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Max Payne

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Gathering
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous/ Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Max Payne are very, very sharp. Yes, the world is generally very desolate--the game is set in the slums of New York--which can be bit monotonous, but everything that's there is realized in full graphical glory. The character animation is solid and convincing, although the enemies aren't anywhere near as well done as Max is. I wish that there were more enemy 'skins' as well; it's sort of bizarre when two 'twins' are right next to each other, and then you kill someone who looks just like that a few seconds later. That's pretty minor, though. And there are a few levels that definitely do something 'different' with the engine. The 'bullet-time' graphics are also phenomenal, where you can actually see the lead whizzing around as Max dodges. Very cool.

The cutscenes in the game are presented in a sort of comic-book graphic novel style, with photographs altered to make them look like drawings. It's neat, and it fits the noir setting well.

The sound is similarly superb. While there's not much music--the ringing of the ammunition firing is really all you need--when the tunes come on, they always fit the situation. The main menu also has a number of separate themes, which is both a nice touch and quite nice for the long run. You don't get tired of hearing the same old thing over and over. The sound effects are top notch; every weapon has a distinct staccato sound, and you'll recognize the difference between the Beretta and the Desert Eagle within minutes. Voice acting is also excellent; Max's dry humour fits the game to a tee, and everyone else's rather ham-handed acting works as well. The whole game exudes a feeling of neo-noir, like Dark City or parts of The Matrix. Very nice.


Gameplay:

And the game itself is also very, very nice. You can nitpick, and the game definitely isn't perfect, but when I found myself up at 5:00am after playing the game straight for seven hours, I knew that I had a winner on my hands. Max Payne is sharp, stylish, and perhaps the best thing to happen to the action game genre since the original Quake.

The storyline of the game, unlike most action titles, is actually very well-done, and it's integrated into the action quite seamlessly. You'll overhear characters talking about various things, which may not make much sense until much later in the game. Indeed, part of the reason that I was up until the wee hours of the morning playing was to see just what was going to happen next in the elaborate story. It starts off with you (as Payne) witnessing your family's murder, and it just gets more interesting from there. Suffice it to say that the story will pull you in.

Fortunately, the gameplay is more than enough to make it worth being pulled in. At first you'll think the game controls like a fairly standard FPS game, despite the third-person perspective; you move around with the same sorts of controls. But then you find the things that makes Max Payne unique. By far the most self-evident is the 'bullet-time' and 'shootdodge' abilities, which are similar and use the same meter but can be used very differently.

When you press the right-mouse button without moving, the game slips into 'bullet-time'. Everything slows down, and all you hear is the beating of Max's heart and the bullets zinging by. You can still aim at full speed, allowing you to run around a corner and get shots off much 'faster' than you would normally. However, the more useful of the two is 'shootdodge', which occurs when you press the right mouse button while you're moving in a direction. The same slow-mo happens, except that Max flies through the air, dodging to the side or forwards or backwards. The important thing to note is that you can aim just as quickly as normal, allowing you to get off precise head-shots while the world nearly grinds to a halt around you. Watching the buckshot zip over your back never gets old, even after you've been playing the game for hours. Of course, if you had free reign to shootdodge you'd do it constantly, so you have a meter that depletes each time you do it. You only fill the meter back up by killing bad guys, so you have to learn the proper times to shootdodge and the proper times to just go in guns blazing. You learn all of the controls through an interactive tutorial, which is much better than most game's lame attempts to educate the audience.

There are a large number of weapons, ranging from pistols to a sniper rifle and the requisite grenades. To get items for use, you can rummage through just about everything: dressers, cabinets, boxes, whatever. Indeed, the environment is more interactive than just about any game I've ever seen. You can play with the faucets, you can bust up cans of gas, you can do just about anything you think you should be able to do in a game like this.

It's necessary to get nitpicky here, because there are simply no glaring flaws in the game. The environments are a little too monotonous. The game is short, but not overly short; indeed, it paces itself well. But some people may see its length as a problem. The enemies are also a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Because of the level of detail that they put into the characters, when you see the same person over and over in Max Payne it's a lot more jarring than it is in a game like Quake II. Because of the real-world setting of the game, you feel like everyone should look a little different. All of these are minor gripes, however.


Difficulty:

When you first start the game, you have no choice of difficulty. If you finish it, you can pick a different level that is harder to beat. However, even the first level isn't really a single difficulty setting; it learns as you play, adjusting the AI and whatnot to make the game fit your skill level. I unintentionally made the first few levels way harder on myself than I had to, because for some reason I thought that you had to use a phone to save the game. Ugh. It's enough to say that Max Payne will be as difficult as you need it to be.

Game Mechanics:

The core control scheme is very similar to your standard RTS keyboard-and-mouse combo setup, with a few extra buttons to handle the 'slow-mo' and use of painkillers and whatnot. It only takes a few seconds to get used to them, and any veteran action gamer should have no problem whatsoever. The game itself seems to have solid mechanics; the AI is much more intelligent than most games, although I've seen a few enemies commit suicide by walking off of ledges they shouldn't have and shooting their own folk accidentally. The 'bullet-time' and 'shootdodge' features are integral to the game; they don't feel tacked-on or overdone, which is nice. Load times are minimal, and reloads of a level are effectively instantaneous, which keeps you from feeling 'out of the action'.

Any action fan worth their salt would be foolish not to pick up Max Payne. The gorgeous setting, the excellent graphics, and the solid gameplay all conspire to make the best action game I've played in a long, long time. While the violence inherent in the game may turn some people off, they're missing out on one of the most exciting game releases this year. You owe it to yourself to get a little Payne; it's one game people will be talking about for a while.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



400MHz AMD/Intel, 96MB RAM, 16MB D3D accelrator card, sound card, Win9x/Me/2K
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Legends of Might and Magic Windows MechCommander 2

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated