Max Payne is a third person shooter developed by Remedy Entertainment. The game revolves around the titular character, a police detective whose life is turned upside down after the murder of his wife and infant child by some junkies who are under the influence of the designer drug ‘Valkyr’. Three years later he’s deep undercover, working for the DEA until one fateful night, he finds himself framed for the murder of a fellow agent. On the run and with nothing left to lose, Max blazes his way through the criminal underworld whilst unearthing the truth behind his family’s murder.
What I think has really helped this game stand the test of time is the game’s story. The game takes place during a freezing night in New York City, which is the perfect setting for the Noir-style story telling. It does get a bit cheesy at times, but the story is still engaging. Most of the plot is portrayed in graphic novel style cutscenes which are effective and stylish.
Max himself is an enjoyable character, even if he often looks like he’s constipated. That being said a lot of the supporting cast isn’t expanded on much. I feel this works for the most part but it would’ve been nice to get bit more of a background on some of the antagonists.
Visually the game might look a bit ‘weird’ by today’s standards, but for the time it’s pretty impressive. The environments, although dark and drab, are fitting for the setting. The animation is very good, with enemies and Max clutching wounds and changing faces when severely injured.
Weaponry-wise the arsenal is effective and enjoyable to use. Every weapon serves a purpose and is effective in certain situations. For example, the pump action shotgun is better in a sustained fight compared to the double barrel sawed off, but the sawed-off allows the player to get two shots off whilst shoot dodging due to its rate of fire. Learning how and when to use weapons is critical for success.
Although not the first shooter to introduce slow motion (Requiem: Avenging Angel to my knowledge has that honor), Max Payne was the game to popularize it. Using Bullet Time and Shoot Dodging (where you dodge through the air in slow motion) is the key to success. During slow motion the player can aim as fast as they can in real time, allowing them to rapidly engage targets. Bullets in this game are physically rendered, rather than hitscan. What this means is that it’s possible to dodge projectiles and avoid taking damage, so long you are Shoot Dodging or are in Bullet Time. My only complaint is that at times the camera angle can be awkward when Shoot Dodging against walls, but this is a rare occurrence.
You’ll certainly need this leg up during fights, as this is a very hard game. Max doesn’t have a lot of health, and even enemies wielding weaker weapons can quickly kill you if you’re not fast and accurate. Enemies aren’t exactly smart but due to clever placement can often outmaneuver you if you’re not careful. With all that said it rarely unfair and even the areas I would call unfair are only slightly so.
So Should You Play It?
I’d highly recommend the entire Max Payne series if you haven’t played the series before. Some people might find them difficult to begin with, especially if they’re use to easier shooters of the modern day, but if you ask me challenge is a good thing.
If you don’t own the respective console (PlayStation 2 or X-Box for Max Payne 1 and 2, PlayStation 3 or X-Box 360 for 3) the games are fairly easy to get running on modern PCs. You will have to install some fan-made patches for the first two games to get them running and maybe run them in a compatibility mode (I’ve found running both games in Windows 98/ME to be effective). I only ran into one bug in each game, and only one required me to restart the game.
Max Payne spawned two sequels, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and Max Payne 3. The second game is mostly the same, although it adds new weapons and bullet time has been changed so the player moves and fires in real time rather than in slow motion, and can now perform this silly ‘spin-reload’ trick that instantly reloads weapons. That combined with some story elements and the over the top physics (which admittedly are impressive for the time) gives the game bit of a cartoony feel. That said it’s still a fine game and like the previous game has great gunplay and a fantastic story.
The third however made some pretty extreme changes, having been developed roughly nine years later than it’s prequel by a different dev team: Rockstar Studios. This one’s pretty divisive among fans as it makes plenty of changes, including the addition of a cover system, a three weapon limit and a much different setting of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In my opinion, I think the changes aren’t too drastic and the core gameplay still remains similar enough to the previous titles, especially considering the time between the previous installment.
That said Max Payne 3 does have its issues. The biggest one would be the lengthy load times, concealed with cutscenes. A lot of the side characters are also really unlikable and obnoxious. Despite that, Max Payne 3 has a lot going for it, including its smooth gunplay, impressive animation, and Max’s dialog.
Seriously, Max is the king of cynical one-liners
Max Payne also got it’s own movie, directed by the same guy who directed A Good Day to Die Hard. As I somewhat value my time I have decided to spare myself from watching it.
Slow motion would also be a core mechanic of the F.E.A.R. series, a horror based first person shooter. It also certainly has a movie like flair to it, combing American Sci-Fi with Japanese Horror and Hong Kong action. If you like the Max Payne series you’ll most likely enjoy F.E.A.R.
There’s also plenty of the red stuff if you’re into that.
Finally, there’s the game Stranglehold. Most interestingly this game is intended as a sequel to the movie Hard Boiled, which is not only one of the big inspirations behind the Max Payne games but is even directly referenced in the game, as are it’s director John Woo and lead actor Chow Yun-Fat. Stranglehold has a more arcade feel to it, but is a solid, if somewhat short experience. Of course, it’s also funny to watch influences go full circle.
- There’s also one level where you have to defend a jazz band from attack, which is pretty cool.
Lessons For Modern Games
I find a lot of modern shooters focus on overwhelming the player with hordes of dumb enemies. Don’t get me wrong the enemies in Max Payne aren’t exactly smart, but they are smartly placed throughout the level. This forces the player to be careful and to listen out for audio cues such as grenades landing.
Another problem I have with shooters, especially military shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, seem to think they need to have five assault rifles that all basically play the same, rather than weapons that have a purpose. Max Payne‘s arsenal might not be massive, but all the weapons serve some sort of purpose and are effective in the right situations.
Finally, creative presentation will overcome limited graphics. Max Payne’s fantastic graphic novel cutscenes, engaging story and trippy dream sequences are going to withstand the test of time. A creative story and art style counts for more than a game that only has visually impressive graphics.