I was first aware of the existence of Remedy and Max Payne, way back in the halcyon days of '98. When Prey was to be the 'next-generation', Half-Life was years away, and Quake 2 ruled the proverbial roost. Of course much as changed since then, and in the four years that have past, the action game genre has progressed in leaps and bounds, fuelled by constant graphical improvements and the burgeoning popularity of on-line gaming. Max Payne, however, marks something of an overhaul of the genre once again, and I've no doubt whatsoever that the advancements present in Max Payne will be imitated and will influence countless unreleased titles of the future. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the finest singleplayer action game ever.
So what is it that makes Max Payne quite so superlative? Well, I've reasoned it out like this: before Max Payne, interactive action games could never imitate the sheer tension and gripping action of a good Hollywood blockbuster, until Max Payne, that is. For Max Payne introduces a style and approach to action from a perspective that adds sheer cinematic perfection to every sequence, yet maintains totally the players sense of control over the action. In short, Max Payne is a work of gaming genius. I've yet to witness a game that carries in it such audacious and accomplished style, and maintains it throughout, constantly surprising the enveloped player with twists in the plot and stunning action sequences. The set-piece action of Half-Life doesn't even compare to this.
This cinematic ambience is enhanced by the use of a third-person perspective, as the camera sweeps majestically around corners and moves fluidly with the player. Never does Max suffer Lara's problem of a camera ending-up lodged in a wall. The control system, which fits nicely in with the camera system, also adds to the movie-esque feel, as it is quick to master, and highly intuitive, with dramatic flashbacks, never detracting from the sense of immersion instead enhancing it. The control of weapons and aiming is simple enough too, and the Matrix style slow motion action sequences are truly breathtaking, adding far more to the gaming experience than a mere gimmick. Which leads me on to the graphics…
Arguably the best-looking action title ever, the urban decay of the New York environments of Max Payne certainly don't lack in atmosphere, as the crisp, dark scenery is embellished with all manner of subtle detail. I can see why this took so many years to create. The detail of enemy hoodlums and the like is also excellent, and the animation and weapon-fire highly realistic. The artificial intelligence of foes isn't found lacking either, though most bad guys are easily foiled with a spot of slow-motion dive-and-firing with the trusty shotgun.
The cut-sequences and cinematic action sequences do much to enhance the atmosphere too, as cars explode Die Hard-style, and Max over-hears the gangsters discussions, revealing more about the story. The story. Nothing too original on this front, but like much in the game, you'd be more likely to find it in Hollywood than E3, as the plot thickens and the 'desperate Cop on a mission for revenge' plotline comes into play. The dialogue is unsurprisingly hammy, though intensifies the thick atmosphere and rich interwoven plot.
So what else is of wholesome goodness in Max Payne? Well, the voice acting is… okay. Given that the dialogue consists of purest cheese it is unsurprisingly less than brilliant, yet this element still doesn't detract from the overall experience. It's a shame Remedy thought it best not to include a multiplayer element within the game too, though this is not a bad or a good thing; just an opportunity missed. Afterall, the cinematic action, dark-brooding settings, and excellent weaponry could make for a superb and original multiplayer experience, though perhaps one that would have required rather too much time to implement. I fully expect and hope some form of Max Payne 'Tournament' pack or such like as an add-on at a later date…
To conclude then, Max Payne is nothing short of sheer cinematic glory, with a tension and atmosphere easily on a par with any of the top action movies of recent years. Max Payne really does mark a step in a new and exciting direction; and is a game that must be played at all costs. An essential edition to your games collection, providing you've got at least 4-500 Mhz worth of CPU to take advantage of it. So go and buy a copy, and join me in the New York underworld…
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