Max Payne Review
It's an outstanding and original action game that's not just different from all other shooters to date, but also in many ways superior.
For years, Max Payne has looked great in what few screenshots Remedy has released of the work in progress. The good news is that the game's visual quality completely lives up to the very high expectations produced by the early press. No game to date has featured such sharp, starkly realistic detail in its environments--and the different environments in Max Payne not only look real, but they also generally act real. You can manipulate most scenery objects in the game--flush toilets, turn on televisions, and so on--and at the very least, you can shoot everything up real good. The aftermath of a gun battle in Max Payne is often quite remarkable, as countless empty shell casings, empty clips, bullet holes, debris, and dead bodies cover the scene. Much of the game takes place in New York City's scummy parts, which have a deliberately unattractive, gloomy look about them. You might wish there were more contrast overall, since the game's few sequences that take place in more out-of-the-ordinary areas are especially good-looking and memorable.
Max Payne requires a fast PC, but if you have one, it'll run smoothly for you. The game's special effects are gorgeous--you'll quickly learn to distinguish one gun's bright, glowing muzzle flash from another's. The effect of errant gunfire hitting glass and various other environmental objects is completely convincing, and the game's lighting and fire effects are colorful and impressive. The animation in Max Payne is also excellent for the most part, especially for Max, who is very lifelike in everything he does and looks exactly like the great heroes of Hong Kong action cinema as he shootdodges. Grenade explosions also produce spectacular results, as they send nearby bodies careening head over heels through the air. But most of all, seeing bullets fly by in bullet time is an incredible effect that never ceases to be thrilling.
Despite all this, if you really wanted to, you could still find some fault with the visuals in Max Payne. For instance, though characters in the game have a few different facial expressions, their faces aren't actually animated; and though you see blood where bullets hit flesh, you can't see the damage on the actual character. Furthermore, polygonal clipping tends to occur when characters get too close to each other (or to environmental objects), and some of the character animation during cutscenes can look a little awkward. The game's 3D geometry also isn't as complex as the razor-sharp textures are; some of the characters and objects can look a bit blocky compared with others. All these things are noticeable only because Max Payne otherwise looks so incredibly good--these scarce few elements are what prevent Max Payne from looking completely real, but they don't prevent it from being easily one of the best-looking games to date. The game's use of sound is excellent as well--though enemy goons have a fairly limited variety of death knells, the game's weapon effects, environmental sounds, and its intermittent use of music are all extremely well done.
Most of Max Payne necessarily revolves around shooting, though there are a few sequences that effectively break up the action. Still, there isn't any significant variety in the types of foes you'll face--whether you're shooting gang members, hired guns, or crooked cops, you'll need to employ the same sorts of tactics to succeed. Fortunately, all the bad guys in Max Payne do a great job. You can sometimes sneak up on them before they notice you. In battle, they'll take cover when possible, they'll toss grenades to flush you out or they'll flank you. They're consistently challenging and fun to fight, and you'll find that their intelligent behavior will always keep you on your toes. Of further note, the game uses a system that dynamically scales the difficulty of encounters depending on your performance. You might not initially notice this, but you'll notice that though the fighting isn't easy, it isn't impossible either.
A lot happens in Max Payne, and the fast pacing, constantly changing scenery, surprise encounters, and no-nonsense action result in a game that's rich with detail and makes for plenty of good memories, but isn't particularly long--it should take you about 10 to 15 hours to finish. The game has no multiplayer mode, but finishing it the first time does unlock additional new modes of play, including one that's simply more difficult because it makes you more vulnerable and your enemies tougher. Finishing this mode unlocks an even more difficult option that also limits the number of times you can save your game in each level. The other extra mode, called New York Minute, makes you race against the clock on every level. You have just one minute to finish each of the game's big stages, and killing foes adds a few precious seconds to make this possible. The core game always remains fundamentally the same despite these offshoot gameplay options; it's also a bit of a hassle that you can't skip the in-engine cutscenes. Fortunately, the basic gameplay in Max Payne is plenty enjoyable enough to justify spending a lot of time with the extra modes. The game also ships with the Max-FX toolset, which players so inclined can use to create Max Payne levels and mods. Still, despite these bonuses, many players will undoubtedly wish that the core game were even longer, especially since it's so good.
When a game has been in development for an inordinate length of time, you never can tell how it will finally turn out. Oftentimes, such games end up overwrought, incomplete, or behind the times. But once in a while, the extra time and effort paid by the developers is plainly apparent in the finished product. That's the case with Max Payne. Don't worry about what it doesn't have--you'll relish this highly polished, tightly focused, graphically stunning shooter for what it is. The game's incredible technical accomplishments and its original play mechanics all combine to make it one of the very finest shooters ever made.