Max Payne Review
Remedy Entertainment and 3DRealms bring us Max Payne, the long-awaited 3rd-person action shooter. In it, you are a one man army with nothing to lose, blasting your way through the seediest spots in New York City. There are no super weapons here - just superior reflexes, aided by Max Payne's most notable feature, "Bullet Time".
Max Payne uses Remedy Entertainment's proprietary Max-FX engine. It's robust, fast, has plenty of eye candy features, and can maintain good frame rates even with plenty of action on-screen. The developers also know how to use this technology well, and have designed the game around its strengths.
The game has plenty of detail settings that allow it to run respectably on the game's minimum requirements (450MHz Pentium II, 96MB RAM, 16MB DirectX 8.0-capable 3D video, and 600MB of hard drive space). The higher detail settings will give you higher resolution textures and will put more polygons into the game world, the characters, and the tons of debris you'll create as you go through the game.
Max Payne is controlled via a 3rd-person interface - the only time you get to play in a true first-person mode is when you zoom in with your sniper rifle. This may, at a glance, turn some people off of the game, but this is hands down the best third-person camera view that I've seen. It's especially useful when you use the much-hyped "Bullet Time" mode (more on that later).
The game's heads-up interface is simple and gives you just enough information to keep the battles going; it never gets in the way.
The only thing about the interface that was particularly annoying was the sometimes-invisible crosshair. It's simply a tiny white dot, which is sometimes hard to really use well in heavy action. The ability to choose between some more visible crosshairs would have been very helpful in some situations.
Remedy Entertainment put a huge amount of detail into making Max Payne look as realistic as possible. There are countless bits and pieces that will catch your eye, and the developers have set up many situations to capitalize on that. Even if the game is run at minimum detail, the attention to detail is obvious from the very start.
The game takes you through many settings, and while quite a few of them seem a little dull and lifeless, it helps to really put forth the gritty New York underground atmosphere that the game mostly takes place in. The action certainly isn't lifeless, which puts together a pretty good contrast between the setting and the gameplay.
The aftermath of a gunfight is obvious in Max Payne; dozens of bullet holes and casings litter a room, and many objects will be destroyed, smashed, or otherwise blown apart during the gunplay. Explosions and fire look very well done in all situations, and you'll see plenty of it in your trip through New York.
The character models and textures are all very well done, although there are some problems with the model joints that make some animations (pulling a pistol from a holster, firing a pistol with two hands, etc.) look really awkward and unnatural. Either way, it's not a huge deal - since everything else is so close to perfect, these problems stick out more than they would if they were in most other games.
As you've probably heard, Max Payne uses a system called "Bullet Time" that allows you to slow the game down and get very technical with your gunfights. At first glance, this idea seems gimmicky and useless, but as you play, you'll begin to love it.
Turning on Bullet Time allows you to aim with deadly precision in the middle of a dive while dodging the enemy's bullets. It truly is a gaming experience that you have to try yourself to really appreciate it. It takes hit-scan "realistic" action games to a new level, one beyond what the great multiplayer mods like Action Half-Life or The Opera have already done with their dive/stunt systems. And while it really helps out fights, you won't be able to use it constantly - there's a limited amount of Bullet Time that is replenished with more kills.
Since there is so much of a technical focus on Max Payne's gunfights, you may find yourself loading your game and seeing if you can re-try a specific scene with more style or finesse. Combine that with the fact that Max takes somewhat realistic damage (head shots and shotgun blasts to vital areas will either kill you or bring you very close to death), you also may find yourself loading your game often.
Saving and re-loading isn't annoying or frustrating, really - in fact, it's usually a lot of fun to retry a scene and see what happens. What really helps this is Max Payne's very speedy saving and loading; most of the time, quickloads and quicksaves take only a second or two.
Max Payne definitely focuses on the action; the story comes straight out of your standard "renegade cop" movie, and is told very well through a series of graphic novel-style comic panes. You can skip most of the story panels and in-game cutscenes if you like, unless they specifically lead into a showdown of some sort.
Another somewhat unique idea that's implemented in Max Payne is a self-adjusting difficulty level. This is rather transparent, but can be pretty obvious if you watch someone else play that's quite a bit better or worse at the game than you.
The game is definitely long enough to give most people their fill of action; on average, players will complete the game in about 10 to 15 hours. Once you do that, you can move on to the next difficulty level, which makes your enemies a bit tougher. Then, after that, the third difficulty will limit the amount of times your game can be saved.
Finally, the last gameplay mode, which is unlocked after the game is beaten on the first difficulty level is "New York Minute" mode. This is where you start out on a map with 1 minute; every kill you get will add a few seconds to the clock, and if the timer runs out, it's game over. It's fun to try a few times, but it's nothing that I found to be really special.
It's hard to find much fault in Max Payne's sounds. The weapons sound right, the bullets zing past, and everything changes pitch and speed perfectly while the game is in Bullet Time. The only thing that I can really think would have been better is if they added a few more "stock" sounds to the bad guys you fight. They say many of the same things, and make the same screams, far too often.
Max Payne's voice acting, while not stellar, works well enough for this type of game. Since the game's feel is one of Hong Kong Hard Boiled-style cinema in a New York mob war setting, spectacular voice talents aren't exactly needed. The cheesy one-liners and over-the-top evil enemies are all there, and you'll love gunning them down.
Music is placed sporadically into the game, at pretty much all the right times. Specific scenes with big gunfights will cue some action-oriented music, and while this music is usually the stereotypical techno-rock that so many action games have, it's not invasive or annoying. Many games drown the player in loud, obnoxious music, making him or her just want to turn it off or shut it up, but Max Payne uses its music in moderation and at the right times.
The most glaring problem I see with Max Payne is a lack of a multiplayer mode. That being said, it probably would have taken months of development and gameplay tuning to make it feel right, which is likely why they decided to skip it. Plus, the Bullet Time system wouldn't work too well in a deathmatch scenario.
The inclusion of the Max-FX tools on the CD is definitely a good idea on the part of Remedy, and I'm sure that we'll see user-made mods and maps soon. It's too bad that they'll all be single player-only, though.
Max Payne is still an excellent game that brings new life to the "realistic"-type games that are starting to clutter the game industry. But Max Payne is definitely more like a good action movie with plenty of highly technical and satisfactory gunplay - I'd recommend it to anyone who loves action games.