by Mike Shea on 14 February 2003
Next to Halo, Max Payne is the best single player game on Xbox. Excellent graphics, excellent sound, a great story, and wonderful action all tie together an excellent classic game. Add in the fact that Max Payne can now be purchased for $30 and you have a true value.
At its heart, Max Payne is a 3d shooter. Unlike Quake or Doom, it is third person rather than first person. This gives you better identification with our hero, Max, as he blasts his way through a twisted and dark plotline. The play style is almost completely shooter based, there are only a few spots where you have to do anything other than blast your way to the top. There are some platform elements to the game, but for the most part they aren't too difficult and don't detract too much from the game. It isn't a very long game, and replay value is limited, but you will enjoy every minute that you play through.
Bullet Time is probably the biggest selling point of the game. Unlike the frenzy of chaotic shooting you have in games like Unreal Championship, Max Payne gives you an easy way to slow down time. You can use it to dodge bullets, position yourself better, or kill two guys in opposite sides of the room. The effect is very well done. The sound becomes muffled, as if underwater. Bullet trails can be seen, even swarms of buckshot stream past your head as you dive in slow motion. It is a great effect and adds a lot of life to what would otherwise be a typical boring shooter. I have not seen this effect ever done so well before.
The guns are the main tool of the game and they give you everything you could possibly want. The guns are based off of modern day, nothing goofy like BFGs, nailguns, or plasma rifles. Because of the obvious tie to John Woo hong kong action movies and the Matrix, you get some two-handed shooters like twin Barettas and twin Ingram Mac 10s along with your typical array of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and explosives. The molotav cocktails are a lot of fun, and the sniper rifle is ok, but I really want one that jerks when you fire like in the movie "Way of the Gun" or the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Overall, the selection of firearms is top notch.
I won't get into the story too much, but it is dark enough to keep your attention and keeping your fingers from skipping the cut scenes. The cut scenes are graphic novel style stills that seem a little jerky. The load times between levels and cut scenes gets annoying, mainly in the beginning where it happens a lot. Two key scenes are also the two scenes where you have to figure things out without guns, each beginning chapters 2 and 3 of the three main chapters. They are a tad annoying the first time through but not too difficult for amature gamers like myself.
The graphics for Max Payne are some of the best I have seen on the Xbox. There is a huge lack of alias artifacts, one of my biggest pet peeves with these new generation game systems. A 16x9 formatted picture would have been a huge improvement, but even stretched the game looked great. Snowfall actually looks like snowfall instead of static like Mechassault has. The framerate is very consistent. I am not sure if it is 30 or 60 frames a second but it is solid enough that I don't care.
The sound in Max Payne is also excellent. It makes full use of Dolby Digital, with bullets, voices, explosions, and the excellent bullet-time effects using the surround channels a lot. This game begs for a good sound system.