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.
Created by Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, Max Payne was in production for a very long time. It's a gritty third-person shooter that's clearly inspired by the stylish cinematography and choreography of the Hong Kong action movie genre, particularly the work of director John Woo. Like many of Woo's films, Max Payne is rife with gunplay that's almost indescribably beautiful to watch--and yet actually playing it is even better. Max Payne does have a few weaknesses, most notably that it isn't very long and lacks any multiplayer features, but these things are hardly detrimental. After all, it's not often you get an outstanding and original action game that's not just different from all other shooters to date, but also in many ways superior.
The Xbox version of Max Payne is nearly identical to the original PC version, which was released a few months ago. As a result, this review is identical to GameSpot's review of the original game, except that it acknowledges the handful of changes made to the Xbox version in translation from the PC and also discusses Max Payne in the context of the Xbox platform. If only every new console could have first-generation games of this quality. After all, unlike most Xbox games so far, Max Payne isn't really a first-generation game at all--it's had the luxury of being in development for years.
You play as the title character throughout the game. Max is a modern-day New York undercover cop whose wife and baby daughter were brutally murdered and who has since been framed for a heinous crime. Thus begins his blood-soaked battle to find the truth--and to get revenge. The game has many superlative qualities, but one of the best things about it is how it actually plays. It's very easy to get into, because the control is smooth, simple, and responsive. The keyboard/mouse controls used in the PC version translate extremely well to the Xbox's gamepad--you use the left analog stick to move and the right analog stick to aim. The game's third-person camera perspective trails closely behind Max and gives a good sense of your surroundings, which is important since you'll need to move carefully through the game's enemy-infested environments. The right shoulder button fires your equipped weapons as rapidly as possible--the Xbox controller's bulky grip actually makes this feel like you're squeezing a gun trigger--while the left shoulder button triggers Max's "bullet time" special ability, which temporarily puts everything in slow motion, as in a John Woo movie or the 1999 sci-fi hit The Matrix.
Bullet time is spectacular. The sounds of gunfire become muted and distant, and you hear a rush of air and then the pounding of Max's heart--and at first you'll invariably hold your own breath as all this happens, because the effect is so well done. Bullet time isn't just for show--it effectively gives Max superhuman reflexes, and while all the action in the game is slowed, you can still aim as quickly as you can point the right analog stick. Hence, bullet time lets you perform incredible feats of marksmanship and, in combination with the left analog stick, deadly acrobatic leaps in any direction. This particular technique, called a "shootdodge," is the key to surviving most of the game's gunfights. As you launch yourself through the air, you'll actually see the enemy's bullets (or shotgun pellets) zing past you, even as you keep your weapons trained and firing on the enemy as you sail by. Bullet time is a serious advantage, but you're limited to using it in small increments and thus can't afford to use it unless you need it. Not only does this make the game seem very well balanced--especially since taking out bad guys is how you replenish your bullet time--but it also keeps the effect from feeling overused.
Max will brandish an impressive variety of highly authentic real-world weapons throughout the game, including pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and more. He can carry as many weapons as he can get his hands on, though you'll have to keep track of your ammunition reserves. There will always be plenty of bad guys around to soak up all your lead, so you'll have to use your different weapons as strategically and as conservatively as possible. Besides, Max is rather vulnerable--a bullet in the head, let alone a grenade, can kill him. But he can unflinchingly withstand relatively minor wounds. You can then completely recover the damage he's sustained by using painkillers, which you'll find scattered about in desks and bathrooms and such.