Playback: Max Payne

With Rockstar’s third instalment in the Max Payne series due for release later this year, I decided to kick back during my Christmas break and boot up the 2001 Remedy flagship title (the PC version, of course). It will sound rather silly to some, but for me, searching through older titles can be a tricky business; though there are some outright classics which can still provide hours of enjoyment, some fondly-remembered games (most notably action titles and shooters) simply don’t stand the test of time.

[drop]Retrospectively watching the build up and reception of games such as Max Payne made me chuckle in a few places, numerous critics openly regarding it as a mind-blowing cinematic experience. Sure, compared to the likes of Uncharted and Mass Effect Max Payne looks like a student project knocked together over the course of a weekend, but seeing the contrast only fills me with admiration for Remedy’s work. Even more importantly, it has me wondering how far games will continue to improve looking beyond 2012 and the current generation.

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Max Payne is a broken NYPD copper, still haunted by the mutilation of his wife and newborn daughter three years prior to the game’s opening chapter. Having transferred to the DEA and gone undercover as a drug-runner, Payne soon finds himself in the middle of a multi-tier conspiracy; an illegal substance known as Valkyr being the common link.

For a game that’s over a decade old, the narrative is presented well, despite the thread being lost in a few places. As you gun your way through the various stages, pieces of the puzzle will begin to align, fueled by the game’s dialogue-driven storyboards. Using what appears to be live action photos with a few filter effects these cutscenes can look a little out of place but definitely help prop up the noir theme Remedy was clearly going for.

The game itself is centred almost entirely around intense gun-fights, Max Payne’s most defining feature being the bullet-time combat. As you down groups of enemies an on-screen gauge will gradually fill which can the be triggered to slow down time, Payne also being able to dive in any given direction. In concept it may not be as exciting as Dark Void’s air/ground gunfighting or Fracture’s terrain manipulation but what makes bullet-time a worthwhile gimmick is that it works well and acts as an aid instead of a hindrance.

The leap between the original game and Max Payne 2 wasn’t as dramatic compared to some sequels, though we expect great things from the upcoming 2012 instalment. Though not all of us admire the newly adopted slaphead, Stella Artois posterboy image of Max Payne, where the third game in the series looks to hit hardest is its flexible gameplay, lifelike AI and narrative multiplayer.

Look, Max Payne may not be the shiniest or prettiest of games any more but it’s still worth going back to. The narrative and the way it’s presented alone makes it worth a look, and the game’s use of bullet time is a nice look at something that felt fairly fresh when the game was released. We’ve no idea in what way this game and its sequel will link up with this year’s instalment, but it’s still worthy of your time.

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8 Comments

  1. I LOOOOVED this game on my PC. I played through it at least 3 times, the bullet time effect was brilliantly done and was still a reasonably fresh idea off the back of The Matrix.
    In fact, I had a TC mod for this game that turned it into The Matrix complete with Neo conversion on Max and the lobby scene etc.

    I felt that the sequel was a let down so I am hoping the third will find some new magic of its own.

  2. Rented this game out on PS2 a lot of years ago, I think I racked up about £20 in lates fees for not taking it back because I loved it that much. I should’ve just bought it I guess, but i was young and recless with money…now I’m just reckless with money

  3. Its a classic. Hands down.

  4. Played it on my PS2 over Xmas. Fantastic game that was. Cannot mind how many times I completed it lol. Looking to the third.

  5. Bought and played Max Payne 1 & 2 from Steam last year for £1.49 and I loved them. Never played them before but it introduced the whole Noire scene to me a little more and ever since I’ve been hankering for something similar. L.A Noire, while awesome didn’t have the same effect on me.

    • I don’t know why I capitalised “Noire”, nor why I spelt it with a “e”. Also I loved watching the TV shows in the second one. They should have stuck with Sam whatever his name is who made it as the face for Max though. He some brilliant facial expressions!

  6. You have just reminded me to get this game off a work m8, only lent it to him back in 2002 lol!

  7. There’s not many single player games that actually keep my attention until the end, but Max Payne managed to do that. Brilliant stuff.

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