A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

Jordan Deam | 25 Aug 2009 12:45
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A Man With Nothing to Lose

Of course, Bullet Time offers more than eye-popping visuals or an unspoken storytelling device. At the end of the day, it's a game mechanic; it's there to give you a new tool to play with, to open up new tactics and to encourage you to take risks that you wouldn't otherwise take. There's a sweet spot in shooter gameplay between excessive caution and reckless disregard for your health and safety; Bullet Time helps nudge you into that zone by acting as a sort of trump card over logic. Common sense suggests that jumping headfirst into a room full of heavily armed hoodlums would be foolhardy, but with enough Bullet Time in your reserves, any other course of action seems woefully inadequate.

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That's not to say that Bullet Time is a cop out - like health and ammo, it's another limited resource that you must carefully manage to guarantee your success. The mechanic didn't start out that way: In a 2003 interview with IGN, Lead Designer Petri Järvilehto explained that the concept was originally conceived as a part of the environment rather than an ability inherent in the character: Players would enter Bullet Time "zones" where combat would take place entirely in slow motion until Max was the last man standing. While that implementation ensured that players got the most mileage from the slow-motion effect, it had the unintended side effect of rendering high-octane gunfights into low-speed chases whenever there were stragglers.

It's a good thing the developers opted to put Bullet Time in the hands of players, because it allowed for one of the most stylish - and effective - techniques in all of shooter-dom: the slow-motion dive. In a stroke of genius, Max Payne's default control scheme bound the "Bullet Time" and "dive" inputs to a single button, making a grand entrance into any room a mere keystroke away. You're vulnerable the moment you hit the floor, but with a steady enough aim, your assailants are usually dead by then anyway. It's glorious.

Perhaps that's why, eight years after Max Payne hit store shelves, developers are still offering their own unique takes on Bullet Time. With one simple maneuver, videogames sprang into a new mode of player expression; suddenly, navigating only three dimensions seemed quaint by comparison. Perhaps videogames are due for another paradigm shift. Until then, however, we'll watch the shell casings hang suspended in thin air and listen to our 90-decibel heartbeats as we wait for the effects to wear off.

Jordan Deam is Features Editor of The Escapist.

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