Friday, August 1, 2014

VGR Max Payne 1

New York. Fugitive. Undercover Cop.

Nothing to lose...

VGR: Max Payne 
From Remedy Entertainment/3D Realms/Take-Two Interactive 
Played on PC
Also available on Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, PS3 & Game Boy Advance

Type Third-person shooter 
Year 2001

Developed by Finnish game developer Remedy Entertainment (also behind the 1996 cult classic Death Rally), Max Payne was a pretty innovative and original third person shooter. Back when TPS where still a relatively new genre, people usually favoring straightforward first person shooters over those, prior to Resident Evil 4's release anyway.

The game was published by Take-Two. After the initiaPC game, some later console ports followed by Rockstar Games.

The original idea came from the guys at Remedy who wanted to make a 3rd person action game that would mimic a big epic gritty action film, present as much movie-like as possible, granted taking into account the limitations at the time.

The project was overseen by the veteran Duke Nukem team at 3D Realms. They helped shape the project and gave Remedy an American perspective on their project

With 3D Realms, they were able to build their own engine to meet their requirements, the MaxFX Engine. Sadly, only two games would use it, this one and its later sequel. 

Finally the story was written by Finnish writer Sam Lake, who wrote the game's overall story and script, helped design the levels and was used as template for the titular Max Payne's face model. Sam Lake was a good friend of Petri Järvilehto, the founder of Remedy Entertainment.

The story follows an ex-NYPD Detective named Max Payne on a quest to avenge the brutal murder of his family.

It is told via graphic novel-like comic pages with voiceovers instead of the usual cutscenes games used at the narrate the story.

Opening in medias res, the story is taking place on December 2001. During one of the worst blizzards in recorded history New York City has ever seen. Max is a DEA Agent. He is atop a building, sniper in hands, smiling, waiting to the police to come arrest him.

Flashback. It all began three years ago. In August 1998. Back then Max was just a plain regular NYPD Detective. There was this new drug, called Valkyr, ravaging the streets of New York. A military enhancer gone wrong.

Long story short, crime was running rampant in the streets. Junkies were overwhelming the cops.

On this terrible day, his wife and baby daughter were killed by some junkies by accident as they broke into their apartment. Everything changed in a "New York minute"...

Shortly after that Max quit the police and joined the Drug Enforcement Administration.

During a raid on a mafia drug lord, his partner was killed. Max was the prime suspect due to his recent condition...

Things got... complicated.

The story was heavily inspired by film noir, hardboiled old school detective stories and Hong-Kong action cinema.

Max Payne also contains a lot of nods and allusions to Norse mythology. It's pretty original how that come to play into the game's storyline, in parallel to the whole drug-ridden streets.

Limitations are what ended making the original Max Payne a truly memorable game.

For one, cutscenes would have been too expensive for the small studio. They were forced to find instead a much simpler better effective way to animated those while avoiding the usual pre-rendered cinematics. Sam Lake, along most of the guys at Remedy, simply posed for these graphic novel cutscenes as well. Since this was a way too small budget, they couldn't hire actual actors. Which in turn helped the game somewhat. It made this original Max Payne unique, giving it a self-made low-budget indie tone. 

They gameplay was basically solely inspired by Hong-Kong action films (think John Woo).

The better way to recreate this sense of high-voltage action while allowing our protagonist to shoot his way through armies of bad guys they decide to feature the use of bullet time in the gameplay itself..

The game was actually in development long before The Matrix was released in 1999, but once the cult hit movie hit theaters it had a lasted impact on the way the crew decide to visualize the shooting mechanics.

Max Payne is a 3rd person shooter. The entire idea revolves around making gunfights fun and spectacular.

The levels are pretty big despite also being pretty straightforward. The level design input from 3D Realms really shows.

It all starts in the subway, obviously. (the 3D Realms crew really loves that trope)

Max can empty his clips of ammo while running, but also rolling or dodging to either avoid incoming fire or makes his way through his foes.

There's lots of hidden ammo and weapons to find around the clever level design.

Bullet time "time" is easy to find, but never lasts too long to make it too simple or take out any challenge out of the game.

Max can find painkillers everywhere to heal himself.

Finally to can even wield dual guns. You start the game with your trusty automatic pistol and gather a ton more firearms as you progress further in the game.

The AI is relatively effective, hiding and taking cover from your slow motion-bullet hell.

The game has a lot of identity. Max gives an internal monologue the entire game, which really sets the tone of this game. There's also a couple of surrealist nightmares that plague Max and some drug-induced hallucinations at some points in the story.

Max Payne has really gorgeous graphics, even if they kinda aged a bit. Specially the character models, which were purposely made photo-realistic as silly as it might sound.

Really well rendered backgrounds and well detailed enough textures, minus some cheesy limitations of the time here and there. There are a lot of clever details and inside jokes on billboards, etc.

Which all contribute to this game's charm anyway.

But the best aspect of Max Payne is no doubt its really good gameplay. It answers to the eye, Max is so easy to control and answers perfectly. The game might be on the short side, but it's really highly replayable and alway fun to go through one more time.

Finally the stunning score composed by Kärtsy Hatakka is great, dense and atmospheric. Simply fantastic. It has a great movie-like quality, unique at the time.

The game also generated a hundred of fan-mods at the time, thanks to its very easy access and mod-able nature. An entire community spawned around this game as quickly as Doom or Duke Nukem during their respective days. Some I gotta say I even spent just as much time as the real main Max Payne game, which I always loved and replayed so many times...

Overall, Max Payne is a timeless classic, always fun even if it might look a bit archaic nowadays.

The combat is highly addictive, fast-paced, fun and brutal.

Ports were later created and published by Rockstar Games for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2, those have since been added to the Xbox 360's Xbox live and the PS3's PSN respectively. While the PC original is still the best (in terms of fidelity), the home console releases were pretty impressive for the time. There also was a much basic simplified scaled-down Game Boy Advance adaptation.

A Dreamcast version of Max Payne was also apparently planned for Sega's 128-bit system's last running year, but it was sadly discontinued. (I still remember all the ads and previews in my old video game magazines...)

The game was a huge success, it received great reception at time, and revolutionized gunplay in gaming as well as the idea of a better storytelling. If anything the use of the noir story helped this be one of the first games to provide an actual adult mature story in a game. Something you wouldn't believe it was possible in games back then.

The franchise has now since then sold millions of copies.

A sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, followed in 2003. 

And since then the series was even adapted into a feature film in 2008, loosely based on this first original game, starring Mark Wahlberg. To pretty poor critical reception, the less said about it the better....

This is where it all began. Max Payne 1 is highly recommended!

I give it:
3 / 3 Quacks!

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