A game review by Bobulous.
A third-person shooter (you see the character you control — think Tomb Raider) by Remedy. Very simply, you make your way through one level after another, killing everything in your path with an arsenal of firearms.
Given the anticipation this game had generated, I was pleased to see Electronics Boutique in Sutton selling it for £29.99. Thanks to whoever sets the price.
Installation was no problem. In fact, the game even reads your keyboard mapping so that people using non-standard keyboard layouts (e.g. Dvorak) don't have to spend any time configuring the keyboard controls from the default. A very welcome feature.
Third-person perspective is not my favourite game mode. It's unrealistic (being able to see around walls and corners by rotating your character and panning the view), and weapon aiming is difficult when your character is close to obstacles (round after round of ammunition smashes into the wall below your crosshair — a very bad thing when dealing with explosive ammo). But for Max Payne I'll make an exception. You see, Max Payne has a special skill: he can invoke Bullet Time. You've seen the Matrix, right? If not, a brief attempt at explaining something that really has to be seen:
Bullet Time allows Max Payne to see everything in slow motion, allowing him to move with lighting reflexes, dodging bullets as they cruise through the air towards him, aiming his weapon with lethal accuracy, and taking on roomfulls of gun-wielding opponents. What this means in game terms is that time slows to a crawl, Max can only move as fast (slow) as the enemy, but your brain is still running at full speed so your reactions become, within the game, bullet quick. Also, Max can aim his weapon at normal speed, so he can target three or four enemies in the blink of an eye. Shootdodging uses Bullet Time to allow Max to dive in slow motion, gliding through the air sideways, guns blazing. This all looks so incredible, that it's worth having a third-person perspective.
In fact, this game is all about stunning visuals. To even run the game satisfactorily in LOW quality graphics mode, your graphics system needs to have a 3DMark2001 score of 900 3DMarks or more. My system barely passes this score, so I can only play the game in the lowest quality mode. With Bullet Time and all the variety in and between levels, the game is great looking already, but I'm slightly disappointed because I know the graphics have a lot more to offer those with more powerful systems. (To play in MEDIUM quality mode, the manual recommends a 3DMark2001 score of 2200 3DMarks or more. I would have to buy a GeForce 3 card to attain a score like that, and I can't do that at current prices.)
Playing the game is a purely action-oriented affair. There are minor tasks that have to be performed to make your way through the levels (hitting switches to lower bridges, etc.) and some tasks are subtle enough to become puzzles to people as slow as me, occasionally leaving you swearing "I'm stuck! Where do I go now?" Keep an eye open and you'll spot the tricks needed to continue. But, such brain exercising aside, this game is action, action and nothing but action. The only controls you need are the movement keys, the weapon select keys, the Bullet Time key, and of course the fire button. This is not a game that gives you an inventory full of tools, maps, and keycards, nor are there any RPG character-building elements. There is no stealth or strategy either; you cannot creep up on the enemy. You are simply expected to charge into each arena full of weapon-carrying thugs, guards and assassins, firing off hundreds of rounds of ammo. It's almost mindless, but the enemy provide more than enough challenge to keep you wide awake. If things get too hairy to handle at full speed, you can drop into Bullet Time and take them all on, one bullet at a time. You don't get unlimited Bullet Time, and it does run out if you use it for long. You refill your supply by killing a bunch more enemies. A simple system, but it works.
The game is broken into three story parts, each part separated into chapters. Each chapter is introduced with a graphic novel sequence with audio, a nice way of setting the story and dealing with in-game dialogue. The story that the game unravels in nothing really original, but it holds the game together beautifully, and makes the game so much more satisfying. It really forms an integral part of the experience. Another step towards a future where it's difficult to tell the difference between games and movies.
The designers have an amusing sense of dark humour. At one point, you're battling mobsters in a hotel corridor while a television set is blaring away awful dialogue from a cheesy soap. The guards in some buildings have conversations that you overhear if you let them live long enough, talking about their wife and kids right before you're supposed to blow them to bloody pieces. During a hallucination, Max has a phone call from himself telling him he's the star of a computer game. Plenty of cruel cracks to bring a crooked smile to the face.
Progression through the game never becomes tedious, despite the game route being absolutely linear — there are no alternate routes at any point, no choices to be made. The levels are simply a twisted route of death-filled rooms and corridors. But so varied and effect-filled they are. You adventure through streets, run-down buildings, industrial plants, offices, car parks, and more. You suffer through beatings, trippy nightmares, and exploding mazes of fire. You overcome all manner of obstacles. You see so many breathtaking sights. It really is one Hell of an experience.
As to fighting through the experience, you build up a fairly impressive arsenal of realistic and satisfying weapons. And, unusually, I managed to find a use for every single weapon during the course of the game. Normally these games present me with one or two weapons that you use once for a laugh, use once against an enemy, realise is useless in practice, and never touch again. Max Payne finds a use for every weapon, although the melée weapons are fairly awkward, and only useful for smashing windows and boxes. Enemy AI is not impressive, but it's not bad either. Your foes whole-heartedly try to end your life, even if they're not cunning in their efforts to do so, but they provide an ample challenge (which seemed to get harder as I advanced through the three parts). Once you've completed the game in standard mode, two more difficulty modes are opened up to offer even further challenges. Loading time for the game is good (compared to the slug-slow Severance: Blade Of Darkness, for instance), and reloading within the same level after you die is almost instantaneous. Which makes me very happy.
My only complaints are about the sound and the graphical complexity of the final level. The sound sounds great, but it fades in and out as you rotate around, and this is slightly off-putting at times. I assume this is a result of the game being designed for people with surround-sound speakers, but I'm not sure. And the complexity of the final two levels is great enough to strain the graphics card even further, causing jerkiness for people with systems that sit right on the edge of acceptable power. But people with mighty gaming systems probably won't notice either of these problems.
One final point: I completed the game in ten days, and I am far from a determined player; I estimate that I spent between fifteen and twenty hours playing this game through. A hardcore player may well finish the game off within three days. Whether this sounds like a short game or not, it certainly didn't feel brief to me.
A purely action-based game. No brain required. Those of you who liked Deus Ex but couldn't stand DooM or Duke Nukem probably won't get much from this. It's an action-lovers game.
For action-lovers, though, this is the greatest 3D game made so far, even if it is short in terms of gaming hours. All the weapons, all the locations, all the mayhem, and an unfolding story of vengeance to justify it all. Bullet Time is a an effect that could induce a maniacal grin from even your pacifist grandmother. You must experience this game.
I don't think I need say any more. (Except that you really ought to have a powerful machine to play this game.)
Here are a few general tips (and spoilers) for people who don't like to learn the hard way. (Try the hard way first. It's always more fun.)