Max Payne took the PC by storm as a stylish third person shooter which added to the genre in many ways, but can this tale of violence and revenge do the same for the PS2?
Max is your everyday American cop, until one day he comes home and finds his wife and child have been murdered by Junkies. As an act of revenge he joins the DEA and goes undercover to find the people responsible for putting the drugs on the market. Unfortunately makes the mistake of only telling two people that he's undercover. When Max gets framed for the murder of one of these men, it becomes obvious that it's not going to be an easy day for Max. Max is a man hell bent on revenge and he feels he has nothing to lose. He even confesses later in the game that he is not a good guy, this sense of inner turmoil helps set the tone for the game.
The game is a stylish third person action shooter with a difference, and that one difference elevates this game to greatness. It all comes down to bullet time. For any of you out there that have seen the Matrix or a John Woo film you will be instantly familiar with bullet time, (in fact one of the later levels feels just like a scene from the film The Matrix). Bullet time allows you to slow down everything except Max's aim for a few moments. You can use bullet time in two ways, Firstly, you can simply trigger bullet time and then charge into a room, or secondly you can use the shoot-dodge. The shoot-dodge is by far the most stylish part of the game, by tapping L1 and a direction Max will perform a dive and the passage of time will slow, this can be used to dive around corners through doors and over small walls, in fact you will use this ability to kill most of the enemies in the game. The first time you kill an enemy in this way is extremely satisfying due to the immense style of the action, you will never feel like the game is just a run and shoot affair. Fortunately Bullet time doesn't make the game too easy, this is due to the fact that each time you use the ability your Bullet time bar will decrease, the only way to top the bar up is by killing people. This adds a level of balance to the game and means that each time you use the ability you really need to kill someone to make it worth it. Also due to the fact that most of the time you are outnumbered and enemy weapons deal out large amounts of damage Bullet time is essential. In some rooms when you kill the final enemy, they undergo a slo-mo death scene where the camera pans round them before they hit the deck (a la Matrix).
Gaining health in the game also works slightly different to most other games in the genre. Health top ups can be gained in the form of painkillers, Max doesn't use these at once but instead stores them for later use, they can easily be used at any time by using the circle button. This kind of action is representative of the whole control system of the game, nothing is ever a hassle to do and every action is well executed from the spilt second you hit the relevant button.
Lucky for Max he has a wide array of weapons at his disposal, ranging from a baseball bat to a grenade launcher. The game also allows you to use dual weapons which really bumps up the rate at which enemies can be killed.
As with all games of this type, Max Payne has a sniper rifle, the big difference is that the sniping mode fits in superbly with the games feel. Once you have lined up your opponent in your sights and pull the trigger, the camera suddenly switches to a 'behind the bullet view' and follows the bullet to the moment before it strikes the enemy.
The graphics for the game are very well done and reflect the mood off the game, it's gloomy. They are the kind of graphics that are very much at home on a next gen platform, Character faces are well done and if you look close enough at an enemies face (normally through a sniper rifle scope just before you pull the trigger) you will see how the expressions can change, its touches like this that will never fail to impress as you play through the game.
Levels are linked by graphic novel type stills, which provide the story. These stills truly represent the level of style in the game as they are extremely gritty and dark. The voice overs can only be described as cheesy and cliched, at times it like listening to classic film noir. You see Max has that typical gruff hard man voice, fortunately the voice over work lightens the tone of the otherwise very dark game. Each level is relatively small and progress is automatically saved at the end of each one. Fortunately the size of each level is spot on, with each section being a suitable challenge. The game isn't a small one but it's the kind of game that you never want to end but like all games it eventually does. To put it simply, you won't want to stop playing until you complete it, and while you won't complete it in a sitting, most gamers will complete it over the course of a long weekend.
The game has some sub games to break the gameplay up. These games though are trial and error and are more likely to frustrate you than any other part of the game. Also once you have completed the game there is very little to bring you back to the game, even the unlocked difficulties and bonus game mode.
Apart from these very small drawbacks the game is fantastic and is a good example of a developer trying something new and succeeding in every way possible.