With Max Payne 3 fast approaching, I feel it’s time to look back on the original.
It has been 11 years since Max Payne revolutionised the third person genre and introduced us all to its trademark mechanic; bullet time. It always seems to be remembered for the slow motion action more than anything else but I feel it’s a bit of a disservice to discount everything else it brought to the table, so let’s discuss that.
For those who don’t know, Max Payne was a noir, story-driven, third person shooter with an emphasis on stylish, Matrix-like combat. Max was able to dive around in glorious slow motion, with bullets leaving trails in the air behind them as they miss by mere inches.
Bullet time did not slow your own aim down, so you were able to wipe out an entire room of enemies in one action movie-like dive through a window and by christ did it feel good. MP was amongst the first, if not the first game to feature the mechanic and it was certainly the first of note.[drop]It was more than just this, though. The shooting was good on its own and the presentation was slick and cinematic, but chief amongst it all was the storytelling. The storyline itself wasn’t necessarily spectacular but the way it was told gave me goosebumps at the time and persists to pull me in even to this day. Cutscenes were mostly graphic novels, fully voice acted and accompanied by moody, dramatic music.
The dialogue was perfect, pulling what would probably have been a little dull after a while up to a noir-styled masterpiece, filled with the emotive language and dramatic monologues that are standard for the genre.
Whilst the dialogue may have hit perfection, sadly the gameplay didn’t. Whilst the story was interesting enough and the storytelling and atmosphere kept me coming back, the gameplay turned little repetitive after a while. It’s to be expected in a third person shooter that even the most interesting of characters and bosses (such as the lunatic who believed he had ‘tasted the flesh of fallen angels’) eventually end up trying to fill you with bullets, but it does become a little tiresome and frustrating after a while.
There are a few levels that were nightmares brought on by (unwelcome) drugs that were amongst the more frustrating levels I’ve ever played in a game, though admittedly masterpieces when it comes to getting me on edge and creeping me out. A stand out moment for me in one of those dreams was an utterly brilliant section with Max discovering that he’s a character in a graphic novel, then realising he’s also a character in a game.
Despite all of this I continued coming back not just for the awesome slow motion dives, but because the deep, dark tone of Max’s voice gave me goosebumps everytime he set a scene. ‘The sun went down with practised bravado. Twilight crawled across the sky, laden with foreboding.’
I am yet to find a game with dialogue that has engaged my interest quite as effectively as Max Payne; it’s a masterpiece of atmosphere and storytelling that completely removed any grating effect its gameplay’s mild repetitiveness might have had otherwise.
It is and will always continue to be one of my favourite games of all time.
CPCG note: Cheap PC Gaming will now be a fortnightly feature rather than a weekly one, mostly due to needing a little more time to find and play a game in time for the next instalment. It’s better like this, I promise.