Is there anything more groan-inducing in a modern FPS than the half-assed inclusion of “Bullet Time” time-control mechanics? No? Then why was it so cool back when it burst onto the scene with Max Payne?
It’s been almost a decade since embittered NYPD detective Max Payne dove onto the scene in slow-motion with a hail of gunfire back in 2001, and since then it seems like every developer and their dog has been hard at work putting Bullet Time-esque mechanics into their action games. Need a “hook”? Why not give players the ability to slow time? Brilliant! But as hackneyed and cliche as Bullet Time is today, it wasn’t always so. In Issue 216 of The Escapist, Jordan Deam looks back at why we loved the idea in Max Payne, and why it keeps coming back.
In The Matrix, Neo’s hyper-perceptive mind unlocked abilities foreclosed to everyone but the Matrix’s A.I. Unfortunately, there’s no such tidy in-game explanation for Max’s uncanny reflexes. Instead, we’re left to speculate. Perhaps it’s the product of some kind of painkiller-and-insomnia-induced trance state, or maybe it’s a conscious manifestation of Max’s all-consuming desire for revenge against the gangsters who killed his family. In either case, it plays out the same; whenever you activate Bullet Time, you’re exercising your character’s mental supremacy over his enemies. They see a blurry angel of death who never misses and has a penchant for gratuitous diving maneuvers. You see a carnival shooting gallery minus the stuffed animals. Aren’t painkillers great?
Maybe there’s something primal about it; maybe we just like seeing people die in slow motion. Maybe it’s that it gives us an edge in combat without seeming unfair. Maybe it just works really really well with heavy-handed film noir storytelling. For the full thing, check out “Slower Than a Speeding Bullet” in Issue 216 of The Escapist.