Max Payne is an adult-orientated, third-person action game that has already blown our minds, and should do the same for you. Programmed by Finnish ex demo coders Remedy Entertainment, this New York killing spree of a game employs something known as 'Exit Technology. In simple terms, this advanced rendering process eliminates fuzziness and glitches to make the graphics as smooth as possible. A quick glance at the screenshots will instantly confirm that claim.
The game is also unique in so far as the action can be viewed from two angles. There's the followup mode that basically stays behind Max, and the cinematic camera that provides pre-set views to dramatic scenes.
On top of all this, Max Payne will be released with a 3D level editor. We're told the editor will be so easy to use that new scenarios can be created in a matter of seconds.
Max Payne should be bringing maximum enjoyment and maximum refreshment some time soon.
Have you seen The Matrix? Of course you have, and this is the gaming equivalent of that film, complete with slow-motion John Woo-style shoot-outs and a narrative to match that of the great Wachowski brothers. As I pointed out last month, this is the game that we never thought we'd see, but at E3 I was privy to a demonstration that put all thoughts of the game being canned to rest.
"Life was good," says Max in the game's intro sequence. "Sun setting on a sweet summer's day. Smell of freshly mowed lawns. Sounds of children playing. A house across the river on the Jersey side. The American Dream come true. But dreams have a nasty habit of going bad when you're not looking." And dreams don't get much worse than coming home from a day on the beat to find your wife and kids slaughtered, before signing up for an undercover Mafia job, getting framed for a murder and having everyone on your tail. Nothing to lose indeed.
The proprietary MAX-FX engine is looking as good as it should after four years of development, and everything you see is there for you to destroy. Shoot a window out, and the glass explodes, leaving a few shards which you can then take out at your leisure. Realism is the key. "All the decals are different depending on what material you are shooting at. We've got metallic sparks off the metal surfaces, smoke puffs off the brick walls, we're even getting wood splinters out of the wooden surfaces" says project lead, Perri Jarvilehto.
The game plays in third person, but developer Remedy is hoping to bypass any of the usual problems by utilising a feature it calls Bullet Time. Using this you can slow down the action to dodge bullets and perform acrobatic gun-blazing somersaults that Keanu and co need wires for. It also boasts self-adjusting skill levels (forget about choosing to play as easy, medium or hard) that can monitor whether you're a hardcore gamer or a no-hoping lamer. All of which brings us to the only slight reservation we've got with the game.
Asked how many hours of gameplay Max has to offer, Petri (without a PR person lurking to gag him) was pretty straightforward: "About ten hours for a hardcore Quake player." Taking hardcore as hardcore, this means that the average gamer can probably expect to get about 15 hours of pure cinematic action, with some of the best visuals we've seen on the PC, and a narrative-driven approach to a game that we haven't seen the likes of before.
Is that enough? It's your money, but we should have our verdict pretty soon. I've just spoken to the developers and at this precise moment (about three weeks ago when you're reading this), they were pulling out all the stops to finish the game and wipe out all the remaining bugs. In fact, we're all hoping that we're going to get finished review code in time for next issue, but then my glass is always half-full.
This games have often been inspired by the film world, and none more so than those of the action genre. Some games are the product of blatant or watered-down licenses (where the developers are creatively tethered by the licence holders), and some games simply wear their influences on their sleeve, with their memorable moments flagrantly scrounged from action films (usually Aliens). For every decent film, there are countless games that try to emulate it. Typically linear and focused around a tight story, it's certainly no bad thing they do, despite protests from the likes of us that non-linearity and originality of ideas is the way forward.
Max Payne borrows shamelessly from the cliched plots of any number of TV movies, most of which even Channel 5 would be embarrassed to air. Max is a New York cop - as most are - on the edge and out for revenge after coming home from a hard day's doughnut consumption to find his wife and daughter murdered by a trio of young scamps, whose minds have been frazzled by the latest designer drug. Max's job then, with you in control of his every move, is to find and bring his own brand of justice to those who are ultimately responsible, plus a few hundred or so that aren't. Been there done that, you might think.
In all honesty, throughout its 20 or so levels, Max Payne!s story steals from so many tired movie cliches that it's nigh on impossible to tie it down to a single point of reference. But if we had to choose just one, John Woo's 1993 blood-opera classic Hard Boiled would have to be it, aptly, since the man's name and work is mentioned on more than one occasion throughout the game.
