Max Payne Review
Being praised as one of the best PC games of the year, Max Payne is a new twist in the action genre that we've become o' so accustomed to. Created by the minds of Duke Nukem, 3D Realms has designed the very first cinematic action title, complete with slow-motion sequences that show bullets escaping from their gun-barrels and striking the faces, chests, or limbs of "evil doers". A little feature called "Bullet Time" caught the PC community by storm, as quickly Max Payne becomes one of the most heralded PC action titles of all time. A quick console port of the game would be inevitable though, right? With the PS2 as fierce as it is, it could easily handle the nature of Max Payne on its Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer, right? Right?
Visually, there really is no comparison between the PC version, or even the Xbox version. Max Payne features sustained texture quality, which is definitely not what the PS2 is capable of. The port job, courtesy of Rockstar Canada, is decent at best. When looking at what was done for the Xbox port, PS2 gamers get pretty envious, and as much as they hate to admit it, the Xbox version does look a whole lot better. Textures on the couches and whatnot are far more defined (almost as if they were pre-rendered!), while on the PS2 version they look generic and don't quite stand out as well as they should. But, other textures like doors and walls look better, as they do rival those found in the other two versions. The texturing on Max Payne and his opposing characters is practically identical on all three versions, especially since the man's grin never changes. The character detail isn't overly complex, but it does feature some pretty solid effort. The cut-scenes (not the comic book ones) are generally very good, as the explosions or any loud abruptions look almost as if they were computer generated (CG). The graphics are average, based on the standards that Metal Gear Solid 2 has set, and it simply can't be argued that not enough time was spent with the port on the PS2 version. The Xbox version was in the clear already, mainly due to its PC-based architecture. I should also point out, that Max Payne has a very jittery and jumpy frame rate that can really disturb your eyes and cause nausea. If that is the case, I do recommend giving back the game. We wouldn't want to have your parents calling up Rockstar, because you suffered a seizure. With that said, overall, the visuals are good. The textures are a mixed bag, but there's not a thing that will really turn you off; it just doesn't rise up to what MGS2 has set.
When it comes down to it all, gameplay is where it's at - and Max Payne delivers! For those who are in qualms that you had to settle for a 32-bit Syphon Filter, this is truly your best alternative, and that is not to say you have no choice. Max Payne is not only the best alternative, it's a great one too. It plays a lot like Syphon Filter, it features the weaponry of Syphon Filter and hell, like Gabe Logan, Max Payne is also wanted by the feds! The similarities, both gameplay and plot, are quite uncanny if I do say so myself. It may be me, but I just found Max Payne strikingly similar to Syphon Filter, with the exception of Bullet Time, that is to say the lack-of in Syphon'. Bullet Time is a fantastic feature that is bound to make every one who sees it awe. You can either wait for the feature to come on randomly, or you can manually turn it on, shoot your heart away and press the start button for the camera to revolve around and show the bullets coming out of their barrels. Just talking about it gets me excited! Max Payne is a heavy action game filled with the general ingredients. The story is typical, something you'd find in a B-movie production -- wife and kid gets killed, pissed off husband seeks vengeance.
Max Payne gets more than what he bargained for. In the midst of his search for vengeance, he stumbles upon an underground crime organization and has no choice but to plow through every one of them. In other words, it's do or die! The game is very straightforward, and doesn't feature much in terms of exploration. Value wise, you'll beat this game in under 10 hours. Max Payne's weaponry consists of 15 weapons. Everything from a Pump-Action Shotgun, to a Beretta (Max can use two Berettas simultaneously), a Desert Eagle, machine gun and even a Molotov Cocktail. Max's arsenal does come with a bang, and is sure to make it rain blood. Unfortunately for this game, if the visuals (the frame rate in particular) had been stronger, and the game supported a keyboard and mouse (so that the camera didn't have to be controlled with the analog) Max Payne would've not only gotten a mid-nine score for gameplay, but it would've also had a shot for the Action Game of the Year category. Max Payne isn't a terribly long game; it can be beaten in about three solid sittings. But what it lacks in value, it makes up for solid entertainment and action, contributed by Bullet Time. If you plan to play this game through once and give it back, rent it. Otherwise, this is a pretty good purchase for action buffs, in particular the John Woo and Syphon Filter zealots.
The game's sound definitely earns its mark from me. I though the sound effects were absolutely fantastic. They were loud, rock hard, and the gunshots sounded so authentic. The sound effects were certainly there, and when I experimented with my 'little' stereo system, I could've sworn Max Payne had shot me. I felt the force (as did my glass and neighbors), and the audio is truly fantastic. 'Payne even includes voice-overs, that are every bit as generic sounding as I would've expected, same goes for the voice of Max Payne himself. The clarity is pretty much perfect, nothing hisses or buzzes in the background, but the voice of Max Payne is pretty cheesy. Then again, I must admit, it suits him well. With the addition of the already mentioned, sound effects like footsteps and the sound of hollow bullet shells hitting the ground are crystal clear and add a lot to an already solid presentation. The story also plays out in a comic book presentation, as Max Payne narrates and acts it.
Where can I start about the controls? Playing the game on the PC and playing it on the PS2, is like drinking a glass of '71 Merlot, and then drinking a cup of Diet Coke. Get the picture? Even though I didn't have a hard time getting used to the controls, I did find it disappointing that I couldn't customize them the way I wanted to, but instead had only 3 choices to choose from, none of which fit my preferences. I had wanted to use the L1 and R1 buttons to strafe, and set the controls to be more like Syphon Filter, but unfortunately I couldn't. To top it off, Max Payne has no USB keyboard and mouse support for me to take advantage of; something I personally feel should be included in every PC to console port! The layout is reasonably simple, but the fact that I had few, if any, options to tinker with really drew the controls down. Every button on the controller is made use of, so keep that in mind too.
To end it off properly, allow me to mention this: between the three consoles the only substantial differences are the visuals. The PS2 version, unfortunately, suffers from a mixed back of textures. However, it doesn't look horrendous, so don't get the wrong idea. The gameplay is edgy, fierce, and there's no doubt that those who play it will enjoy it. But take note of the game's value, as it won't take too long to beat, give it 10 hours and you're there. When it comes down to it all, it's all about Bullet Time, and that alone is worth playing the game. The audio never ceases to impress, as the sound effects kick ass! The games biggest fault is the frame rate and the controls. Altogether, if you're looking for a solid PS2 action title, and you especially love John Woo flicks and the Syphon Filter series, this comes highly recommended. If you have a high-end PC, get the PC version. If you're looking for the absolute best action title on the market, then go for Devil May Cry or Metal Gear Solid 2.
12/23/2001 Arnold Katayev