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Developer:
Remedy
Publisher: Gathering of Developers, 3D Realms
Platform: Windows
Release Date: July 25, 2001

by Nimish Dubey




Remember all those spaghetti westerns that one used to get on the fifties and sixties? The ones where the hero indulged in a series of blazing gunfights to settle a score with a bunch of outlaws before riding off into the sunset? I remember watching dozens of them spellbound. At the end of it all, I would sit and wonder about the cowboy hero (generally Clint Eastwood) always overcame such terrific odds or seemed to pull off amazing stunts at the drop of a hat. But those thoughts always came well after the curtains had come down. While the movie was on, one only had eyes and ears for the action on the screen.


Well, Max Payne is a bit like that.


One can cast aspersions galore at the game once it is over – it is too violent, requires little intellect and is based on a rather simplistic tale. But there is no time for such analysis while the game is on. Few games have ever served up the kind of hectic non-stop action that Max Payne does - it is one exquisitely packaged whirlwind ride and definitely not one for those who want to keep their hands clean.


But to proceed logically, Max Payne comes on a single CD and installed without any hitches whatsoever on my Compaq (Windows XP, Athlon 1.4 GHz, 256 MB RAM). There were no requests for restarts. Gameplay is relatively simple, although one has to learn to mix and match mouse and keyboard commands for best results.


The first thing that hits you about the game is its sheer slickness. Unlike other games, Max Payne does not use cut scenes to move the story on. Instead, what we get is a series of comic strips featuring the main characters of the game. A very nice touch backed up with a script that seems right out of Raymond Chandler – there were times when I expected Max to quietly announce that he was in fact Phillip Marlowe.


The story is simple enough. Max Payne is a police detective whose family – a wife and young child - is killed by a couple of drug addicts high on Valkyr (a banned substance). An infuriated Max kills the murderers his decides to take vengeance by breaking down the drugs cartel. However, as he gets drawn into the politics of the underworld, Max discovers that his wife might not have been a random victim but that her murder might have been part of a conspiracy – one that involves not just gangsters but even members of the police force. Needless to say, as the game progresses Max finds himself targeted not only by the criminals, but also some of his former colleagues. And he has no choice but to shoot his way out.


It is around this rather simple ‘cop gone berserk’ tale that Max Payne generates shoals of action. The game takes place in the third-person perspective so one can actually watch Max take out the opposition even as he executes some stunning moves. The most spectacular effect is undoubtedly the Bullet Time feature, which allows Max to dodge bullets in slow motion a la Neo in The Matrix! There are also jumps galore and the odd clever puzzle to figure out. The graphics are simply stunning and the voice acting more than adequate. But basically the game is all about shooting – you can almost smell the cordite in the air.


Unlike many first-person shooters that place a decidedly exotic arsenal at the disposal of the hero, Max Payne mainly sticks to conventional weapons – there are Berettas, Colts, Desert Eagles and the odd heavy explosive launcher. Also on offer are Molotov cocktails, grenades and the good old sniper rifle. And what a sniper rifle it is! Use it to take a long distance pot shot at the enemy and you will be treated to a slow motion tracking of the path taken by the bullet as it reaches the target. But for me, nothing beat the sight of Max charging into a room with a blazing Beretta in each hand, ripping off bullets into a host of gunmen.


Another feature of this game is that you don’t find ammunition just lying around. There is none of the ‘bash-a-crate-and-you-will-find-ammo-within’ philosophy that pervades the likes of Half Life and Doom. Max gets ammunition and weapons only from logical sources – dead enemies or from weapon stacks left behind. As for enemies, never fear, there are lots of them here. Although there is no supremely difficult ‘boss’ character to deal with, you are often going to find poor Max beset upon by vast numbers of adversaries armed to the teeth. Mind you, every time you knock off a group of them, the last one to fall does so in ever-so-slow motion. What a way to go!


And if there are not enough problems in the real world, one has also to reckon with Max’s dreams. Quite often, he seems to slip into nightmares, replete with eerie screams, mazes and blood-soaked paths. And it is your task to make sure he gets through them in one piece. For while he carries no weapons in his dreams, he still can fall off a ledge and end the game. Now that’s sleeping in style! There’s also an instance when Max gets a shot of Valkyr – dragging him through the dope-induced daze is quite a spine-chilling task.


On the surface, Max Payne seems to have everything going for it – wonderful graphics, stunning effects and some more than decent gameplay. However, once one finishes playing it, one cannot help but feel that one has had a tasty meal but not a filling one. The fact that Max has to kill almost every person he comes across in the game is rather distressing – surely one could have tried a different tack with some characters at least. Those who love stealth will be disappointed as well – Max is one who goes in with guns blazing rather than trying to duck in through the back door. So the storyline is basically reduced to a killing frenzy – the kind that critics of gaming simply love to highlight to bolster their case that gaming breeds violence.


Some of the puzzles are also a bit too difficult to figure out. For instance, there is a sequence in which Max has to escape from a burning building. Now, unless you choose the absolutely perfect path for him, there’s just no way he can get through. Finding that path is literally a headache as things keep exploding and there are flames everywhere. I am ashamed to say that after struggling at that stage for a week, I had to seek the help of a walkthrough. Even the end of the game is a bit difficult to work out (no, I am not going to spill the beans here, find out for yourself) as you really do not know what do and find the solution through a mix of trial and error, reducing poor Max to the status of a guinea pig that is being killed in the quest of a gaming solution!


But as I said at the very outset, all these niggles strike one well after the game has been played. Max Payne is a spectacular experience, not an intellectual one. Do not search for subtleties here or in-depth plots here – this is not a game that will win awards for its storyline or richness of character.


But then heck, Clint Eastwood never got an Oscar for acting!


Final rating: 70%


Minimum (minimum graphical detail):

  • Windows 95/98
  • 450 MHz AMD / Intel Processor (or compatible)
  • 16 MB Direct3D Compatible Graphics Card
  • 96 MB RAM
  • DirectX 8 compatible 3D accelerator
  • 4x CD-ROM or higher


Recommended (medium graphical detail):

  • Windows 95/98
  • 700 MHz AMD / Intel Processor (or compatible)
  • 32 MB Direct3D Compatible Graphics Card
  • 128 MB RAM
  • DirectX 8 compatible 3D accelerator
  • 4x CD-ROM or higher


Reviewer’s system:

  • Compaq Presario 3311A
  • AMD Athlon 1.4 Ghz
  • Windows XP
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 40 GB HDD




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