Max Payne (PC)

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Introduction

Max Payne is a NYPD detective– though not a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules– who’s wife and daughter are brutally slain at the hands of men strung out on a hitherto unknown substance, codenamed Valkyr. With nothing left to lose Max takes a job at the DEA to take revenge against Valkyr and its distributors, which had been conveniently offered to him only hours earlier– citing the existence of his wife and daughter as reason not to join no less. Framed for a murder he didn’t commit and with his cover blown, he must cut a bloody swath through New York in order to crack the case and regain his innocence. (I like how the developers couldn’t choose just one cop cliche so they went with all of them)

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He knows how to make an entrance.

History

Max Payne was developed by Remedy Entertainment, only the second game they had developed, and was published and distributed by Take-Two Interactive. Development started in 1996, almost just after Tomb Raider’s release. The game is born of “how could we do it better and cheaper” the developers wanted to make Tomb Raider with a better camera, use the 3-D but not let it eat the budget. These desires created a better and more responsive control scheme and the use of comic panels to relay the narrative instead of full cut-scenes.

Fun Fact: Remedy developers shadowed some undercover New York agents (with their permission of course) in order to see what it was really like and take hundreds of photos to help them map areas.

Additional Fun Facts: People think that this game was influenced by the Matrix but since this game was in development in 1996 and intended to use slow motion as a mechanic that is untrue. Although the popularity of The Matrix probably made acclimating to the idea of slowing down time smooth.

Even more Funnerer Facts: Max Payne is loosely modeled after script writer, Sam Lake.

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I wouldn’t call the resemblance uncanny but I will say they both have similar interests in Hawaiian shirts.

Max Payne was released in July 21, 2001 for PC and later on Playstation 2 and Xbox. It’s competition was Baldur’s Gate II: The Throne of Baal (PC), Final Fantasy X (PS2), and Devil May Cry (PS2)– what a golden year for gaming.

Nostalgia

This is one of the first games that had a level I was almost too scared to complete. Each chapter is separated by a dream sequence and these dream sequences are trippy and straight-up terrifying. Most of them are more puzzle than action but they’re all very thematic and make for great interludes to the, otherwise, non-stop action. The scariest part is really the music and sound. Slowed down and pitch altered clips from the game are audible including an infant’s scream that is nearly speaker breaking.

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I’m walking on a trail of blood while it’s raining blood. This is… GREAT!

Gameplay

Max Payne is a third person over the shoulder shooter so it’s all about shooting mobsters, junkies, high grade mercenaries, and shadow government goons and the game does a lot to serve this. The biggest mechanic this game has to offer is Bullet Time. With a simple click of the right mouse button Max can slow down time a bit. This allows him to shoot faster and even dodge bullets. This might sound like it gets old but it doesn’t. The only thing that holds this mechanic back is that the only way to recharge bullet time is to kill enemies and if there aren’t any enemies around then you’ll have to do without until you wax some bad guys.

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Bullet time can also be used to make Max perform slow motion dives, it’s a great way to start a fight or get out of the way of a shotgun blast.

Max moves quickly and responsively so it doesn’t have Tomb Raider’s tank controls. The over the shoulder vision also allows Max to look around corners– this might seem weird but I always assumed that even if Max couldn’t see them then he could still hear them.

When it comes to the killing Max’s arsenal is a little limited. He’s got two different pistols (one of which can be dual wielded and the other of which cannot), a shotgun, an automatic shotgun (But you won’t see those until the end of the game, an assault rifle, some uzis, a grenade launcher, and a sniper rifle, a bat, and some grenades. All of which fit conveniently in his trench coat. It might seem like there’s guns aplenty but they’re all similar.

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Max’s nightmares serve to point these things out.

 

The Gush

The plot in this game is ridiculously good. Pardon me, I mean that it is both ridiculous and good. What starts with a tale of revenge ends with government conspiracies and mad science. It’s rife with betrayals and back stabbing. It’s built like an overblown John Woo movie. Where simple men take matters into their own hands and kill like… 500 guys before the end of the show.

The soundtrack for this game is really good, if scarce. The atmosphere of the brutal winter storm and decrepit buildings make most of the music.

The character’s are wonderfully fleshed out… except for Alex– he dies a little too early. Especially Max, the comic panels really get into his driven head. We hear his doubts, his fears, as well as his grim determination. All of the side characters ooze personality. From Vinnie’s desperate pleas and furious diatribes, to Vlad’s cool demeanor and brash plans. Every once and awhile some of the common thugs will even spout some humorous dialogue.

Those dream sequences. Now that I’m not scared of them any more they still send a chill down my spine. They’re an interesting look into the psyche of a man on the edge.

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Nope, this didn’t get more okay between this one and the last.

The finale is a wonderful test of rudimentary puzzling and gunplay. It’s nice to see a final obstacle that is overcome with the player’s head as well as his weapons.

I love the Ingram weapons. They’re bullet hoses and reload quick. I used to call them the “boss killer” because those things spit out enough lead to keep a boss suspended in his getting hit animation until he’s dead.

 

The Kvetch

This game has a stealth mission. Max gets pummeled and has all of his weapons taken away so he’s got to sneak around until he can find some weapons. I’m all for taking away my arsenal but “sneaking” around when there’s no clear way to do so is confusing. I would get spotted by guys that were back to me because they were turning a corner.

There are a few “plot” holes. Certain characters survive events because the plot says so and that’s sort of weak.

The Verdict

This game is damn good and definitely deserves a purchase on the platform of your choice. It’s 3D shooting at it’s finest and it’s aged remarkably well. I’m not even nostalgia blind for this one, I just see it in my game drawer and think, “alright, let’s give it a go,” and I’m never disappointed.

Next Week: Final Fantasy 8

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