It was three years ago. When I arrived home from another day full of paper pushing at the station, I had nothing on my mind but to relax among the ambience of my wife and child. The air, however, decided to carry a different tune. My hopes of a quite night with the family were shattered like windows struck by bullets. The screams from upstairs painted a picture I desperately didn’t want to see. I ran fast like the bloody snow on my welcome mat, melting under the heat of my warm home. All along the walls were the graffiti images of a green "V" with a syringe stabbed through the middle like a knife. V for Valkyr, a drug with roots more depressing than dandelions.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Bodies lying still, under the heat of guns. Meager criminals held those guns still pointed like a stare from across a bar. I was forced to do what any husband and father would do. I took aim and fired without a second thought.
Today, it’s a constant run. Shortly after the funeral I transferred to the DEA to uncover everything about ’V.’ I was undercover, going to a meeting with my lifelong friend, Alex, to find out about a family called the Punchenellos, whom he had discovered has ties to Valkyr. When I got there, it wasn’t but seconds before he was gunned down. Soon after I could hear the irritation of police sirens rising in crescendo. Framed and on the hunt for anyone involved with Valkyr, I had my gun glued to my hand and nothing was going to stop me from cleaning my rap sheet and bringing justice to my wife and child. Somehow, all of this: Alex, Valkyr, and my family, funnels down into a neat package.
My stance on creativity among video games has always been that a game cannot rely on one sole innovation. A tight network of already established building blocks must support it, and those innovations will simply be the various versions of mortar that holds it all together. Nothing brings to light my theory better than Max Payne.
As the strongest and most steadfast of mortar Max Payne has to offer, an aspect of fully playable Bullet Time and Shot Dodging maneuvers that would make John-Woo and those Matrix guys clap there hands like school girls, has been incorporated. When outnumbered, (or just desiring something cool to look at) a press of either the R1 or R2 button with cue a Shot Dodging jump or full Bullet Time modes, respectively. Shot Dodging is simply a slow motion side jump while Bullet time allows you to move freely (for a certain amount of time), and do anything you normally would, but in slow motion. Both modes slow the movement of you and your enemies, but the benefits lay the ability to continue aiming at normal speed. Picture this if you will: An enemy crouches in wait behind a wall already diseased by bullets’ failed attempts. You heard the click and the clank of the skilled marksman reloading his hungry colt commando rifle. From your vantage just around the wall, you can see the empty magazine shell bounce away from him, and you know he is there waiting for even the smallest move. Without a thought to check for others, you Shoot Dodge around the corner with dual Ingrams extended to just feet from his face. He drops before even bringing the gun up to aim. By the sight of bullets whizzing around your face from across the room you know a friend of his wants revenge. Still airborne, you turn and brace that one against the wall with bullets like a cannon ball to a circus sideshow freak. Finally landing, your momentum carries you in a backwards summersault down a flight of stairs. When the whole thing is over and all the smoke has drifted like new ghosts to hell, nothing but bloody rubble and soulless corpses lie at your feet. Now if that doesn’t spell N-E-A-T-O…it spells something else that means the same as N-E-A-T-O.
Of course, every great game cannot be lacking in the all-important element of story. To coincide with the great gameplay, cut scenes depicted as a cheesy graphic novel take the place of all too often used (and used poorly much of the time) FMV sequences. Cheesy isn’t so much a bad thing in this case, however. It’s the type of cheddar done purposefully and wonderfully in order to add to the style of it all. Though, I do have a couple gripes with these cut scenes. Often it seems that they are used to often and many times are a nothing but a fly to the soup of suspense so wonderfully created otherwise. Also, much of the action of the game takes place in this graphic novel form, where better would be done to allow the player to actually play through these scenes. Just watching all this action in still frame kinda’ makes me feel gypped out of something.
But realize these are just minor instances that should only be a consideration after you give the game a try, which brings me to the idea of replay value. Simply put, Max Payne doesn’t really offer much at all. At the beginning, only one difficulty level is available, and after completion of the game two more open up: Hard-boiled which is just an upgraded difficulty of the original ’Fugitive,’ and New-York Minute where each level is started with a one minute timer and counts down, giving additional seconds for dispatched enemies (or ’haters of peace and love’, as I like to call them). When Hard-Boiled mode is completed, a final difficulty level opens up that tests your true expertise behind the Bruce Willis-y face of Max Payne. Fortunately, the true hardcore gamer will easily realize these levels are just rehashes of the initial game, and offer nothing new to see.
Honestly, I’ve seen better. Sure the visuals were smooth like fresh splatters of blood along a clean mirror, but even blood dries to an irritating crisp. Often times the look took upon a blocky presence that might have widened eyes during the pinnacle of the PlayStation, but in the world of today where greater spoils all enthusiasm for great, the people demand more. The people demand to see multiple destruction skins for different surfaces. Maybe pelting a water cooler with the steam-backed lead of dual 9mm semi-automatic Berettas would cause similar looking destruction as those same handguns would to a brick wall but I doubt it. And perhaps the heads of renegade cops have pointed corners at the top as though wearing a paper-bag mask but I think I would have seen something on the news about it sometime during my lifetime.
The bottom line is that experiencing Max Payne doesn’t breed a newfound realization to what graphics engines are capable of today. Max Payne isn’t a platform whereupon one is served texture-mapped eye candy. Max Payne was created for one thing, and that is simply to feed the hungry beast its own special spin on the traditional third-person shooter…
Seldom does a game refuse my need to pee and hold me to a chair the way only 30 feet braided nylon rope can. Oh, and you can forget about eating.
Stomach growling doesn’t care what level you are on. It’s just nature’s way of daring you to keep going.
There isn’t much here to keep you from having a great time. Put aside the above mentioned miniscule disagreements and the unusually long loading times, and you have an experience that you will always be proud to have locked away in your long term memory. Well, until you become old, decrepit, and senile and all memory of things past is replaced by relearning to eat without teeth and peeing in a diaper. Until then, you will always have your wonderful times with Max Payne.
If Rockstar and all its associates (Remedy, in this case) keeps squeezing out games like this and Grand Theft Auto 3, a solid association with the most stylish games ever seen will deservingly be tagged. Max Payne has quickly become one of my all time favorite games, and will remain so for some time.
I would suggest to everyone that they rent this game instead of buy it. Simply because of its relatively short span (just over 14 hours in my case, but I have heard of it being completed in much less time) and lack of replay value, it just isn’t worth $50 (US) of your hard-earned ’dirty trick’ money. Use that on mini skirts, bail money, and "I’m Sorry" cards for mom and dad. But do definitely give it a go. You will be glad you did.
And one more thing, oh ye of little faith. Did you realize I went through an entire Max Payne review without being witty by substituting the word ’Payne’ for ’pain?’ Boo-ya, grandma. Boo-ya.