reviews\ Aug 6, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Max Payne - PC - Review

The curtain of night draws a blackness across the canvas they call New York. The seedy underbelly of society revels in the emptiness, unaware that in the stillness of the night, voices carry. Yeah, and sometimes a cold dark blue barrel spitting bullets of justice answers the call.

As the singer sang, “In a New York minute, everything can change.”

Max Payne – a release for the PC from Remedy Entertainment, 3D Realms and Gathering of Developers – plays out like a Mickey Spillane novel, while integrating comic book story frames that propel the plot along. No need to worry about reading, character actors voice the story, adding the sense of a ‘B’ gangster movie reaching out to grab you by the throat. And much like that ‘B’ movie, the plot is tired and worn, but the thrill isn’t gone, it’s waiting around that next corner with a Beretta in its hands.

Don Henley’s song certainly is applicable. Max Payne is a New York police officer, or at least he was. He returned home one night to find intruders in his home, addicts flying the latest designer drug and in a murderous mood. They’ve scrawled the ‘V’ symbol of the poison in black spray paint on one wall of his home and killed his wife and child. He dispatches the bad guys with extreme prejudice and no remorse, and then throws himself into his work. Going deep undercover with a phony rap sheet, he’s on the trail of the drug manufacturers. Then his life takes a turn downward. On a cold, bleak New York night, he is supposed to meet a D.E.A. contact at Roscoe Station, but arrives there to discover no sign of his contact, and a station crawling with bad guys.

Now Payne is on the run from the law and the criminal element. He must prove his innocence.

That’s the basic plot. And while you may lament over that tired formula, you ain’t seen nothing like this game. The graphical elements of Max Payne will instantly make you forget the worn storyline. Stunning is one word to describe the visual portion of the game, but even it fails to depict the deep, rich eye candy players will experience when launching the game.

The box boasts that the game has a John Woo-style of action sequences. If you like slow-motion dives, guns blazing, the deft tuck at the end of the jump and the roll up to a shooting stance, the perceptible flash from the muzzle of a gun that pinpoints the position of the enemy, bodies flying backwards as bullets impact them, then you will absolutely love this game.

Grab a sniper rifle and engage the scope. Fire the weapon. If you miss – nothing, but if the bullet is one target, the camera changes to follow it, right to impact.

And then there is Max’s special power, the one that helps him to overcome overwhelming odds. It’s called ‘bullet time,’ and the world goes instantly into an extreme slow-mo mood, with the exception of Payne’s guns. His trigger finger fires rapidly, the only sound the resounding report of the discharge and the heartbeat that marks off the time of this special ability. Payne can use it to dodge bullets, and waste a room full of bad guys. But it must be used sparingly. One room with four thugs can lead to another with six. And once used, it must be recharged.

Bullet time is the most innovative, awesome use of action sequences seen to date in any game.

Painkillers help cure the bumps and lumps Max is sure to pick up along the way, but he is extremely vulnerable, and a well-placed shot by a bad guy will do him in quickly.

The sound effects of the game are almost as impressive. The voice acting, environmental effects, music and pervasive heartbeat of bullet time are excellent.

The game features an adapting AI scheme that gauges how well a player is doing, and then adjusts the strength of the opposition according. If you are having trouble capping the wrongdoers, the game configures them so they are easier to kill. But if your trigger finger is quick, and your aim remarkably accurate, be ready for bad guys that fire, move, evade and make your attempt at staying alive a tough chore.

The manual emulates the tone of the game, parading the dime novel discourse in the introduction.

“It must have been there. The sign of things to come. Clear in the fear in Alex’s eyes, in the darkness of the coffee I was drinking, in the way my Beretta dug painfully into my side. But we were blind to it then, closing our eyes to it …

“A couple of days ago it had all come crashing down. The bad things came, like a winter storm. Pushed over the edge, I found myself in that cold no-man’s land between right and wrong. No road-signs. On a crash-course with the Mafia. With nothing to lose. The NYPD was trailing me by the dotted line of empty shell casing that I left behind.”

There is an error in the manual that should be noted. It states that the hot key for crouch is ‘c’ or right alt. Actually, right alt did nothing – right control had Max crouching like a man who suddenly feels the hand of death reaching for his forehead.

Controls in this game will take about 15 minutes to get down. They are kept rather simple, but timing is everything. You can do the dive and roll effectively – using the mouse to help peer around corners is invaluable – but only if you punch the two keys simultaneously. If not, Max is liable to jump into the line of fire, then shuffle sideways. On its own, the right mouse button will activate bullet time. Used in conjunction with a move key, the right mouse key will trigger a shoot and dodge move that can also be effective.

This game is rated for Mature players due to blood and violence. The storyline, in places, may be unsettling for young players and even young children watching the game. It does not support multiplayer gaming.

Max Payne is a high-powered, fast-firing action game, heavy on blood, ripe with sustainable plot, all from the third-person viewpoint. This is a game that did experience a delay in its release, but no one will be able to find fault with that decision on the part of the developers. This game has raised the bar on action shooter games. It is graphically breathtaking.

You should be forewarned: this program asks for some steep system requirements. The minimum is a 450 Pentium chip or AMD processor with 96 megs of RAM and a 16 meg Direct3D compatible video card, while the recommended requirements call for a 700 MHz machine with 128 megs of RAM and a 32 meg Direct3D compatible graphics card.

If your computer fits that profile, and you like this style of game, be prepared to be wowed.


Install: Easy
The full install of this game is more than 800 megs of hard drive space, with the lower end requesting a touch more than 500 megs of space. The game does install quickly.

Gameplay: 9
The comic book-style story frames that work the plot along from one action sequence to the next can slow down the flow of the game. But they are very well done. And like many games in this genre, Max will look in the direction of important objects so you don’t have to tediously explore every facet of each scenario locale.

Graphics: 10.
This game features the best graphics to date in the genre. The environments are well done, and the action is explosive and amazing.

Sound: 9
Exceptionally well done, the audio element of this game bolsters the video, and creates the ambience that fits the tone of the program.

Difficulty: 8.5
With the ‘smart’ AI, this game presents a challenge regardless of your skill level.

Concept: 10
The plot is a little old hat, but it is done so very well. And the fact that this game elevates the graphical and action elements to new heights is the reason why it scores top marks here.

Multiplayer: N/A

Overall: 9.7
This is a game that belongs on the shelf of any action/shooter game fan. The only reason it wasn’t given a 10 is because room has to be saved at the top for a game that comes along that is better. And given that Max Payne has set a new standard, you can count on game developers working harder to out-do it. That will be some trick.


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