Max Payne – PS2
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Rockstar Toronto
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date (NA): December 6, 2001
Genre: 3rd-Person Shooter
Nerd Rating: 7.4 out of 10
Reviewed by Dovahkyle
A fugitive cop game greatly inspired by the 1999 hit, The Matrix (though this game is not set in a virtual/future reality), the key game features are clearly adopted by the successful film. From the start, this feels like a Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez flick similar to Sin City – although the movie was great, I couldn’t have imagined at the time a game of equal proportions. Right off the bat, I was sucked into the story of a New York City cop that was wronged in all the right ways – ways that would make any sane and moral man become the most vile and vengeful creature to ever walk the planet, with literally nothing to lose.
You may have seen the movie, which was in my own opinion a sad representation of the game, I appreciate the great acting, but I didn’t appreciate the slow moving and ultimately boring plot. I remember trying to watch this movie on two different occasions, and both times I ended up falling asleep before it ended. Such a thing is rare for me, for not only am I an avid gamer, I’m also a big movie buff, especially if it’s on a subject that intrigues me, such as one of the most unique games for the PS2 I have ever played.
“The starting point was this archetype of the private eye, the hard-boiled cop” -Sam Lake (Story and Scriptwriter)
This would have been one of those games that everyone says, “This would make a great movie!,” but the movie never materialized. It seems the anticipation of such things appears much better than the actual thing itself. I am so afraid the same will happen when the Halo series actually becomes a movie. Anyway, my brother (if you have read any of my reviews, you will know he is the main reason I have been introduced to most games in that time period) brought this game to my apartment telling me “It’s just like the matrix bro, you’ll love it.” So, needless to say, we gave it a go. My brother was rarely wrong about the quality of a game (except for the Tony Hawk series, in which I sucked and he was awesome. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was actually a skater in real life).
After finding his family slaughtered by junkies, Max Payne, the renegade cop, transfers to the DEA, to stop the trafficking of a new drug, Valkyr, which makes people turn into hallucinating super soldiers. As the player takes control of Max, sometimes in reality and sometimes in hallucinations, guns, pain pills and ammo will become the life or death choices. Bullet-time, which allows time to slow to the speed of a “Matrix-type reality,” where Max can actually see bullets in the air and shoot multiple targets while diving into cover. This becomes all the fun of the game; as I entered a room, I could simultaneously dive into the corner and shoot every enemy in the area before they even got a shot off.
If a couple bullets hit me, it wouldn’t be long before I ran across a couple good bottles of aspirin, which would refill my health bar. Some weapons can be dual-wielded, which really makes Max a deadly combatant, especially because of Bullet-time. It takes a while to get used to the third-person perspective as most shooter games of the time were first person, but I really don’t see how this game could have been such a success without having the strange perspective to allow for the “launching through the air” scenes. I rarely entered a room without a slo-mo jump and shoot. It became a constant form of battle in this title.
The game is split up like a playbook: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, with subparts/chapters totaling at 22. The game isn’t too short, but it’s not too long either, as a game like this could start getting tedious quickly. The bullet-time, which can be activated by hitting the “L-2” button on the Dual Shock 2, is governed by a meter. When this meter runs down, no more bullet-time. The meter can be recharged by killing more enemies. Another technique is the bullet dodge. Yes, you can dodge bullets by hitting the “R-2” button along with the desired direction and Max can actually dodge bullets. This will tap into the Bullet-time meter a little, but totally worth it.
If I ever started to doubt I was in the correct area, or what I was supposed to be doing, Max would usually just say it out loud as if he was talking to himself. An explanation mark will show up near Max’s head when I was near something I needed to obtain or activate, so I wasn’t attempting to activate every stinking object I came across. Weapons range from pistols to shotguns, to sniper rifles. And of course, you got your grenades as well. Most of the time I was duel-wielding fully automatic Ingrams whenever I had the ammo supply.
It is a sad thing to imagine walking in on a bunch of drug addicts in your home, only to realize they just killed your wife and daughter. The pain I felt for Max right at the beginning of the game really made me hate those people. The story is quite believable. In his efforts to stop the trafficking of Valkyr, Max discovers more than he could have ever imagined, going way beyond street dealers. I refuse to spoil the plot for you so take my word for it, this game will leave you wanting more, which is really what we want from a game. We yearn for the need to have a sequel, and sequels of Max Payne will be had. His story isn’t that of a wrongfully accused man, but that of a man who had everything taken from him and was still expected to perform his duties. This is just not possible for someone of his nature, or most people. Some might just break down in depression, and some might pick up the two nearest guns and start working their way to the top – Max Payne is of the latter.
As you work your way through the 22 chapters, you will start to feel as if you are actually on Max’s side in all this. It’s partially due to great writing, great voice acting, and awesome cinematography with a comic book feel, but it’s also partly due to the vengeful, violent reaction to these people that Max is capable of. There has just not been enough games with truly good stories like this one.
The graphics aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re better than GTA III, which was the other title I was enjoying at the time. The details of the environments and scenery are good, but not too crazy. The game has a very dark feel to it. It’s like a back alley, private eye kind of game – low lit rooms and comic style lighting effects and shadows make it feel kind of gloomy, but all the action really keeps your eye on the enemy and the hunt for pain pills/ammo more than the scenery itself. As for the sound, the voiceovers during the cutscenes, which are just comic strips, are deep and dark, keeping up with the strong psychological aspects of the game.
Although there are different difficulties and settings to make Max Payne more interesting, the linear, mission-based levels and badly programmed AI keep this game as a once through. I understand some may just want to challenge themselves and play through a second time, maybe, but I didn’t and won’t. It’s a great game for the first time playing, and I loved it, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it again as the AI for the enemies is really just pre-scripted and not really AI at all, so fighting the same enemies in the same levels could easily become tedious or even boring.
Bottom line, Max Payne for the PS2 is an awesome third-person shooter without the crappy camera problems that the Tomb Raider titles were known for. The story is deep and heart-wrenching, and the action is fast and violent – everything I could ask for in a shooter. There is no multiplayer in the game, so one person, once through and you’re done. But for the price, how could you go wrong? Give it try…
*FS Rating System*
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