same. The game is only lacking the comic book font I told you about and the ability to save at any point you want to. Speaking of that, it's of note that in the PS2 version you save based on chapter, returning to the beginning of the chapter you're currently working on
Sorry folks, maybe next time. The guys over at Remedy (Max Payne's developer) dropped multiplayer functionality partway through development. After all, could you imagine a multiplayer game against other people who could pull off Bullet-Time?
As ports go, this one has got to take the cake on visual quality. While I was playing, I popped in my copy of Max Payne for the PC and started comparing. I'm happy to say, even with the limitations of the PS2 (when compared to a PC), Max Payne looked nearly the same. Granted, on my PC I didn't have the best video card possible (Nvidia GeForce 2 MX), but I still ran the game at a high quality nonetheless. The PS2 delivered exactly what I wanted in that regard, maintaining the same ultra-realistic appearance of the PC version. Much to my surprise, the Max Payne engine seemed to survive the port relatively unharmed. I was disappointed, however, when I noticed a rather severe amount of framerate loss while I was playing. Whether it was the PS2 being unable to handle a game of this complexity, or a reaction to having simply way too many objects on the screen at once, I'll never know. I just know that it sucked, and getting killed from lag (ON A CONSOLE SYSTEM!) really, really bites. As a side note, the collision detection in this version didn't seem to be as well-polished, as all too often I was able to blow an enemy through a wall.
Ooh! Hard-boiled dialogue! You haven't heard anything yet. At least, not until you play this game. This is most definitely one of the things I enjoyed the most about Max Payne, as the voice acting is really, really good. The actor portraying Max Payne is excellent, slurring his speech slightly and speaking every word as if it were just as thick as the strange dialogue that haunts the genre Max Payne was based on. The sound effects are equally impressive, being tweaked only slightly for sake of realism.
Unfortunately, many of the things I've been praising this title for are the same things that made the PC version so great. As a port to a console system, it isn't any surprise that the gameplay will be really fun, given that the PC version was a complete blast. I suppose, thinking about it, this is both a drawback and a feature of the PS2 version as, while it isn't really suited for the console environment, Remedy has still produced a fun and playable title. Still, I can't help but caution people that as a PC owner, Max Payne for the PS2 won't get much gameplay while I've still got the PC version on my shelf.
Download Max Payne
It's hard to believe that so much can be packed into such a little game pack. Rockstar's Game Boy Advance version of its super popular game Max Payne is a pure joy to play.
The only draw back of this excellent port is that there is nothing new for those who played and replayed the original on a PC or console. But that's hardly a complaint because this handheld version manages to pack in nearly everything that made the original such a hit.
The game starts with the same graphics novel style cut scenes and the same gravely voice that launched the. Nothing seems to be missing that in itself is impressive. Game play too is an excellent recreation of the larger version.
The GBA game went with an isometric perspective that manages to still capture all of the intensity and fun of the original. You can still run around and flush toilets, turn on TVs and showers or blast lasting holes in walls in this truly immersive world.
Gameplay is fluid and fast, with a new overhead view of the Bullet Time that started it all. Some might complain that you won't be getting a new story line or anything new to do in this GBA version of the game, but the just need to lighten up, because Max Payne is a fantastic game ' something that really tests the power of the king of handhelds.
One minute a happy cop with a wife and baby, the next a hard-core killer bent on a path of destruction and revenge, out to wipe out the mafia and eradicate the drug that erased his life.
Max Payne thrusts you into the middle of a John Woo movie in a game as fun to play as it is to watch. Welcome to the future of gaming where highly stylized cinematic scenes aren't just filler, they're the game.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Max Payne is at its heart a third-person shooter, but such a generic term does little to describe this incredible game. It's like controlling a movie or playing a graphic novel.
Game control is smooth and intuitive, using the keyboard for movement and the mouse for controlling direction, aiming and firing. One of the most innovative parts of the game is the use of bullet time -- default sets this as the right mouse button. Click the button and time slows down, allowing you to aim in real time, while watching the action move at a-like crawl.
As you enter bullet time, sounds slow to a dull roar, a staccato heartbeat fills the air and the muzzle flash of firing weapons seem to gently bloom from gun barrels. Although you can't move any faster, bullet time gives you plenty of time to react, allowing you to even dodge the bullets that lazily cut through the air at you. If you hit the left mouse button while side stepping, Payne does a magnificent slow-mo dodge worthy of any Woo movie. Your bullet time, measured by a small hourglass, is relatively limited but you get more each time you take down an enemy.
As in most shooters, the main object of the game is to blow people away, but Payne does it in such an artistic manner, with generous use of replays, varying camera angles and slow-motion, that the game seems to take on a life of its own.
Max Payne has a nice selection of real weapons at his disposal, starting with a Beretta and picking up shotguns, grenades even sniper rifles on the way. Health is recovered through the use of painkillers. Because of the highly realistic health loss in the game, a single well-placed shot or explosion can kill Payne. This isn't a run-and-gun game, you'll have to use tactics, have a working knowledge of the pros and cons of each weapon and watch your step to survive this game.
Alas, there are no multiplayer options in this game. Please, please, please someone tell me they will be coming out with a multiplayer expansion.
I only really need one word to describe the graphics, WOW! Seemingly photorealistic facial features on the characters combined with an almost completely interactive background quickly sucks you into this world of gritty, underground New York.
In Max Payne you can shoot, jiggle, and play just about everything in the game. I turned on TVs, then shot 'em; flushed toilets, then shot 'em; even opened and closed doors, then shot 'em. After you clear a room of thugs, take a second to survey the damage -- most rooms are littered with bodies, blood, empty clips, guns, burn marks, even bullet holes.
Occasionally the game goes into slow motion on it's own, showing your enemies blown of their feet, jaws slack, eyes closed, bullets flying from holes torn in the back of their jackets. Or if you land a nice sniper shot you might get a glimpse at the spectacular bullet cam replay.
Granted not all things are perfect in the world of Max Payne, facial animation is lacking and there is, at times, a pretty major problem with clipping that can get a bit annoying. The game's cut-scenes, instead of leaning on the all too common vignettes that have become a staple of just about all computer games, rely mostly on a graphic novel look. With panes of hard-lined art and speech balloons, topped with well-acted voice-overs. And we're not just talking well-drawn cut-scenes, the scenes tell a story and it's a story you'll want to hear, not something you'll be tapping your space bar to make go away.
From the whine of bullets whizzing by your ear to the ominous sound of a gun chambering a new round, Max Payne is as much about fantastic sound as it is ultra-realistic graphics.
Minimum: 450 MHz Intel Pentium II processor, 96 MB RAM, 16 MB Direct 3D graphics card, and 600 MB hard drive space.
At times Max Payne is more movie than game, with stunning camera angles, jarring replays and an involved plot that not only moves the storyline along, it sets the tone for a hardcore action experience. If it weren't for the minimal graphic bugs and occasional chunky backgrounds, this game would hit a near perfect score. Payne is one of the most robust, innovative and intense shooters to hit the market since the original Tomb Raider. Look out Lara, I see a Payne coming to theaters near you.
About six months ago, Max Payne took the PC gaming industry by storm. Many magazines and review sites were singing the praises of this innovative and entertaining title. Thankfully, Rockstar Games heard the singing and knew the logical step was take good old Max and port him over to the PS2 and Microsoft's more powerful Xbox system. While I never got a chance to play the PC or PS2 version, Xbox owners can rest assured that their iteration is top notch.
The game draws heavily upon the storyline to drive it forward. While I don't want to go into all of the details, let's just say the storyline is packed with gangsters, drugs, corruption, good-cops-gone-bad, murder, senseless violence and sexual innuendos. This game is not one for the kids but if you're a mature adult that can handle a little controversial content and lots of killing, Max Payne should hold you over after you finish Halo and before the next great Xbox game hit the shelves.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Max Payne is played from a third person perspective, meaning the camera is located about 5 feet behind Max giving you a head to toe view of him. Fans of first person perspective games (FPS) may find this view a bit obtrusive at first but should have no problems adapting. Overall this view works well although there were a few occasions where an enemy would run directly in front of Max and I was unable to see my crosshairs because his head blocked the view. This only happened occasionally and most of the time it did not effect the outcome of the battle but FPS fans be warned.
