Max Payne

Best way to improve Max’s psyche is to frame him for murder!


I’ve just finished (for the third time?) Max Payne, released in 2001. It is kind of one-of-a-kind in videogames, using a mix of graphic novel and in-game cutscene work. It’s also a damn difficult game, even with the main feature – bullet time – which can slow down time for a limited amount allowing the player to aim in real time.

The story really stands out as something unique. Totally over the top (it’d be over the top as a graphic novel to be honest!), and entirely apt for the strange situation the game puts the protagonist Max Payne in. He’s constantly spouting off clichΓ© lines and over the top vocabulary, parodied in one of his dream sequences, although this is all in his mind; it fits beautifully, filling the narrative with actually quite sane things considering the insane situation. A man must cope, and Max sure finds his way.

This is not a game for kids. Some very unsavoury characters in the game…

The actual plot could be considered bare-bones. It’s got it’s own minor complexities, and it all fits together well enough once the pieces are arranged. Most of the plot points are excuses to shoot more bad guys, to be honest, and it’s entirely fair that most of the time Max points this out. I won’t spoil anything here though.

The game also parodies itself, twice. Take that! The humour is spliced throughout – gangsters and enemies do small, pop-culture heavy conversations before Max shoots them dead. There are homages to The Matrix (noting the game was in development before the film was released, although the main feature was renamed Bullet Time to match the film, it wasn’t the initial inspiration), and other films in several scenes. Most of Max’s own dialogue is darkly funny, considering what’s going on. There are also a few (Lords and Ladies, and Mystery Unknown) TV shows (which are used to better effect in Max Payne 2), with soap-opera style acting and parodying Max’s own situation.

Vinnie Gognitti returns in Max Payne 2, here he’s not happy to see Max…

The gameplay is tough – tough, and quite quite unfair. The game’s own designers have said there is no difficulty slider – the games lowest difficulty is meant to alter the AI’s accuracy and health automatically if the player does badly, but in truth this just meant after the first few enemies it went from “Not quite so tough” to “insanely tough”, while the other difficulty levels just automatically set it to “insanely tough”. If you can persevere and learn your way around the controls and weapons, it works quite well, although too many times a freak grenade or a close range shotgun blast ends the game early. Keep your hand hovered over F5 to quicksave (which, nicely done, has 2 slots incase one really puts you in a worse position!).

There are some nice setpiece parts though – such as getting through some Gangsters to a weapons cache basically unarmed, larger battles in mansions, on boats and in banks, and when an entire restaurant is blowing up and you have to get out. There’s little “key finding” to open doors, so it’s almost always a linear game, which as long as you don’t pay too much attention doesn’t matter as much as you might think (seeing where I was previously after 15 minutes annoyed me a bit).

The AI, since I’m interested in it, is basically non-existent to be honest. There are times it even gets stuck in the most simple situations. It’s entirely scripted in a nice cinematic way – to a fault usually – so a replay needs to be spread out by a few years, like I have, since otherwise you remember exactly what will happen next. The AI generally ducks and aims for where you’ll be, and might take a second or so to turn if you run past them, which is of course to allow bullet time to actually work. While they don’t run out of the way of grenades, they do realise someone’s attacking them at least if they see one. Basic, but acceptable. Any harder, and the game might become unwinnable. For comparisons sake, Max Payne 2 lowers the toughness of enemies and gives them generally a bigger AI boost (with more open areas and suchlike), which makes it more run-and-gun, where as this game, AI flaws are sometimes the only way of getting past a situation πŸ™‚

On the technical side, the graphic novel side still looks great today (and this is with the Remedy game team doing all the acting), and the game engine itself can hold up still for the most part. The sounds still works fine, and seems to cope somewhat well with surround sound. The freaky dream sequences are frankly, quite scary – the sounds are the worst part. I’ll say it holds it’s own compared to some 2001 titles – shame it doesn’t support widescreen though, and there is no lip synced models. Max Payne 2 likely will hold up better over a longer time, since it improves the visual quality a fair amount, but this game isn’t too bad for the time.

“Congratulations!” – I almost half-expected it to be spelt incorrectly πŸ™‚

Well worth another play though, and it’ll be much more fun then watching the film version I bet, which according to the Max-Payne stylee graphic novel video, looks to be almost, but not quite completely unlike it. Oh well! Check out my screenshot gallery if you have no qualms about spoilers – although I tell you, capturing any action shots in this game is massively difficult. I must move my screenshot key somewhere different πŸ™‚ If you want to see the game’s intro, check the Internet Archive where I put a copy of it.

Give the game a shot if you ever see it cheap, I think it’s worth persevering through. πŸ˜€