Max Payne Game

The year: 2001. The place: Noir York City. The video game: Max Payne from Remedy Entertainment and Rockstar Games.

It’s been more than two decades since the lone-wolf cop first made his debut on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC — oh, and there was even a fun, quirky Game Boy Advance version. You’d think that would be a good length of time for the game to be considered a little too retro in terms of its gameplay. And truthfully, it hasn’t aged 100% perfectly. That said, after just revisiting Mr. Payne’s painkiller-laced trip through a snowy New York underbelly, there’s a case to be made that it’s actually aged a lot better than you might think.

Whether we’re talking about music, movies, or video games, dissecting a genre is an interesting, meticulous thing. Are the Chameleons a post punk band or a new wave band? Are they both? Well, they’re a post punk band that utilizes new wave elements. Is The Devil’s Rejects an action movie? Sure, but it’s also a horror movie — and, more specifically, it’s an exploitation horror movie.

Max Payne Slow Motion Gameplay

What kind of game is Max Payne then? On the one hand, Max Payne could very easily be called, simply, a shooter. But if we’re getting down to the finer details, things get a little more interesting. While 2012’s Max Payne 3 is most definitely a third-person shooter, it’s hard to call the original game a pure third-person shooter. That’s because it almost has more in common with third-person action games. It’s more like an old school shoot-’em-up, really.

The reason I bring all of this up is because if you look at Max Payne strictly as a third-person shooter, you’re then — maybe subconsciously — required to see how its shooting mechanics stack up compared to something like Gears of War, The Last of Us, and Fortnite. In that sense, Max Payne might be too arcade-like and clunky to be considered all that great.

If, however, you see Max Payne as a third-person shoot-’em-up, action-shooter, or just a straight-up action game, its place in history as an all-time great game becomes a little clearer.

Now, that’s not to say that Max Payne is a flawless game. I would definitely call it one of the best action games of its time. Playing it now? Well, I thought I was going to be flabbergasted with awkward controls, bad aiming, and wonky mechanics. I knew going into my replay there was going to be some stuff about it that didn’t age well, and I was admittedly worried that one of the best games of my early high school years was going to be a disappointing mess in 2022.

I’m so freakin’ happy I was wrong.

Prior to diving back into Max Payne, I had just played the recently released Gungrave G.O.R.E., a sequel to two early 2000s titles. While I was stoked to enter the world of Gungrave G.O.R.E., I ultimately found myself bored and frustrated by the game’s mundane shooting and archaic design (though it did resonate somewhat better with Half-Glass Gaming’s own Julian Watkins). Funnily enough, I didn’t feel that way revisiting a game that was actually released in 2001, which speaks volumes of the nonstop action of the original Max Payne.

Max Payne Video Game

Max Payne is an awesome, action-packed thrill ride that takes you all across New York. You’ll start out small, facing petty armed thugs in a train station. You’ll then work your way through mafia-don-owned restaurants and mansions. You’ll take on a crooked cop in a parking garage filled with enemies. And then, finally, you’ll battle your way up the cold, sterile interior of a corporate front for all manner of illicit criminal activity. The entire time this is going on, a violent snowstorm ravages the city — which is very much a metaphor for Max’s internal doom.

As you play, you’ll find yourself armed with pistols, machine guns, rifles, and shotguns, as well as grenades and molotov cocktails. The shooting is fast and fun as you’re constantly surrounded by armed enemies. Even more than 20 years later, the shooting in Max Payne just works really well. It’s a little sluggish in parts, but it’s fun as heck.

The shooting alone is enjoyable, but it’s the action movie-inspired Bullet Time slow motion effect that makes battles super entertaining. You can slow down time, giving yourself an edge against the armies of New York’s crime world. This doesn’t make the game instantly easier, as you can still get gunned down while in slo-mo, but it does add a nice element to the gun-based mayhem.

While playing, I obviously couldn’t help but notice how blocky everything looked. It’s a game from 2001, so I cut it some slack, but there’s no denying that this is definitely an old school game. But even then, there’s a charm to the polygonal look of the characters and their odd, choppy facial expressions. Then there’s Max himself, whose face was modeled after developer Remedy’s Sam Lake, the game’s writer. The constant grimace on Max’s face was a constant reminder of both the character’s internal distress and the state of video game graphics in the 2000s.

But for all of its lo-res textures, stiff character animations, and polygons galore, there’s an undeniable charm to the visual design of Max Payne. Hell, newer developers release games that purposely look blocky as a tribute to those bygone ages. So while I wouldn’t say Max Payne looks amazing in 2022, I also can’t say it looks terrible. It looks pretty good for its era, and I’d say it looks fine now. A little old, but fine.

Max Payne Bullet Time Shoot Dodge

Where the presentation of Max Payne shines, though, is in its graphic-novel cutscenes. With a few brief exceptions, the game’s story bits are presented entirely in comic-book panels that look like they were touched up with paints or pastels. Everything is voice acted, and though some of the voice work can be a little too “New York Italian mobster movie,” it all works really well, and every line of dialogue is delivered wonderfully.

The star of the show, as you would assume, is Max. Voice actor James McAffrey did an excellent job of voicing the hard-boiled detective, every line of dialogue presented with the utmost vigor and poeticism. Max, after all, is a character whose wife and child were brutally slaughtered, and who finds himself at the center of a conspiracy that includes a deadly new designer drug, the mafia, a secret society, and a powerful businesswoman. And you can truly feel his pain, anguish, and rage as he goes straight to the top of New York’s criminal underworld.

By today’s standards, it’s obvious that Max Payne is showing a lot of its age. But where some games just feel old and outdated, this title feels more like an antique. You can definitely tell it’s the product of an older age, but it’s still beautiful all the same. In fact, some of its warts actually add to the polygonal allure. And the story is still gold after all these years. Both Rockstar Games and Remedy Entertainment have evolved over the past couple decades, but the original Max Payne stands tall as some of the two companies’ most beguiling work.

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