Reviews From The Backroom: Max Payne
It is an almost universal rule that games don't translate well into movies. There's Super Mario Bros., DOOM, Tomb Raider, even this game. The overall feel just doesn't translate through the adaptation process, and the story and characters are usually given a whole different feel. But I'm getting off track.
So, what if a game has the FEEL of a movie?
The 2001 release Max Payne is the most notable attempt at doing just that. Set in "current Day" New York City, Max Payne is the story of a detective who's wife and child are murdered by junkies, causing him to go undercover in the DEA to try and hunt down the source of the designer drug that caused the death of his family. The game takes mulitple twists throughout, but never loses the feeling of being fast-paced and exciting, and is always easy to follow. The game was designed with an overall Noir feel to it, and it carries throughout the game-play and story quite well.
Everything in the game is presented with a dark, dirty, grainy feel to it. Considering that it mostly takes place in Hell's Kitchen; the environments, which go from abandoned subway stations to slums, all generally seem to flow together. All of the cut-scene's are presented in a graphic-novel approach, with full voice overs reading off the panel-by-panel dialog. Truly, presentation is the strongest point.
When it comes to game play, Max Payne also has one of the high-points in the industry. Not only are the enemies multiple and the locations varied, this game was the first notable attempt to do the now bemoaned "Bullet-time" mechanic. Many games have since tried to incorporate or re-invent it, but Max Payne is still one of the few that does B.T. well. The controls for it are not only easy to master and use fluidly, but are also customizable, and thankfully so. This game is very, very challenging and fast-paced, and requires that the player use bullet-time in almost every encounter. This comes through the most towards the end of the game, where enemies are multiple, weapons are powerful, and the targets can soak up more bullets than Godzilla.
Besides that, the approach to weaponry was a relatively new idea. Instead of registering the gunfire as "Where the cursor is is where the bullet lands", the bullets in game are fully rendered objects. When a gun is fired in game, the bullet originates from the players weapon, and is displayed as flying through the air, with any objects between the player and their target effecting where it lands. Besides that, all the bullets fly at different speeds, and weapons are given individualistic shot groupings.
But, when it comes down to environment and game-play, sometimes there is a slight breaking point.
There are times when this games' age does show through. While the feel is presented well, the literal environment often falls through. Environments tend to show clear surface textures, but the size and shape of it don't always hold up. Objects that are placed in to make a location feel proper and complete often appear to be blocky or incomplete themselves, as if they were thrown in only to be seen at a distance or out of the corner of the eye. Besides that, the locations often include so FEW objects that when things such as item crates and boxes show up, they are too obvious; giving the player no challenge in finding them and giving the location a cluttered, unfinished feel.
Besides looks, the locations vary so often and in such a short amount of time that sometimes, one has a hard time believing in the presented game world. This is most evident in the final part of the first act, where the player goes from running across multiple roof-tops and through several buildings, only to end up in a Gothic nightclub in the next scene. That last transition in particular is made with an almost perceptible clunk.
The strongest points displayed in this game are not real locations at all, but consist of two dream sequences after Max gets knocked out with drugs. These consist of environments that twist perception and speed at an alarming rate, and end up being completely unpredictable joy-rides through the guilt-ridden psyche of the main character.
Unfortunately, the environments also feel as if they go a bit unused. While they vary to a large degree throughout the entire game, there is very little interaction with the environs or even other characters. Game-play ultimately boils down to shooting, shooting, and even more shooting. The puzzle sequences in-game are so simplistic and tacked-on that they feel almost laughable. Kill a room full of dudes to get a key for that door. Run from the fire. Find a way downstairs. Do an escort mission. Hide behind a statue. Use this crane to lift the box we've already tied to the end of it. And my personal favorite: Use three switches to move back-stage backdrops to get to that other door.
As for weapons and items, simplicity is also the name of the game here, but it's more of a positive than anything else. Weapons go into one of six groups: Melee, pistols, shotguns, automatics, incendiary/explosive, and the sniper rifle. These groups all differ greatly from one another and have variances within the weapon group. This aids in, not only being more capable of taking on a given situation, but also in assuring that the player is able to fight progressively more powerful enemies with progressively more powerful weapons, preventing the need for the addition of character modification. When it comes to items, you only really have one: the painkillers. Not only can the player pick up and carry up to 8 at a time, but they are easily identifiable and scattered around the world in a way that's believable.
Max Payne is an older game, and unfortunately carries that feeling, but the game-play, story, and overall size of this game makes it a unique foray into just how a movie-like game should feel. Besides that, it is available for just about any platform you care to name. As for a recommendation, all I can say is that this kind of game may or may not appeal to just about anybody, so check out a demo before going and putting down money on a copy.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!