Max Payne is a flamboyant showpiece of frenetic action, stylized presentation and an exciting story of redemption.
The most striking element of Max Payne lies within its presentation. The plot follows the titular character Max Payne, a former NYPD cop who, after finding his wife and child dead and framed for murder, goes undercover to infiltrate the entire mafia syndicate. Remedy have gone for a graphic novel approach to the storytelling, and it pays off incredibly. This is a deep, dark and often disturbing noir story that engages from start to finish. The graphic strips used for plot points are phenomenal and really sell the story more than any game could. The writing, courtesy of Sam Lake – who also models as Max in-game – is intelligent, snappy and intriguing. Kudos to the developer for going for such a risky decision. It's even better when detailing the characters. There are a host of interesting and engaging characters that are well fleshed-out and are given great development to attract the player. Their own backstories and motivations are told through the same graphic scenes. There are also some good references to comic books, like the "BOOM" and "KRACK" headlines, as well as cartoon references like little strips of characters interacting – and killing – each other. The loading menus before each level are reminiscent of noir comic-books, tying each mission together. Max also narrates before the level and during cut-scenes, which gives greater immersion to the action. On the PC, Remedy have added a quicksave option which is a great additon. Manually saving is lightning quick, and loading is fast. During cut-scenes, there is an option to skip them completely, which is a nice feature although, with a story like this, it probably won't – and should not – be used.
Visually, Max Payne is fantastic. Lighting and animations are brilliant, and the environments are murky, decrepit and dilapidated. Character models can seem canny, but visual effects like fire and snow particles are top-notch and explosions look great. The in-game cinematics are terrific and weapon models look good. The framerate never dips and everything runs superbly. The textures are remarkable, and placing them on the highest setting will really impress you. Watching window glass shatter or architecture ripple from its hinges is mightily impressive. There is nothing more I can say about Max Payne's look that hasn't been said already; it looks that good.
Sound design is equally impressive. The voice acting here is absolutely outstanding, with James McCaffrey in particular giving a great performance. The entire cast you'll meet along the way are voiced really well, and bring human elements to their respective characters. The sound effects are fantastic; explosions, clicking of guns and the sound of bullets dropping on the floor are superb. Other details like rats wandering around in sewers and water dripping from pipes bring another level of immersion to the game. The music is also brilliant, and the theme song in particular.
No doubt Max Payne is about gunplay as much as story and that doesn't disappoint either. This is a born-and-bred third-person action shooter born from the roots of classic action films, with a specific nod to John Woo features. The action is mostly literally non-stop, save for a few corridoors and moments of respite, particularly outdoor sections. Other than that, this is a shooter that is often exhilirating. Firstly, the controls are phenomenal and really easy to use, and I'm no PC pro. It goes to show the consideration Remedy took to adapt a smooth control scheme. Max Payne animates well and when faced with enemies, can enter the much-discussed bullet-time mode. This slows down time and allows Max to perform acrobatic side rolls, jumps and forward manoeuvres – while simultaneously aiming and shooting each target. This mode could cause confusion, but it's execution is fluid and seamless. It's hugely satisying to enter bullet time, a sawn-off in hand, and blow away a crook who is waiting to get the jump on you. What's more, the enemies you'll face also jump, roll and take cover. This makes the AI feel real and give you a different perspective on the fact that you're just shooting computer-controlled foes. The best – and sometimes frustrating – part of the AI though, is that they are tough. I mean really tough. They can more often than not put you down in a few hits and sometimes in one if they are equipped with shotguns or ingrams. Also, they tend to run to you, meaning you'll be kept on your toes with each gunfight. No longer can you hide behind a pillar and have a break. More-so, enemies tend to take a lot more damage than Max. There were times when I would annihilate a foe with a machine gun, but he would kill me instantly. An even ridiculous moment is when an enemy takes two shotgun rounds to the face mere inches away, which begs the question of an inconsistent AI system. Later on in the game, the enemies you face become more aggressive and carry better equipment. The entire second part of the game focuses on large, open areas with lots of doorways that could be occupied by more enemies. The gameplay is deeply engaging and tense and gives the play a host of great weaponry. Handguns, shotguns and machine guns are the highlights, but some big guns in particular, such as the Colt Commando and Jackhammer, really give Max Payne incredible firepower. There are also some melee weapons – baseball bats and crowbars – and are fun for short, tight spaces. An often annoying aspect of the combat is that enemies often throw explosives. That's fine, the blast radius is huge and can often result in an instant death; and when enemies throw molotov cocktails, they also kill Max Payne immediately. Good thing is, you can do the same to them, which is an eye for an eye really.