In gameplay terms, influences aren't quite so easy to come by -for cinema provides the sole inspiration for Max Payne?s being. It may look like it plays like your typical Tomb Raider derivative, but the gameplay is closer to a first-person game, in that the aim - aside from advancing the story -is to progress from A to 6 killing everything that happens to cross your path. Not that Max isn't without the odd challenge, but these, in the time-honoured traditions of Doom, are little more than button-pushing devices cunningly crafted to pace the game. Occasionally you need to find a character who holds the keycode to a door (whose virtual life is ended soon after), but for the most part, by heeding the exclamation mark that flashes above your head you'll soon find the big red button that says 'Next level, this way'.
Time To Kill
Aside from the odd frustrating moment when even a retread through the current level uncovers no big red button (in which case shooting the old gas canister two rooms back will provide the path forward), Max Payne progresses at a frenetic pace, more so in the third and final act. But it is Max's innate ability to slow everything down that highlights one of the game's biggest innovations and the one that offers the most obvious clue behind the developer's main influence.
By hitting the default right mouse button the game enters Bullet Time mode, where everything - from the movement of the game characters and even the bullets - progress at a fraction of what we might consider a realistic speed. The only exception to this is the pace at which you can take aim (otherwise of course you would get the same effect playing the game on a Pentium P60). Hence, after a few hours play you'll be able to pick off two or three mooks before they've even had time to realise you are in the room. Early on, however, Bullet Time is more of a hindrance than a help. You'll often dive through a doorway only to empty a clip into the doorframe, or worse, dive headfirst into a wall, which in my case caused much hilarity among those who were watching, all of whom had better things to do (a cup of tea would have been nice). Playing in your undercrackers in the confinement of your bedroom, you will of course be free to learn the art without fear of ridicule, not that you won't feel a prat diving Mafrix-like, guns poised for action, into an empty room.
Certainly one negative aspect of the game which is highlighted by the Bullet Time mode, is the scrappy collision detection. Time a forward lunge too late and you'll actually pass through your enemy rather than bundle them to the floor. In tight corridors, through which the majority of the game is played, a sideways roll or strafing dive will more often than not see your head and shoulders lodge momentarily in the walls. Having been created by Remedy under the guidance of Duke Nukem creator 3D Realms, these graphical irregularities are nothing short of scrappy when you consider the fact that in almost every other area Max Payne looks simply stunning.
What makes Bullet Time work so well is that, with just a few keyboard combinations, you can pull off such a wide array of moves. With time slowed down, your eyes have time to appreciate the result of your violent actions. In fact, there are few finer sights in gaming today than firing a grenade launcher into a pack of bad guys and watching them launch into the air in slow motion, moments indeed when you wish you could record your actions for the world to see.
Bullet In The Head
Rather than gratuitous and messy, violence in Max Payne is handled in a stylish and - dare I say -artful way. Unlike Soldier Of Fortune, or indeed Kingpin, enemies never come apart, even if a grenade does land at their feet. In this respect, the game characters come across more as actors rather than computer-generated hand-cannon fodder. You don't, for example, see any entry wounds. The blood most certainly flies about, but almost as if each character has sachets of fake blood hidden under their clothes in readiness for their final screen moment. I rather like this approach - it sits well with the theatrical tone of the game. I could however be very wrong; that the lack of severed limbs is simply down to the constraints of what is otherwise a very capable 3D engine, but by concentrating on how bodies move as a whole rather than in separate parts, due diligence has been paid to the almost faultless character animations and the game experience is all the richer for it. For example, a shotgun slug to the belly will send its victim flying as if punched into a wall, his limbs limply following behind him. Rattle off a couple dozen shots from your dual Ingrams and the ungrateful recipient will rattle as if pissing on to an electrical heater.
Thankfully it isn't just the animations that set Max Payne apart. On the fastest machines housing the latest graphics cards, the screen is filled, not only with mists of blood from arcing bodies and flying lead, but wooden splinters from erupting crates, dust clouds from bullets impacting in plaster, shattered glass and even shreds of paper (another Woo trademark). In short, your eyes are drawn, not only to the spectacularly animated death scenes of your enemies, but an entire composition of framed devastation and chaos. As I said, quite beautiful, if you have a capable machine.
