Max Payne is Pure Pleasure

Max Payne had a lot of things going against it when I decided to give it the once-over for review. I, like all other professional writers, try to keep my bias out of reviews. But off the bat, things did not look good. I have seen so many variations on shooters this past year that I doubted I would find anything new with this title. Also, I am not a big fan of third-person shooters, mostly after having been poisoned to them by lackluster – and some very bad – titles like Eradicator (anyone remember this one?) and Soldier (based on the "classic" movie of the same name staring Kurt Russell.)

Then I actually played the game. It took about five minutes for me to fall in love with this adult-themed action-packed shooter.

Lets start from the beginning of any successful title: the tutorial. The game does a good job of showing players how to run, move, shoot and use the various weapons and features of the game. It even teaches you specific keys in case you have re-mapped them, like I had. During the tutorial you are taught how to use the best feature of the game, a new – yes read NEW as in never seen before – feature of the game called bullet time.

Ever wonder how action heroes roll into a room filled with bad guys, shoot the heck out of the place and emerge unharmed? The answer is bullet time. When you activate bullet time, you go into a modified slow motion. You move slower and all the bad guys move slower, yet you can still aim and fire in real time. Using bullet time you can dodge out of the way when a bad guy is about to hit you with a shotgun blast, letting the pellets fly harmlessly past you, perhaps just touching the end of your fluttering trench coat. There is a dodge move as well that uses bullet time, though you can’t shoot while using the special dodge move.

If you have ever seen the movie "The Matrix" then you will be amazed at how bullet time works, because it is very similar. Its more than a little cool to be able to step into the shoes of an action hero for real. In another bow to cinema, each time you kill a bad guy in a particularly cool or gruesome way, the game will pause and you can view the death in slow motion.

Picture this: there is a street punk pistol whipping a security guard. The hero – that’s you – sees this and rolls into the room firing a shotgun blast at point blank range into the guys chest. He flies backwards in slow motion, blood twirling out of his wounds. He drops his gun and slams into a wall of lockers. When the game goes back into real time, you sometimes have to remember that you are the center of attention and have to keep moving. It’s that good.

But what really pulls you into the game is the plot. Yes, Max Payne has a real plot. Not only that, but you are fully integrated into the story line. Whenever Max finds something interesting, you are treated to a couple of panels of a graphic novel showing shat it all means. For example, in one instance you find that a prostitute has been filming her clients and selling the X-Rated tapes on the black market. Once you see the camouflaged hole in the wall, you can find a secret door that leads to the camera room. This triggers a graphic novel cut scene where Max observes, "She had a good system here. It would eventually get her killed though, if her drug addiction did not do it first."

If you have not figured it out already, I’ll go ahead and spell it out. To say that Max Payne deals with adult themes is an understatement. This game is for adults only. In the opening scene of the game, you play Max in a flashback. Its three years ago and you are a beat cop, coming home to find your little house out on the Jersey shore a total mess. As you explore the house – all done as part of the game, not a cutscene – you hear your wife screaming upstairs.

As you rush up there, you find that your baby has been murdered in his crib and your wife is lying dead sprawled across the bed. Just then three drugged-out punks come streaming out of the bathroom to be met with (hopefully) white hot justice from your Beretta 9mm.

Disturbing? Sure. But you have to give kudos to the development staff for not only providing a motive as to why your character has gone vigilante in a quest to kill the head of the illegal drug syndicate, but also letting you experience the troubling event for yourself. (Max actually tries to continue being a good cop for a while by going undercover, but once his friend and only contact back to the police department gets murdered, he pretty much goes over the edge.)

By about a quarter of the way into the game, Max has resigned himself to the fact that this story won’t have a happy ending. When he finds a hand-written letter implicating the mob boss in the drug smuggling business, he would have the evidence he needs to make an arrest. But instead he just crumples the letter up and tosses it away saying, "I stopped collecting evidence a couple hundred bullets ago." Right then and there, you know Max means business.

There is also heavy drug use in the game. Max uses pain killers to gain back lost health saying, "This will stop the pain for a little while," when he pops them. Max reminds me a lot of Michael Douglass in the movie Falling Down or Charles Bronson in Death Wish (you fill-in about any number) in that he is doing generally good work, only his methods are way, way over the line.

The graphics in the game are excellent as everything is photo realistically rendered. Even the bullets are actually bullet-looking. If you are in bullet time you can see shiny brass and copper projectiles whizzing past. You can also shoot or otherwise break most of the stuff in the game. Bullet holes in concrete look different from ones in wood, and flame weapons like Molotov cocktails leave ugly charcoal patches on the ground once they have flamed out.

Bullets also supposedly follow realistic physics laws. Basically, the game has slowed down bullets so they do not instantly hit their target like they do in most games. I am not so sure this makes it more accurate though. I do a lot of target practice with various weaponry in real life, and pretty much as soon as you pull the trigger for all intents and purposes the bullet, which can be traveling as fast as 4,000 feet per second with some rifles, hits the paper 100 yards away before you can say "bullseye." With shotgun pellets the speed is much less, around 1,000 feet per second, but that is still pretty fast. Anyway, this rarely comes into play in the game, I just thought it was a little bit odd.

Max Payne is one of the best shooters, first or third person, that I have ever played. The only real disadvantage to this beautiful shooter is that you need a pretty high-end computer to run it at full resolution. I tested Max Payne on a 1.5 GHz IBM with a GeForce graphics card, and at times I noticed a bit of slowdown, though the game was easily playable. If you have a slow computer, you might want to think about upgrading before you tackle Max Payne.

This is a highly intense, enjoyable game for adults only. It gets a five out of five GiN Gems, because it’s easily the best in its category.

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