When I was planning out this marathon and realised this was going to turn up due to the often forgotten film I was really happy. Max Payne was the coolest game ever when it came out, the bullet time system was frankly “awesome” and I really enjoyed the noir graphic novel style story telling. Does it hold up in 2020? Let’s find out!
I think this is about the only screenshot actually from the PS2 version, rather than the reskinned remaster that was released digitally…
Max Payne was first released for the PC in July 2001, then ported to the PS2 and XBOX in December that year in the US, and January/March 2002 in Europe. A version was created for the GBA and released in December 2003 / March 2004 in the US / Europe, and it has since appeared on digital stores for later consoles and Steam.
… Yep, that’s pretty much the gameplay alright!
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the gameplay is all about the bullet time. It’s a third person shooter, but rather than being entirely cover-based or all about the precise aiming, it’s all about using your bullet time meter to leap sideways or backwards, firing your handguns / machine gun/s in slow motion, taking down several people in what to them would only have been a few seconds. As satisfying now as it was back in 2002. Plus it has special kill angles like swirling around a falling body or following the bullet as it travels to the enemy that adds the little extra bit of “cool”.
Along with your bullet time meter you obviously have health (which can be recharged by taking pain killers… there’s a lesson, kids!) and ammo meters as well. Throw in some grenades and melee weapons like baseball bats and really that’s a description of Max Payne’s gameplay as a whole in one and a half paragraphs. Sometimes simple is best though!
There is only the one story mode, split into three sub-parts called “The American Dream”, “A Cold Day in Hell” and “A Bit Closer to Heaven” respectively. The only other modes are harder versions of the story mode…
Graphics and Sound:
The infamous “Max Payne face”. Why they chose this expression to be the one permanently on the character I have no idea…
The graphics are good for PS2. There are some good textures on the people, but otherwise everything has that 6th Generation “painted on” look mixed with bland scenery, which was a bit step up from the blocky mess that was the 5th Gen, and still looks fine today, with the knowledge it was released two decades ago in your head, obviously.
Sound is great. The voice work is still top notch, the gun sounds are satisfying, as are the explosions and other sound effects. The few bits of music are moody and do their job well.
Okay, admittedly the expression on Max’s face on the right would be a worse “Max Payne face” to have during the game…
Max Payne was a regular cop who came home one day to find his wife and newborn daughter murdered by some druggies high on a new drug called “Valkyr”. Three years later and Max is working undercover inside the Punchinello Mafia, the same family responsible for the trafficking of Valkyr, and during a routine meeting with his handler he gets caught up in a bank robbery by a Punchinello Underboss that not only results in his handler’s death, but he’s framed for it on TV and the Mafia find out he’s a cop all at once.
This leads Max down a path of crazy shootouts, drug-induced nightmares and betrayal as he finds out his family wasn’t killed randomly but instead his wife found out about the US government restarting research into a stamina-improving military drug that was abandoned in the early 90s, and it was a test subject of what is now known as Valkyr that was intentionally let loose in his house.
Eventually Max gets his revenge against all those who have wronged him and clears his name. That’s the quick version, anyway! There are a few more betrayals and side characters thrown in there, but that’s the main gist.
I was blown away by this when it first came out. I can’t remember when I even first heard about it, it was probably some TV show like Cybernet (who remembers that?) or an early website, but either way I was blown away. Even after I completed it there were times I went back and played through the first level or two just for the fun of the combat.
Nooo! That poor pillar! What did it ever do to you?!
Even now few games have done it better (though some, like “Stranglehold” on the XB360/PS3 are pretty much on-par but with better graphics) and sure the visuals are dated, but the gameplay and storytelling is still top-notch. I’d have no problem playing Max Payne again, even if it isn’t no longer a revolutionary thing like it was 20-odd years ago.