If only we could lavish as much praise on the AI as we could the graphics. Unfortunately Max Payne isn't as intelligent as he is attractive (as art spookily mirrors life). While the AI of the mooks, junkies and mercenaries can't be said to be bad, there is a serious over-reliance on scripting. On reloading a previous save game, you'll soon know, for instance, at what point a grenade is going to be thrown in your general direction, or that perhaps of the three armed enemies around the next bend, one will tentatively come around the corner to see the barrel of your sawn-off in his face. Even though the game cleverly reacts to how you are playing, it's more the placement of health packs (painkillers) and the accuracy of your enemy that seems to dictate the difficulty of the game rather than how they react, individually or collectively, to your actions. Even across the all-too-few levels set across open car parks or snow-topped roofs, enemy characters will either home in towards you or stand stiffly, with the rare occasion that one will roll across the ground in order that they might live for a couple of extra seconds.
Perhaps we are being a little harsh on the young fella. After all, Max Paynefs intention was never to compete with the level of unrivalled enemy intelligence set by Half-Life. In actual fact without sounding dismissive, Payne is a triumph of style over substance, looks above intelligence. You play, and your eyes release tears of sheer joy while your brain disengages for the few hours it takes to complete the game.
Live Fast, Die Young
Which is perhaps Max Payne's biggest problem - its length. It begs the question, 'How long does a game have to be before it's enjoyable?'. The 600 hours required of Baldur's Gate 2 was enough to put me off and, in all honesty, perhaps Half-Life went on a couple of levels too far. In Max Payne's defence, for all the corn-fed cliches that pepper its plot, towards the end it picks up to such a crescendo that it leaves other action games wanting. But whereas 14 hours of gameplay may be enough for those who have a slew of multiplayer modes to look forward to, Max Payne has none. Playing through the same levels again at a higher difficulty setting may be enough for the hardcore few, but with the story expired and all surprises exposed, you'll probably find it more entertaining to collect up a batch of your most favourite savegames and play through your most challenging set-pieces again, of which there should be a few. Personally, the thought of having to play through Max Payne's two dream sequence levels is enough for me to shelve the game until new adventures are released by third-party developers.
Throughout its all-too-brief stay on your hard drive, Max Payne is, for the duration, an entertaining blast. It is proof at long last that a third-person action game can - and does -work, that they can be fun to play rather than frustrating. It also shows that in a genre still trying to live up to a three year old game, you don't necessarily have to imitate to innovate, or be gratuitous to be violent. Enjoy it while it lasts and when you upgrade your PC, play it all over again, by which time - we hope -we can expect new plots, new levels and eventually a whole new adventure. Max Payne is innovative and highly polished, a game of wild ideas that has been properly focused to entertain -not to entertain forever, but certainly until the next big thing (probably 3D Realms' own Duke Nukem Forevei) comes along.
What we said
"Max Payne is innovative and highly polished, a game of wild ideas that has been property focused to entertain -not to entertain forever, but certainly until the next big thing comes along."
- Congratulations on a well-balanced and entertaining assessment of Max Payne. Richie Shoemaker managed to steer clear of the predictably hysterical hyperbole pedalled by rival outfits, whose reviewers currently favour shameless sycophancy over journalistic credibility. I still think your review was a wee bit generous though. You conclude that this cinematically inspired game is 'properly focused to entertain' but I'm not convinced. I think a more accurate description of Wax might be that it's a dumbed-down one-gimmick excuse to sell people a great new engine. Its developers are hoping that legions of amateur mappers, hooked on Bullet Time and Molotov Cocktails, will finish the job for them and concoct a suitable range of new levels to make it worth playing for more than a couple of days. Am I the only one who thinks that's a teeny bit lazy? I suppose some pen-pusher at Remedy thought: "DIY games, there's an idea." Setting aside those reservations, I would thoroughly recommend Max Payne as an atmospheric and entertaining arcade romp but perhaps it's time we started raising our expectations. Can you imagine how incredible Afaxwould be if Remedy had placed the same emphasis on player freedom as other developers have been doing recently? One day someone will devise a game that combines Max Payne's stunning visuals and innovative gameplay with the sort of depth and intelligence offered by a certain Warren Spector masterpiece. Max Payne is an opportunity missed and gaming Valhalla is still a few steps away.
