Publisher: Gathering of Developers
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: 07/23/2001 (PC), 12/06/2001 (PS2), 12/12/2001 (Xbox), 07/16/2002 (Mac), 12/16/2003 (GBA), 04/12/2012 (iOS), 06/14/2012 (AND)
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Bullet time. While The Matrix made it popular amid pop culture, Max Payne started it all in the video game realm. You play as a cop, Max Payne, who is framed for the murder of another NYPD cop. Your wife and newborn child are also murdered and you are trying to get revenge on the people who did it. The story isn’t anything amazing, but Max Payne’s voice actor, and the well-done writing, keep you hooked long enough to find out what happened behind the scenes. The game is told in a comic noir graphic-novel style and it suits the game well. The cut scenes are imaginative and different and don’t look cheap or like the developers were trying to take shortcuts.
Outside of the story, the gameplay is all about shooting because that’s literally it. Max runs around with various weapons such as Barrettas, Ingrams, shotguns, grenade launchers, Molotov cocktails, grenades, and assault rifles to mow down the Mafia and corrupt cops. Bullet time is the main gameplay element here and when activated Max does a jump dodge in the direction you move and you can see him dodging bullets in real-time. This is actually a mechanic you must master as most situations require you to use it to stay alive. You can’t stand in one spot or you will be dead in a few hits and there’s no cover system. I had to quicksave every 2-3 minutes as well because the game is so difficult. It’s cool to jump dodge around a corner, but once Max lands there’s a delay in him getting up and you are completely vulnerable to gunfire. I had to make sure I jump dodged behind cover or across a hallway so I wouldn’t die the second the bullet time finished. You can also activate bullet time and just run your meter down so you can run and gun with it too.
There are very few scenarios in which you do more than press buttons. One scene has Max driving a crate crane around an area, but it’s nothing special, and there are some interactive objects that trigger comic cut scenes, but 95% of the game is just shooting. The weapons themselves feel good and I felt I had to switch up weapons depending on the situation to make my life easier. The locales are varied, but they are a bit too stale and boring for my taste. They don’t quite capture the noir feeling of the comic cut scenes, but there is one level early on called Ragna Rock which was a gothic cult house that reminded me a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, so that’s a good thing. The game really does feel like a first-generation PS2/Xbox game, but it’s very polished. The game flows nicely, but the difficulty is all over the place, you will die dozens and dozens of times in this game.
The visuals are clean and look nice even 20 years later. I installed a texture upgrade patch and some other things to make the game upscale to 4K nicely and play on modern hardware, and it looks pretty good. Even in the original, the facial textures are nice and very realistic, and the aesthetic of the game stands out over most shooters of its time. The voice acting is great, and I finished the game in about 7 hours. After you finish it there’s literally nothing else to do as the multiplayer mode was scrapped. It’s a fantastic single-player game that holds up well even today despite its insane difficulty and unbalanced gameplay. The story isn’t anything special, but Max is a great character to dive into and it makes for a fun evening.