The main reason the developers chose not to incorporate a first person mode was because of the games best feature, "Bullet Time." If you have ever seen the movie The Matrix, you already have an idea of what Bullet Time is. Basically, with the touch of a single button, you can send the game into slow motion for a short span of time. Well, everything except your targeting crosshairs. This allows Max to dive into a room, slip everything into slow motion except his guns and mow down the bad guys. This is one of those features in a game that words can't do justice. You just have to experience it to fully understand.
Speaking of mowing down the bad guys, throughout the course of your adventure, you will stumble across an arsenal that would make military leaders of some smaller countries envious. Pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, jackhammers and grenades are just the tip of the iceberg. While none of the weapons really floored me, there was enough variety to keep me interested. Ammo is plentiful and almost all of the guns are deadly. I found myself switching up just for the sake of variety.
Being a PC game at heart, I am sure you are wondering about the controls minus a keyboard and mouse. First off, I need to state that I think the Xbox controller is very well designed and comfortable. I have no issues at all with it aside from the white and black buttons being a little high up and hard to reach. That being said, the control translates pretty well from the PC to the Xbox. It did take me a bit longer to become comfortable with the aiming than Halo and I never felt as comfortable, but it still gets the job done. I did notice that the aiming was off a small amount. For example, I would shoot and clearly have my crosshairs off of the target but I still ended up hitting the person. Maybe this was intentional to help compensate for the controls.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, this game draws heavily on the story. The unique aspect of this is the way the story is presented. Instead of using cut scenes (there are a few), the story unfolds like a comic book. When more of the story is revealed, the game loads single page, hand drawn storyboards similar in look to a comic book. The pages usually have text on them that is narrated by the character voice in game. This was an innovative and interesting alternative to unfolding a story.
My biggest complaint with Max Payne was the frequent breaks in the action. I always felt that I was just hitting my stride and the game would either break to load the next level or to present more of the plot via the comic book approach. There were times that I found myself actually letting out a groan because I had to stop playing and wait. Part of the fun of playing an action game like this is feeling like you are in the game and it was very difficult to play the role of bad ass Max Payne when you had to sit down and wait every 5 minutes.
The other complaint I had with the game was the length. I know it is no secret that this game is on the short side. I would heavily recommend that you play the game on the harder of the 2 difficulty levels available at the start. This should prolong your experience some by making painkillers (your health charges) less available. If you play through on the easy setting, you should breeze through with very little difficulty so to get the most out of the experience, leaving that setting for the wimps.
No multiplayer? Yep, that's right. Max Payne does not support any multiplayer whatsoever which is a shame because there is a ton of potential for multiplayer action here. Oh well, I guess we have to wait for.
Graphics and Audio
Xbox owners will not be disappointed with the graphics of this game. When the PC version came out, I heard cries about this game needing a top of the line machine to run. Well, as I said, I never played the PC version but I can't imagine it looking much better than this. Everything from the characters to the weapons is very detailed and accurately modeled. If I had one minor complaint, it would be that the textures may not always look highly detailed, but otherwise, the environments recreated the seemy underbelly of the city perfectly.
The audio was a mixed bag. The voice acting and writing was laughable at best and overdramatic at worst. There were times where I actually shook my head in disbelief at how ridiculous some of the writing was. Also, when the comic book scenes loaded, the audio would abruptly stop for 1-2 seconds and then start back up just as abruptly. Some of the narration also seemed to fade in an out for no reason. At other times, the dialog was pretty good and very crisp and clear.
If you are looking for an all out action game with a decent story, Max Payne should keep you happy while it lasts. When you are in the middle of the action, it is intense and very entertaining. None of my complaints would fall under the classification of significant but they did detract from the game somewhat. The further along you get, the more the game will grow on you. Overall, this is one of the better Xbox games available.