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Games I Own: Max Payne

Posted on 21st Jan 2010 at 10:50 by Joe Martin with 17 comments

Joe Martin
I don't know how, but I completely missed all of the hype and anticipation leading up to Max Payne's 2001 release. I was still very much into games at that point, but I think I must have been more into indie games and things I could get for free, so I probably wasn't reading a lot of PC Gamer previews.

The first I knew of Max Payne was when I unwrapped it at Christmas that year, though to be entirely honest that doesn't always mean it was my present. It could have been my little brother's. Either way, I played what I later learned to be one of the most anticipated and celebrated titles of all time and I enjoyed it. Not immensely, but enough to finish it and fiddle half-assedly with things like the Kung-Fu mod.

Then that was it. I've never really seen what all the fuss was about, to be totally honest.

Don't get me wrong; Max Payne is an fun game. Bullet-time was a lot more novel back then and I spent a lot of time drifting through the air in slow-mo with akimbo pistols – because they were the best weapon in the game so long as you were going for headshots. The graphics were amazing – or the textures and shaders were anyway; I always thought the geometry and animations were a bit stiff. The story was obvious and monotonous, but it did the job even if I still consider watching all the Max Payne cutscenes back to back to be just about the most masochistic thing a gamer can do.

Games I Own: Max Payne *Games I Own: Max Payne
Grumpgrumpgrump

When the game was done though...I didn't feel compelled to play it again, nor did I lament the lack of multiplayer or feel moved enough to give it any thought what so ever. I finished it, uninstalled it and went back to whatever game had previously held my attention, probably some obscure Half-Life mod. To be honest I'd kind of forgotten that I even owned it until I saw it in the bottom of my crate of games, which rests under my desk.

My interest in commercial games and buying games magazines must have been restored a few years later because I can remember reading previews of Max Payne 2 and seeing it billed as the sequel to what more than one journalist labelled as one of the most important and interesting action games of the decade. I was confused. Had I played the wrong game? I remember Max Payne as a fun game, definitely, but I also remember it as a rather unimaginative one, with a story and mechanic that doesn't evolve after the opening sequence and which sticks with it's oppresively noir themes to a fault.

Games I Own: Max Payne *Games I Own: Max Payne
Well, he got the monotone right at least...

Maybe I'm just jaded and, to be clear, I really do like Max Payne in much of the same way I like Serious Sam. It's the type of game where you switch your brain off and shoot everything that moves as quickly as possible, nothing more. You start the game with an ability. You end the game with the same ability. There's no evolution between the entrance and exit to Max's bleak world and anyone who claims the story is drawing them through clearly never bothered to engage their brain because it was always obvious what was going to happen, more or less. Throwing a secret society in at the last moment doesn't count as an original thought in this medium.

Still though, I see Max Payne 2 in Top 10 lists and I remember that it sat for a long time as PC Format's Best Action Game and I see praise piles on to the franchise. That's doubly true as Remedy prepares to release Alan Wake, also penned by Max Payne writer and model Sam Lake (and who I think does have a lot of talent if you judge his prose outside of the medium of videogames and on its own merits) and as info on Max Payne 3 trickles out. People seem to love Max Payne, rather than merely like it. People say it redefined the genre and introduced new ways of storytelling, but to me it added slow-mo and picture-based cutscenes that were self-indulgently too long.

And, by the way, all I could see that Max Payne 2 added was a new bullet-time animation.

Am I missing something here?

17 Comments

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Paradigm Shifter 21st January 2010, 11:14 Quote
Well, I liked Max Payne a lot; I liked the cutscenes (comics) and the way that the story progressed. It was innovative for the 'photorealistic textures' too - the first game to have such - although they don't compare with modern stuff, obviously.

Max Payne 2 was a huge disappointment for me, though. Either it was really easy, or I was just particularly on a roll when playing it, but it took less than six hours from first loading it to seeing the final cutscene scroll.
sear 21st January 2010, 11:27 Quote
I definitely agree. While I remember Max Payne as being a great-looking, highly visceral and cinematic game when it came out (and it certainly was), when I got around to actually playing it again due to the recent Steam sale, I was mostly underwhelmed. The story is still engaging (if predictable), but there are major problems the game has, specifically when it comes to its strict adherence to antiquated gaming customs. The old trial-and-error rears its head literally around every corner, with enemies so lethal and with such great reaction times that the only way to make it through the game is to memorise the exact position of every enemy... or just quicksave a million times. Then there's the grenades... oh god, you think they're annoying in Call of Duty 4 on Veteran, they're even worse here, with enemies throwing them at scripted moments, the arc pre-calculated to land directly in your face every time. When I got to the end of the game, I didn't feel like I'd accomplished anything. It was like going through a giant, murky gauntlet.

So yeah, I guess bullet time, slow motion and a substantial story were all pretty cool things for its time, but we've moved past them. The Matrix is more of a memory than it used to be, and even simple or crummy games have decent stories now. Max is still likable at what it tries to do, and for its historical value, but it's definitely not what I'd call a classic... more of a curious relic of the past which contains value for those who look. I definitely wouldn't recommend it as anywhere near a must-play.

