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Four years is a long time to wait for a game. For the PC-gaming world, it is definitely not a record, but it is still a very long time, especially to the twitchy-fingered, caffeine guzzling avid gamer. But it was at that time four years ago when word started to spread about a new development which was to be called Max Payne. It was to be created by a fairly new fledgling Finland-based developer named Remedy Entertainment. Up until that time, the only thing they'd ever had to show for themselves were a handful of cool-looking java demos and a low-budget shareware titled called Death Rally.
Yet, the word began to spread about Max Payne. It was to be like nothing anyone had ever played before, with the gamer as Detective Max Payne, an undercover agent who was being framed for the murder of his partner and being chased by both the cops and by the mob, all set in the gritty underbelly that is New York City. This was not to be your standard-fare first-person shooter. Instead, the view would be third person, allowing you a birds-eye view of the action that a firsthand view just couldn't achieve. In addition, a new gameplay mode called "bullet-time" would allow the player to move faster than his opponents by slowing down time, e.g., The Matrix or a John Woo movie.
As always happens, the hype built as the months went on. Big names were attached to the project, such as 3D Realms, Scott Miller, George Broussard, and the Gathering of Developers. Meanwhile, Remedy's partner, MadOnion.com, used what was to be Max Payne's engine in the always-groundbreaking 3Dmark series of benchmarks. People were expecting big things from Max Payne.
Now, after all of the hype, flames, and expectation, Max Payne is available for our inspection. Can it possibly live up to all the hype? Read on to find out.
Basics & Installation
Max Payne comes on one CD, in a DVD keep-style case. Right away, this lends some credence to the cinematic-nature of the game, as it is presented in the typical DVD-movie style box. It makes me wonder why they even bothered to include the typical large-cardboard box, save for the included Mousepad. It just seems like a waste of space and trash to use all that paper and cardboard when a perfectly good plastic display case is used on the inside.
A decent sized manual/booklet is enclosed in the plastic case along with the CD. The documentation is decent, although all of the same information can be found either in-game in the help files on the disc. It is good to have these things printed out, I suppose.
The Max Payne installer is fairly straightforward; you are given two options for installation sizes. The game can take either 530 or 830mb of hard drive space, depending on which option you choose. Once the game is installed, every time the game is run you are presented a setup dialogue. This dialogue allows you to choose every aspect of the graphical intensity of the game, ranging from parental lockouts to resolution and graphic card settings. There are plenty of options to choose and alter if Max Payne doesn't run as you believe it should on your personal machine.
Although Max Payne may be classified as a third person shooter, personally I'd consider it much more of an adventure game than a shooter. While the game does have quite a few "run and gun" sequences, they are all done with the spirit of the plot in mind. The environments as well contribute more to an action/adventure genre than a shooter would, as many of the locales of the game require exploration and an in-depth look for you to completely understand what is going on in the virtual world in front of you.
Believe me, Max Payne does definitely qualify as a world of its own. From the first time you enter the game, you are immediately immersed into the dark metropolis that Max lives in, and you actually become Max Payne. The story of the game is presented through a graphic-novel/comic book type slideshow. While this may not sound like a very interesting way to move the story along, it actually does quite a good job, while those sequences are very much intertwined with the in-engine cutscenes, it all comes together seamlessly to pull you through the plot.
While you move through the game, the world also has a very strong sense of being "alive" and real. You are given the opportunity to interact with just about any object in the game, may it be rummaging through the liquor cabinet in some mob boss' headquarters to hacking a computer system at the heart of a corporate empire. Your opponents in the game will often times sit around having conversations about whatever is going on in their lives, and will continue having that conversation whether or not it relates to the plot of the game or not-at least until you barge in with a flurry of bullets and make a point to let them know that today should have been their day to call in sick.
Of course, most of this is just fluff to most gamers. What most want is the action-plowing down enemies and bad guys left and right until you are the last one standing in the room. In this department, Max Payne does not disappoint. Max stocks a full arsenal of weapons, including dual Beretta pistols, shotguns, Colt Commando machine guns, Molotov Cocktails, grenades, and a sniper rifle. Amazingly enough, most of the weapons are superbly balanced in the game, allowing what weapon is right for the particular job to be suited to how you want to play the game. You could spend the game sneaking around and whacking people on the back of the head with a baseball bat and tossing a grenade into a room full of waiting baddies, or you could go in guns screaming with that Colt, mowing down everything that gets in your way.
But playing Max Payne just wouldn't be as much fun without the "bullet time" feature. Bullet time, when activated, "slows" time down in the game. While in bullet time, you can aim in real time, although your bullets (as well as those of your opponents) only travel as fast as time is moving. While in bullet time, you can see every individual bullet flying through the air towards its target. Bullet time, in all honesty, makes the game quite a bit easier, because without it, you would be ambushed and go down so fast you wouldn't even know what hit you. Bullet time allows you to escape instant death and instead take down all of your enemies in the time that it takes them just to aim. Not only does Bullet Time make the game easier, it also just makes the game more fun. Of course, you can't just play the entire game in bullet time as it's a limited resource, noted by a small hourglass at the base of the screen. Fortunately, the game continues moving nicely enough that I never found myself run out of bullet time when I really needed it.
