Happy New Year, TAY! Last week, I took a look at possibly the best James Bond game ever.
This week, I replay an oldie, one that introduced a certain mechanic that remains popular to this day.
Max Payne released on the PC, PS2, and Xbox way back in 2001. It was published by Rockstar and developed by Remedy. (Side note-sorry for picking another Remedy-developed game so soon after the last one, two weeks ago. I sort of choose these games randomly.) You play as, of course, Max Payne, an NYPD detective who transfers to the DEA after the brutal murder of his wife and infant daughter. Max takes the transfer, in part, to help stop the spread of a new drug called Valkyr, which is the drug his family's killers were using. Working undercover, after infiltrating the Mafia, Max soon uncovers an increasingly complex conspiracy, and discovers the murder of his family may not have been a random crime.
Right off the bat, you'll notice the cutscenes in Max Payne are quite different (at least for its day). Rather than use FMV's, Remedy opted for comic book-style static images with voice-over.
It's something you see in a lot of games today (especially indie games) but back then, it was pretty uncommon. It's a great way to tell the old-fashioned film noir story.
The game itself, however, plays quite differently from a detective comic. Max Payne is a shooter, through and through, with none of the fluff of other shooters, i.e. no stealth missions, no escort missions (well, one brief one) and no vehicle segments. As Max, you charge through each level and blast every bad guy you see.
Now, you have a varied selection of weapons, from pistols to shotguns and machine guns, but the real attraction here is Bullet Time.
With the click of a button, you can slow the world around Max to a crawl, watching as bullets whiz by and shells float in the air. It's Bullet Time that is Max Payne's defining (and some might say only) feature. See, while time slows down, Max's aiming speed remains constant, allowing you to take out a room of enemies in the (relative) blink of an eye. It's not only necessary for some of the tougher parts, but it's also very cool and fun to do.
Therein lies the one problem with Max Payne, though. In my article about Alan Wake, Dexomega wrote about gameplay-story dissonance, of which I think Alan Wake is not the worst offender of.
But Max Payne is one of the worst.
The film-noir plot, which I love, clashes directly with the Hong Kong cinema-style gun-fu that dominates the gameplay. It really does feel like two different games at points; in one, you're reading a graphic novel about an undercover cop; in the other, you're Chow Yun-Fat in Hard Boiled. It's clear where Remedy's influences came from, and in my opinion, it's at least interesting to combine these two genres, but there is, admittedly, a severe disconnect between Max's story and the actions he takes to progress that story.
Nevertheless, Max Payne remains fun to this day, if you can stomach the dated graphics and occasionally clunky gameplay (there's a couple of dream sequences that just suck. Period). It doesn't look too bad, actually, apart from the blocky character models. Everyone has two or three facial expressions and bricks for hands, in that charming N64 way. Voice acting is solid throughout, James McCaffrey's gravelly voice as Max being as iconic as Sam Fisher or Solid Snake.
Play it on PC, if you have the means (if you own a PC from the past, like, 8 years, you'll be fine). If not, play on Xbox. The PS2 version is serviceable too, and that's where I played it first, but it's inferior by a wide margin. There's even an iOS and Android version, and a surprisingly competent Game Boy Advance version as well. The game and story may be two different things, but both are ultimately fun. Also, there's Max Payne 2 and 3, both awesome games as well.
Thanks to Wikipedia and IGN for the images.
Comments, questions, movie picks, and future Game of The Week suggestions? Post 'em!
Next week, we'll look at an N64 title, originally released in Japan, but found it's way here through the Wii Virtual Console. Most of you should know what I mean, that's a pretty obvious hint.