Max Payne (Xbox) review – In an age where it is all about the cover and simply rushing head on to take the battle directly to the enemy is out of fashion, it blows my mind that Max Payne holds up so well. Both from a narrative standpoint and gameplay this decade-old game feels every bit as old as it is and most certainly shows up some of the limitations of the previous generations of hardware. But amidst the dull visuals sits a gem of a game. A blast from the past. A reminder of a time when games were more about the fun than the message. Max Payne has adrenaline fuelled action by the bucket and I loved every pulp-filled minute of it.
Released originally on PC in 2001, and on both PS2 and Xbox a couple of years later, Max Payne was a revolution in no-holds-barred shooting, introducing bullet-time to the world of video games and effectively changing how they approached gunplay forever. No longer was having the greatest reflexes or the best memory the key to succeeding in a gun fight, rather it was about slowing down time strategically to give you an edge in battle, and look pretty damned cool in the process. On the surface bullet-time was a gimmick that made for some spectacularly cinematic action sequences in the vain of John Woo’s films, but beneath the glitz and glamour Max Payne’s gunplay subtly changed the way that we all thought about third person action games. It was arguably the first step in the direction toward full cover-based third person action employed by Kill.Switch (PS2) and more popularly Gears of War (Xbox 360), with developers Remedy employing a game mechanic that gave players a defensive option to approach any given battle. Shooting didn’t need to be a chaotic random walk dictated by equal parts chance and reflexes. Rather it could be a dance that allows the player to be in full control of how they approach the battle at all times. And it made battles dynamic and exciting.
Max Payne made similar strides in how it told the story. While not necessarily having such a lasting impact or impression on games into the future, it did create expectations for how Remedy approached narrative and storytelling for the games that followed. On the surface Max Payne was a serious story about love, loss and one man’s tale of redemption and revenge. It employed noir and classic crime novel conventions to tell its story, punctuated by cheesy but suitable pulp comic panels featuring real actors. But at the same time there was a certain ham-fisted, piss-taking feel about it all that made it hard to not laugh at even the most inappropriate times. And it all worked. Max Payne felt every bit like a piece of pulp media than it did a serious video game, something that made it stand out from its brethren way back in the early 2000’s, and something that makes it stand out even more today.
Games have changed fundamentally since 2001 and Max Payne is undeniably a relic firmly cemented in a very different time. But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t worth revisiting, or visiting for the first time. It feels like an older game, but in some ways that adds to its charm. Max Payne’s action is non-stop, the story decent and the visual and narrative style of the game is unmatched even today. More than the sum of its parts, Max Payne will undeniably go down as one of the great video games of its era and possibly all time, making it something you should experience.