In one particularly fun example of the game's interactivity and livelihood, Max rounds a stairwell that leading to a conference room where two assassins are standing around having a conversation. Their conversation is all about how they love making the "big bucks" in their gig as assassins, almost sounding like the one is trying to convince the other that it is indeed a worthy career. After creeping passed the door, I toss a Molotov cocktail into the room. It lands between the two assassins, engulfing the two thugs in flames. Problem solved. Max enters the room, and passes the charred, smoldering remains of his would-be enemies, where a laptop computer lies on the conference table. It powers an LCD projector projecting the plans of your nemesis onto a bullet-ridden screen at the front of the room. Using the laptop will change the presentation on the screen, and if you decide to take out your frustration on the laptop with a shotgun, the projector will display a "No Input" message as the laptop sparks and dies from the mortal wound given by the sudden influx of lead into its casing. In truth, it's not that exciting, and hardly qualifies as one of Max's most incredible moments-but the sheer reality of the moment cannot be ignored.
Graphics, Sound & Music
With over four years of development, it would make sense if I were to say that the visuals of Max Payne looked out and out of date. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, and without a doubt, Max Payne has some of the most amazing graphics that I've ever seen in a computer game.
Everything in Max Payne is realistically modeled, from the clothes on the characters to the cracks in the windows. Even each individual bullet is modeled amazing detail, right down to the scratches on the bullet casing itself. All of the textures in Max Payne are amazingly detailed, giving just about every surface a true-to-life look that I haven't ever quite seen in a game before.
The level design within the game is simply amazing. Each level looks exactly as it would if it were made in the real world. They look so good in fact, that sometimes I had to stop and wonder if I wasn't wandering around three-dimensional blueprints of actual buildings. In addition to just looking good, the levels are HUGE. A typical example of this takes place near the end of the game, in a large corporate office building, and the entire building only spans two levels, in which virtually the entire building is modeled in amazing detail. In all honesty, I found the detail and care that was put into the levels awe-inspiring.
Of course, I know you're thinking: these lush visuals have to come at a high cost, which they do. The system requirements for Max Payne speak for themselves. If you don't meet those system requirements, it might be a stretch as to whether or not the game will run with any kind of decency on your machine, even if you turn down all of the graphics details. However, I think the high requirements are definitely worth the eye-candy that Max Payne gives in return.
The sound completes the entire liveliness of Max Payne. Ambient sounds and atmosphere are abundant in the game, just rounding out the aural part of what has become a nearly complete experience. The voice acting is done very well during the game, almost going over-the-top at times, but given the Film Noir-esque plot it all seems to have gone in stride. The occasional internal monologue from Max helps to move the story along quite nicely, especially during the Graphic-novel "cutscenes" that are intertwined along the journey.
The music does help to add an extra air of atmosphere to the game, coming along only at crucial and necessary junctures during the story's development. Unfortunately, the soundtrack for the game is only provided by what seemed like a few good music tracks, which are replayed quite a few times in the duration of the game. A few extra tracks would have helped eliminate the repetitive feel, especially during the graphic novel sequences, which always seemed to keep the same background music.
Without a doubt, Max Payne has a lot going for it. With simply gorgeous graphics, an amazing atmosphere, enthralling plot, and fun gameplay, it is definitely a Game of the Year contender, and shows that the last four years of development have not been in vain.
The only true downfall for Max Payne occurs after you've finished it. Since Max is a single-player-only game, once you've completed the game there really isn't a lot left to do. There are extended difficulty levels--such as the often-talked about "New York Minute" mode, in which you are given a strict time schedule to keep moving through the game--which are decent, but they really don't add much more to the game.
I wouldn't call Max a short game either. While it definitely is not long, I find that it is as long as it really needed to be. Making it any longer would have seemed unnecessary to the story, and any shorter probably would have been too short. I found Max Payne to be like a watching good action movie, where I enjoyed playing it the first time, and I'll enjoy playing it again a few months down the line-and I can't wait for the sequel.
Until we get a sequel though, the true replay value of Max Payne lies in the mod community. The game shipped with a full suite of editing tools which should allow fans to edit and extend Max Payne to their hearts' delight, and perhaps even continue the adventures of our new favorite hero. All these things will take time, though, although hopefully not long enough where everyone has already uninstalled the game and is uninterested in any new Max Payne developments.
Overall, I'd say Max Payne is definitely worth picking up. Even if it may not have the long staying power of a game like Half-Life, with all of the great things it has going for it, it would be a loss not to have Max Payne in your gaming library.