- I have to say I love Max Payne. Not since Unreal Tournament have I felt such excitement when ripping open a game's packaging and shoving the CD into my machine. However, your review did not really justify why it deserves 90 per cent. Of course, the main feature is the Bullet Time, which works very well (if you're quick enough you can even dodge bullets), and it makes for some cool gun battles. OK, so it's based on movies such as The Matrix, but who cares? It's lots of fun playing in movies and Max Payne makes good use of its film influences. Your review left out some key things - like the fact every single bullet is tracked to its target and doesn't just hit their target instantly like most other games. There's also the self-adjusting difficulty based on your performance in the game. The rotating pause camera makes for some excellent-looking screenshots (as well as some weird ones) and the cinematic deaths are a nice touch. The AI is perhaps a letdown by today's standards but honestly, with Bullet Time, there's not a lot enemies can do about being shot except to shoot back. The only thing I didn't like were the nightmare sequences, but they are easily bypassed once you know where to go. Max Payne also seems mostly finished, only one patch being released a few days after the release date, which fixed a couple of bugs. How often do games require several patches in quick succession after their release? All in all an awesome game and worthy of your Classic award. It may be short, but as the old adage goes, it's not how long it is, it's what you do with it. And you can do a lot with Max Payne.
- I've just been playing possibly the best game ever: Max Payne. It has everything I look tor in a shooter. I agree it doesn't take a rocket scientist to play this game, but I don't agree that it's totally brainless, because you can approach enemies with different tactics. But to be honest, the lack of thinking does actually improve this game as you don't get stuck solving countless puzzles -you just get killed a lot. I also liked the great use of guns that mainly use bullets, rather than crappy alien weapons, which would have ruined the Bullet Time feature. It is a little short, but I found myself wanting to replay my favourite save points over and over again. This is unquestionably the best action game out there.
- Before I begin, I would like to say your magazine is amazing and I buy it every month. Anyway, the reason for me writing to you is to express my true feelings about the sheer excellence of the one and only Max Payne It's totally class - without a doubt it has to be one of the best games created for the PC (except for Half-Life!). The graphics are mind-blowing and as for Bullet Time... ahhhh, could that be any better? It's so satisfying to dive forward at an enemy in slow motion, while firing bullets into their cranium, and watching them slump to the floor like a sack of potatoes. OK, maybe the AI isn't great, but the gameplay sure makes up for its absence. If you like video games, then I suggest you go out and buy this game now. I promise you won't regret it.
- I have just bought Max Payne, and have a few things to say. The plot itself is rather pathetic and totally unbelievable, the cut-scenes and voice-acting are incredibly cheesy (I mean - comic strips in this day and age). The game is also incredibly linear. However, the gameplay shows a lot of thought, with plenty of nice touches, like being able to blow up TVs showing crappy soaps, and of course, the Bullet Time. What an innovation that is -can you imagine a sequel with Deus Ex-style freedom, and those Bullet Time sequences? Until that happens, I'll just enjoy myself jumping into a room and activating Bullet Time, spraying bullets everywhere from my double Berettas as I fly gracefully through the air.
We May Have been denied the mirthless pleasures of Remedy Entertainment's latest shooter, 360-exclusive Alan Wake, but we can always go back and play the decade-old game that made our Finnish friends famous.
Max Payne is most famous for introducing bullet-timfe to the gaming world, allowing us to side-leap through doorways and let off a shotgun into the chest of the thugs in the subway. Strange to think how bullet-time, something now considered to be an eyerolling cliche, was once a gamechanging delight. Strange, and impossible to replicate when you go back to play it again.
Max Payne is also pretty famous for having a lead character who looks like he's chewing a mouthful of chins, but these days, where slow-motion has been repackaged a dozen times as adrenaline, heightened awareness, and enhanced reactions - the only thing that really stands out with Max Payne is Max Payne himself. A grumbly depressive who narrates his own life, alternating between flat description and hackneyed noir metaphor.
There are odd moments, where you leap sideways across a doorway, where you find yourself tilting in sympathy, and making little "boof" shapes with your mouth to mimic the shotgun shells landing in your enemy's guts. It's still fun to play, but with so much of the novelty worn off, the laborious self-regarding grey of the writing really shines through.
But it's important to remember this game's status as an innovator. But if you're going to play a Max Payne game for nostalgia, the sequel stands up more impressively to modern scrutiny. However, you deserve to play Max Payne again, just to put the movie into perspective. Perhaps it wasn't such an unspeakable atrocity, unloaded on a worthy, helpless victim. So do play Max Payne again - if just to remind yourself that maybe the film wasn't so bad after all.
Download Max Payne
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Max Payne Screenshots and Media
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