Just when you thought the AI is at its most challenging, then the bosses come into touch. These gunfights are especially difficult as boss AI takes a lot more damage that regular enemies. You'll have to strategise which weapons to use to take them down, and doing so feels oh so satisfying
Max can also dual-wield, which is completely awesome. Handguns and Ingrams (sub-machine guns) can be used for dual-wielding and give Max a better chance of surviving gunfights. Using dual-wield during bullet-time is superb and stylish. It would have been nice to dual-wield, say, a sawn-off and a handgun, but at least it's still fun – and highly effective.
The level design is brilliant, save for a few repetitive indoor stairwells and decrepit hallways. Most of the time, though, you'll be fully involved in the environments and eager to explore. However, exploration can be dangerous, as enemies could be alert in some areas you wouldn't expect, so be careful when doing so. Some levels, however, like a murky hotel early in the game have you traversing a place filled with dead bodies, syringes and rental rooms. Some areas are disturbing, and again add to the noir feel of the game. The game also takes players to different parts of the city, giving the impression that this is quite a large-scale conflict through the seedy areas of New York.
Third-person shooters care mostly judged by their camera system, but Max Payne's is brilliant and never intrusive. The focus is always on the action, and in-game cinematics are perfectly fluid, so it's never a problem in this game.
There are many objects that can be interacted. For example, sinks, toilets and showers can be turned on and off, doors are opened by running through them and Max can press buttons for elevators or shutter switches. But the most interesting part of this interaction is the story devices scattered throughout certain environments. When in the vicinity of one of these items, a "!" is displayed on the screen, indicating an important item. When interacted, the game fades into a graphic cut-scene, further extending the story and sometimes giving weight to certain characters.
Max Payne is a lengthy game, coming in at 10-12 hours upon completion. However, when the game is finished two new modes are opened up – New York Minute mode and Hard Boiled mode. New York Minute mode gives Max Payne the task of completing each chapter of the game before the time limit expires. However, killing enemies adds time to the clock, so killing quick and efficiently helps toward finishing each chapter. Hard Boiled (a John Woo action film) mode is a serious challenge. This mode is the hardest difficulty and is the ultimate test of your skills. Ruthless enemies, easy deaths and longer completion add to the replay value. There is also a Dead on Arrival mode, which limits to the player to only seven saves per chapter This is a game perfect for speedruns. Also, it is so good you'll probably want to play through again anyway.
With an incredible presentation, great visual and sound design and brilliant gameplay mechanics, Max Payne is a fantastic shooter experience. Dark, moody and engaging, there is simply no other third-person game like it. Well-written, with great voice acting and a strong cast, Max Payne is the best action game in a long time, and is highly recommended.
Presentation - Fantastic, stylized presentation and a great story. Characters are brilliantly intriguing.
Graphics 9.0 - Graphically superb, Max Payne nails every part of its visual design.
Audio 9.0 - Great voice acting and solid sound effects.
Gameplay 9.0 - Awesome gunplay with a great bullet-time mechanic. Though some enemies can be bullet sponges, Max Payne's level design succeeds.
Replayability 8.0 - It's a long game for a shooter, lasting a good 12 hours. Extra modes unlocked could encourage further play.
Overall - 9/10