Stop! Bullet Time! (U Can’t Touch This)
It was the 27th day of July – a Friday, and it was hot. It was the kind of
heat that turns good fans bad, circulating hot air around the office like an
endless stream of the dragon’s breath. We were all sweltering, but it was business
as usual, and business as usual meant not much business at all. We wondered
if anything could pry us from Lady Monotony’s vise-like grip.
Then he walked in.
It was police officer (and developer Remedy’s newest baby) Max Payne.
He charged into the office like a rabid hyena on steroids. He was spouting some
crazed, insane babble about Valkyries, drugs and being set up. None of it made
any sense to me, just the inane rantings of a desperate insomniac. But before
I could escort him to the door, he shoved me to one side and leapt into the
CD tray of our innocent computer.
I wasn’t gonna stand in his way. After all, Remedy says his whole life was
ripped apart in a New York minute – whatever the hell that means. All we knew
was he looked rough. Or maybe he just smelled something foul. His face
was contorted like something
hurt bad, the kind of pain that can only come from a diet of reheated Nacho
Belle Grandes and endless cups of 7-11 coffee. But even still, we couldn’t turn
him away. The man was on a hell-bent, by-any-means-necessary (yet extremely
short) mission to right wrongs. Max wanted revenge, cold and sweet, but
he needed our help.
Max made it onto the GR hardrive without a hitch, but completely disagreed
with my Seagate 28Gig HD at home. Why? The jury’s still out on that one. Just
know that Remedy’s tech support is only open Mon-Fri, 9-5 Eastern time. So we
advise against installing Max over the weekend.
No more than five minutes of gameplay had expired before I realized what Max
was babbling about when he stormed the GR office. Gorgeous and atmospheric story
boards ala comic book graphic
novels, complete with sequential panels and word balloons filled with pulp detective
dialogue, grace the segments between the intense action and graciously compliment
the game’s gritty noir feel. Definitely a pretty way to present a story, which
ain’t half bad.
The pictures describe the brutal murder of his wife and baby daughter, an intricate
setup for the murder of his partner and some new drug called Valkyr that is
plaguing the streets of New York. It’s all connected somehow and had funneled
into a narrow, bullet-riddled mental causeway that is Max‘s singular
obsession…and now ours.
Once the initial graphic novel sequence passes the first thing that immediately
draws attention is the mouth-watering visuals. The adherence to realism and
meticulous detail is simply amazing. The textures are some of the best we have
ever seen – hands down. They’re vibrant without being too colorful to detract
from the game’s dark, brooding atmosphere.
Plus, the level of destruction and incredible object interaction is enough
to make a grown man cry. For example, when a stray bullet bites into a wall,
the tiles crumble apart like a crisp Frito under the leaden heel of your neighborhood
game geek. And it’s not just walls – paper, boxes, bottles, water coolers, glass
windows, wooden staircases – every surface and object reacts appropriately when
met with speeding hot lead. A true technical achievement!
While his visuals are outstanding, Max‘s gameplay is relatively status
quo for a third-person shooter. Most of your time is spent running and gunning
through virtual New York’s realistically designed levels and buildings, dealing
hot projectile death with the game’s multitude of weapons (from a baseball bat
to pistols to machine guns) and picking up ammo and painkillers from fallen
But where other games simply go through the paces, Max Payne offers a new technical
innovation that has to be seen to be believed. Welcome to the John Woo-esque,
Matrix inspired ballet that is shoot-dodging and bullet time.
These are two of the coolest and most stylistic features to be introduced to
the action genre since the polygon.
With a press of the right mouse button while standing still, time is slowed
down to a snail’s pace for a few seconds, but moving the cursor and aiming remains
in real-time. The result is a beautifully executed tactical advantage for you,
Max, and the vendetta at hand. It gives you a few extra seconds to dodge or
target your foes. Move in any one of the four main directions (forward, back,
left and right) and press the right mouse button and Max will perform the classic
shootdodging maneuvers (jumping sideways and forwards or flying backwards with
guns blazing) that have made Hong Kong and now US action movies so popular.
A meter indicates
how much slow motion time you have and can be replenished by dispatching more
baddies. Both of these tricks are quite handy when faced with numerous enemies.
We just wish the odds were better stacked against Max in order to force
you to shootdodge and bullet time your way through more areas.
The end result is incredibly cool and leads to some of the most startlingly
cinematic sequences in town. Imagine entering a room with three bad guys, jumping
up on a table, then slowing time down as you leap sideways in the air, rotating
your body to unload a few shotgun shells into the bastards. Their bullets whiz
over your head (you actually SEE the bullets)….but yours find their mark.
The bullet-time ends, the dust clears, and the carnage has been wrought. Awesome.
Many of us were concerned how the control would fare in this new environment.
Well, relax – moving Max around is a simple affair. Anyone familiar with
the first-person shooter genre will instantly run and gun with ease. Yep, our
boy Payne is manipulated by the now standard W, A, S and D on your keyboard
and aiming is handled with the mouse. Easy peasy!
The sound is fine, but not stellar. Often Max‘s voice sounds like it’s
coming from some remote location other than the character. Weird! Many of the
guns didn’t have that bassy boom that commands your enemies’ attention. Max
could learn a lot from an old fogey like Counter-Strike.
On the flipside, the voice-acting is very good, and, when coupled with the cool
music, complements the dark atmosphere.
And then there’s those annoying platformer elements. We don’t want to spoil
anything, but man, is it lame. Frankly, we’d rather be shooting and dodging,
slowing down time and emptying clips into the well-modeled bad guys. The platform
bits just seem thrown in to break the monotony, and it still feels like a waste
of game space.
Which isn’t to say that more varied gameplay is a bad thing. In fact, it’s
too bad Max doesn’t offer more variety. There are no vehicles to hop
into and drive around New York or really anything else FUN to break from the
running and gunning (again, the platform parts aren’t particularly pleasing).
It’s just a straightforward third person shooter…albeit overflowing with technological
Sadly, your adventure with Max will be over before you know it. It took
us between 12-15 hours to complete the whole game. That’s really short considering
how long it took them to make the game.
This also means that the replay value is suspect. Completing the game leads
to harder difficulty settings and the cool but tough ‘New York Minute’ mode.
Here the player has to motor through each level with a clock counting down from
1 minute. You need to kill baddies to obtain more time. It’s pretty intense,
but it’s still just redoing the same levels in the same order with the same
sequences over and over again. And since there is no multiplayer, you better
get used to killing those CPU bad guys.
Replay value is upped due to the built-in level editor, but it’s just not as
easy to use as advertised. It might be simple enough for veteran designers,
but most gamers will find it daunting and unwieldy. I don’t doubt many of you
tech-philes out there will figure it out, though, so expect the mod scene to
explode in the coming months. Can you say Matrix mod?
While not without its flaws, Max Payne is a must-have for any PC action
gamer. It looks simply unbelievable, the gameplay and control is easy and intuitive,
and the bullet time makes it the premier action game on the PC. We’ve entered
a new realm here, people, and I can see the spoon.