Oh, and what's up with the ridiculous gameplay and story segregation? You'd think that a slow-paced film noir-tinged action game about an NYPD detective and his emotional demons would feature a slower-paced, more thoughtful play style... but no, it's a total killfest that only briefly slows down once or twice. I'd say if there's one thing Max Payne 2 improves upon the original, it's that the gameplay and story are much more unified in terms of their pacing and tone.
Xir 21st January 2010, 12:17 Quote
I stopped somewhere in the...middle?
Bullet time was cool, but tracing your steps in the silly dream-sequences...meh.
Hugo 21st January 2010, 12:27 Quote
I have only one thing to say about Max Payne: "waaaaaaaa, waaaa, waaaaaaaa." Seriously, WTF was that about?
Bauul 21st January 2010, 12:51 Quote
Pah, you fools, Max Payne was awesome. I think many people's fond memories of it come down to the way it presented a single, uniform and very striking image, which leaves a very defined Max Payne shape footprint in your memory: it's very easy to remember it with rose tinted glasses.

Ask most people about Max Payne, and they'll recall slow-mo akimbo pistols and film-noir melodrama, which in the tiny doses of a recollation are amazing. When I played it, I was mid-teens and the whole angsty nature of the game naturally appealed, and the memory of just thinking "that's so cool!" overides any actual gameplay.

Dodging bullets was awesome and all the John Woo references made me very happy. The script (whilst daft) was very memorable and instantly quotable - my younger brother will still occasionally shout "It's PAYNE!" when ever anyone enters a room. The whole thing came together to form a brilliant game, appealing for the same reasons Sin City or 300 is: simple, fun, memorable and just plain cool.

It's funny you shouldn't think much of it Joe when I know you love films like Versus and Hard Boiled, which take a very similar veign of over the top cinematic violence with no character development and a very simple plot.
cyrilthefish 21st January 2010, 12:54 Quote
Don't forget the awesome "I'm chewing a wasp" expression

http://images.techtree.com/ttimages/story/89079_max_payne1.jpg
Zoon 21st January 2010, 13:15 Quote
I guess its just a bit marmite-y for you perhaps?

I for one, never really got what the big deal about Half Life 1 or 2 is.

You shoot stuff. Some story happens. Some of the scenes in Half Life 2 are more tech demo with story overlaid with an excuse.

You kill the end boss.

The series continues, or it doesn't, depending on how good the story was, or how much money the publisher has.

I've never played a single shooter - Max Payne 1 and 2 included - where this formula has been any different when you look at it frankly and honestly, except perhaps Deus Ex, but then, that's not really a shooter anyway. Bullet time was just another weapon in your arsenal to use to kill stuff in your way.
woodss 21st January 2010, 13:17 Quote
Max payne 1 was one of the best games of my youth, grimey and all round quality.

Did you guys see this yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIhjtSY-nxg
Max payne Kung fu mod...now that was fun!
LJF 21st January 2010, 13:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by sear
The old trial-and-error rears its head literally around every corner, with enemies so lethal and with such great reaction times that the only way to make it through the game is to memorise the exact position of every enemy... or just quicksave a million times.

I used to get most of my enjoyment out of that. Even If i made it through a fight first time i'd always feel compelled to quick load and do it again. And again. And again. In order to get it as near perfect as possible.
mjm25 21st January 2010, 15:03 Quote
loved it, loved the second. especially in the fun house "this isn't my face!"
Jack_Pepsi 21st January 2010, 15:14 Quote
I bought Max Payne 1 & 2 in the Steam holiday sale but I just can't be bothered to carry on playing them. My friends & colleagues described it as one of the best games they've ever played - but I just don't care. The story doesn't grab me as much as it probably would have if I'd have had a decent enough computer back in 2001.

Still, they were cheap & it'll give me something to do when I can be arsed I suppose.
sear 21st January 2010, 16:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack_Pepsi
I bought Max Payne 1 & 2 in the Steam holiday sale but I just can't be bothered to carry on playing them. My friends & colleagues described it as one of the best games they've ever played - but I just don't care. The story doesn't grab me as much as it probably would have if I'd have had a decent enough computer back in 2001.

Still, they were cheap & it'll give me something to do when I can be arsed I suppose.
Play it in small doses, but don't leave too much space in between. Being divided into short levels of about 20 minutes each, it's pretty easy to pick up and play, then put down again.
Jack_Pepsi 21st January 2010, 16:05 Quote
Yeah, I'm finding that - I also bought Ghostbusters and Killing Floor to which took most of my attention. Think I'll give Max another run tonight if I'm not blowing the heads of 'the Specimens'.
Zero_UK 21st January 2010, 16:45 Quote
Max Payne was quite simply amazing. The film is well... not...
stoff3r 21st January 2010, 20:35 Quote
It was a great game, and any pc could handle it on max graphics or somewhere around that.
yakyb 22nd January 2010, 08:38 Quote
I completed it first time around but every time i try to play again i only get as far as the mob boss then stop
DragunovHUN 27th January 2010, 12:53 Quote
Max Payne is still in my Top 5 bestest games of ALL TIME list. Thanks for the youtube link.
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