Max Payne. Bullet-time.
I could end the review here!
Max Payne put the 'Bullet Time' effect on the map - no arguments please.
For those not familiar with the game or the term, Bullet Time basically slows time down and allows you to play a short sequence in slow motion. Frantic gun-fights and areas with large numbers of enemies against our solo hero seriously benefit from the style and it is a great equaliser - tipping the scales back in our direction when faced with otherwise insurmountable odds.
Bullet Time is now an absolutely integral part of most shooters and RPG's, it is absolutely essential with games like the Fallout series for example.
This game was released late in 2001 after half a decade of development. Produced by a relatively small firm, Remedy Entertainment, the game was released on the PS2 console under the Rockstar banner - fresh off the back of the huge success that was the new Grand Theft Auto game from earlier that same year. They also headed the downsized Gameboy Advance version (which I have never played so cannot comment) and the x-box version which played the same as the playstation game but looked ten times better when run through the x-box console; the graphics were out of this world!
We take on the role of the title character, Max Payne himself. The game starts with a quick flashback to a couple of years earlier where we discover that our hero failed to save his wife and daughter from a gang of drug addicts high on a new drug being pushed by the cities largest crime syndicate. After recovering from the ordeal, Max requests a transfer from NYPD to DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) with revenge in mind; the plan being to track down and punish the people responsible for his families demise, from the street addicts all the way up to the powerful mobsters distributing the drug.
He eventually becomes an undercover agent with the crime family he's trying to take down, but ends up framed for the murder of a fellow agent and exposed as a mole to the mob. Hunted by both sides, we take control.
It sounds dark, and it is! This is the very essence of 'film noir' in a game.
Set as a third person shooter, the game borrows aspects from the Tomb Raider franchise and turns it into an adult themed, grim but very playable video game.
Weapons are thin on the ground until late stages, so we are thrust into gunfights with just a police issue pistol for the most part. Thankfully, the Bullet Time assists a great deal and we never really feel in much danger against street thugs.
There are a few little problems to solve and some running back and forth - though the levels are really quite linear and it's not often we're at a loss for where to go/what to do.
Some of the levels are played as dream-scapes, almost virtual reality as we invade Max's nightmares. Here we are tormented by a baby crying and the screams of our long dead wife - very dark stuff.
The game is split into three chapters, each staggering the difficulty just enough to keep us on our toes and flowing along nicely. The narritive plods along a little, but slow reveals and twists and turns get us looking forward to the next cutscene.
Completion of the game gives a great sense of achievement and a genuinely warm fuzzy feeling (without wanting to give too much away).
I can't comment on the x-box version as I've only dipped into it, but on the playstation the load times are horrendously long. Another gripe is the comic book style cut-scenes which get a bit boring, although I can see why they've designed them that way, it is inkeeping with the style of the game.
The visuals are fairly bland as well. Nothing wrong with the artwork at all, it's just all very dark and grey and depressing. It's not much of a feel-good game as you may have gathered.
The sound is top class. Great moody tones throughout, but the baby crying freaks me right out!
For the dedicated player, Max Payne holds around 20 hours of gameplay from start to finish. It's easy to get engrossed and play straight through in a couple of days, but conversely it's very easy to get fed up of the drab, depressing feel and put it back on the shelf after an hour or two.
All-in-all it's a good game which is still worth a look ten years on. Fortunately it spawned a couple of sequels - good ones as well - so the franchise is still fresh in peoples minds and this original game holds some appeal.
I'm a game freak and I'd recommend it to anyone, whether for a good weekend slog or a dip in/dip out grind.