Max Payne (PC) Review

By Athanasios 09.07.2021

Review for Max Payne on PC

Ever wondered why the name 'Max Payne' has almost faded to obscurity? No, it's not because of Max Payne 2 losing the charm of the original, and, no, it's not because Max Payne 3 was "just another" shooter that had little to do with the series. The reason why, is that Max Payne, the 2001 original, has always been a highly overrated title. There. It has been said. This critic understands those who are furious right now, because he was one of those that loved Remedy's John-Woo-ish (or Matrix-esque) take on the Noir Detective genre. The reason why he did, however, had nothing to do with the game itself. Confused? Read on…

Life was good. The sun setting on a sweet summer's day, the smell of freshly mowed lawns, the sounds of children playing; a house across the river, on the Jersey-side; a beautiful wife, and a baby girl. The American Dream come true - but NY cop Max Payne will soon realise that dreams have a nasty habit of going bad when you're not looking. The sun went down with practiced bravado. Twilight crawled across the sky, laden with foreboding. The hero didn't like the way the show started. But they had given him the best seat in the house. Front row centre - and this, fellow gamers, is how the actual protagonist begins explaining how he left behind him a one-thousand body count behind.

Screenshot for Max Payne on PC

...And this was the most moderate, and less verbose example. Max Payne takes the brooding detective trope of noir films, and turns the knob to eleven and beyond, offering lines like "as subtle with its dark message as a cop killer bullet through the heart," or "The moment I stepped into the room he folded like a deuce before a royal flush," and so on and forth. The titular character dresses up his sentences with corny metaphors, describing simple things in a very theatrical way - and it's awesome! It knows it's silly, but the cheese on offer never tastes sour. It all sits right in the centre of taking it extremely seriously, and none at all, blurring the lines between snarky parody and unapologetic homage.

The end result is fantastic, in a weird, '80s kind of way that's hard to describe, especially for a title that came out in the early '00s, where character slowly begun to die out in cinema and video games (and everywhere else). It also helps that Max himself carries a kind of Die Hard-era, everyman action hero vibe, combining a relatable vulnerability, mixed with his, otherwise fearless, nothing-to-lose, and super cool demeanour. Due to budget constraints, the developer used the tried-and-tested, visual novel narrative technique, with comic book panels acting as the cut-scenes, and yet, these work wonders here, never feeling like just a cheap, easy way out of an empty pocket.

Screenshot for Max Payne on PC

Note that everyone is portrayed by ordinary folk, not actors, with Sam Lake, Remedy's writer, playing Max, with the rest of the cast being comprised of his friends, family, and even his janitor! The result is something that has a strong, non-professional aura.... something that's not to be taken as an insult here. Compared to the soap opera-esque, "perfect" actors used in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, these amateurs look like real people, and, bar some exceptions, much more striking. It helps immensely that the voice acting is perfect, bringing those, otherwise, stereotypical characters to life, with James McCaffrey being what David Hayter is to Metal Gear's Solid Snake.

The story? You are basically on a path of revenge, which slowly has you unravelling a big conspiracy about a designer drug called V, which gets you entangled into the machinations of the Big Apple's upper echelon. Yes, it's a simple story, but Max Payne seems to understand how much more important presentation is. This is basically a purposely-cheesy action movie, with one-liners, over-the-top situations, and the like, and yet it doesn't sacrifice its darker aspects. The death of the hero's family, the catalyst for this violent journey, is quite shocking, something that will strike a chord with most players, get them immersed into it all, and make them feel Payne's... well, pain.

Screenshot for Max Payne on PC

Surprisingly, this also has a strong apocalyptic atmosphere. The whole thing takes place at night, and during one of the worst snowstorms ever, something that will make you feel as if everyone has abandoned the city, and that it's just Max and his enemies out there. Add to that some high-quality textures (which are photos of real-life locales), and some great ambient sound effects, and the engrossment factor increases even more. It's also neat how, although far from subtle, the game's underlying theme seems to be Ragnarök of Scandinavian mythology, which adds to the whole End Times vibe Max Payne has. Not bad for a "silly" action game, right?

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Sadly, this is where the good things end. Without any exaggeration, this isn't a very good game. There are moments when it can even be called a bad one. Is it because of how it controls? The answer is a big fat 'NO.' From this point of view, this is as good as a third-person shooter can get. The WASD & Mouse combo works as intended, and will give you absolutely no problems. You'll run, strafe, aim, and shoot as if it's your second nature. There's a variety of weapons to pick up, ranging from firearms to grenades, and if you feel like it, you can even slow down time Matrix-style for a few seconds, and decrease the chances of getting hit, while being able to watch bullets fly over Max's head.

Does this 'bullet time' ability look good? Well, too bad it's just a gimmick. Yes, it can indeed be helpful, in fact Max Payne can be downright impossible without it, but it's not as helpful as one might think it is. Sadly, there's nothing more than that here. The arsenal is diverse, but there's not really any substantial strategic value in any of those, which means that one can just stick to a preferred boom stick - usually the best one available, as ammo isn't exactly scarce. Yes, one can also hide behind objects, but since this doesn't include an actual cover mechanic, it can't exactly be called a tactic. No, the only skill players have here is F5: the Quick Save button.

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The biggest flaw is the enemy AI, and more specifically, how the bad guys shoot at you the exact millisecond an inch of Max's body enters their view. In other words, these are bots that act way too... bot-ish, which makes the opponents of an arena shooter like Quake III look like actual people. In essence, this means that, no matter how accurate and fast your aim is, the chances of dying the moment you enter a room are pretty high - bullet time or not. It's basically a roll of the dice, and it has nothing to do with how great of a tactician you are. In other words, get ready to save after every single kill, and be sure to keep F9 (Quick Load) close by. You'll need it.

In conclusion, the game is so unfair that it's basically broken. It's also mind-numbingly repetitive, as players will have to do the same thing again and again, with all enemies essentially being an army of clones, with some clones simply having better equipment. Add to that a few boring, aggravating dream sequences that drag the whole thing down, and it's hard to understand why this was so popular in its day. The explanation is rather simple. This isn't a shooter, but a highly atmospheric, deeply immersive movie that made the mistake of asking from the player to control the action. So... if not allergic to Quick Save spamming, do give it a try. You just might like it enough to stomach its issues.

Screenshot for Max Payne on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Neo-noir plus John Woo, plus the foreboding atmosphere of Norse myths, in a shooter that's great in everything... apart from the actual shooting. In other words Max Payne should not be viewed as an action game. Repetitive, uninspired, and even unfair, the action on offer is definitely this title's weakest aspect. Therefore, if looking for a great shooter, this isn't it. This is, above all else, an experience. A fantastic one, indeed, but only if you can endure the constant loop of quick saving and loading.

Developer

Remedy Entertainment

Publisher

Gathering of Developers

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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