My opinion is a little different than the common consensus, I just hope I managed to articulate why well enough.
Max Payne came out back in 2001 when I was a skinny sheltered little white boy growing up in the suburbs of Metro Detroit. Now I'm a skinny white cynical college guy living life in his apartment and playing whatever games he can get cheep in between classes and a part time job. Like Max Payne for example, which I picked up for a reasonable $3 without the case or instruction manual from GameStop around when the media blitz was starting to ramp up for Max Payne 3. I was nothing more than curious and decided to pick it up based on the Rockstar logo and the fact that a lot of people seem to have enjoyed it.
Now that I have completed in on "Fugitive Mode" (which might be easy or normal, I'm not really sure, New York Minute and Hard Boiled were the other options and are both locked for the first play though) I can share my opinion because it is valuable and worth your attention. The game is pretty undeniably simple, you can shoot you can jump you can roll you can open doors/cabinets/drawers etc. The only thing that makes this special from the other third person shooters out there mechanic wise is bullet time. It slows down time while you dive through the air like a cliche action movie hero. It's kind of cool, but never feels more than a gimmick. I went through most of the game without really using it and when I did it was awkward and clumsy, you can't really tell if you're doing damage to someone until you picking yourself up off the ground after the effect wears off. Hopefully you actually got your assailant because you're going to be a sitting duck while you get up off of that floor. The story is pretty great, it's well written although the heavy metaphors about snow being the ashes falling from the post apocalyptic sky can sound a bit silly. It's told through a series of comic panels that clash aesthetically with the tone and style of the artwork though. Talk balloons are read to you by the actors and are plastered over the beautiful artwork, covering most of the art in some cases. It's effective I guess but it doesn't really make sense. The art looks silly with the talk balloons covering up most of them and they don't even really need to be there when the voice actors just read them verbatim anyway. Back in 2001, when this game came out, I was in elementary school watching HyperStudio
presentations with higher production values and more visual consistency than these cutscenes.
The gameplay is another part of the experience and this awkward segway is going to precede that coverage. Playing the game involves running room to room killing X number of thugs, goons, henchmen, mobsters, whatever you want to call them, and then proceeding into the next room where you again fill X number of baddies with lead. Filling them with lead is satisfying though, if you don't use the bullet time. Each gun feels different and the game gives you a wider variety of increasingly powerful options as you progress keeping things as fresh as they can be in levels that all look very similar.
There were enough puzzles to give the gameplay variety although not always for the better. The "trips" for example are some of the worst experiences for both Max and the player. Max gets shot up with "Valkyre" (a fictional drug that the games plot focuses on) a couple of times and goes on the worst drug trip you could possibly imagine. Also they involve platforming. Not the good kind of platforming like Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter, but mind numbing balancing on narrow beams which is neigh impossible when Max controls like a foal on a rozen pond, and then jumping that clearly was not designed for precision, over gaps and pits making these sequences some of the most grating levels I have ever suffered though. At least the game has the foresight to know that you're going to fall and respawns you at the beginning of the series of narrow paths, unlike in the main game where every death means reloading the entire level and appearing back at the beginning with the same amount of health you entered the room with last time. You better cross your fingers and hope there aren't any enemies near by because it's very easy to get stuck in a loop of failure when the game will spawn you inches form death over and over again unless you pop some pain killers that you may or may not have access to. The painkillers are another thing I want to talk about. Max is a DEA cop who's wife and baby were murdered by drug crazed nutters and to heal himself he takes full bottles of pain killers to restore his health. Drugs literally give him life in this sense. I'm not sure if the sequels deal with this in some clever way, but it seemed odd to me that the character and his motivations seemed to be undermined by this. I guess "drugs" are a central theme in this game but making them the healing item confused the hell out of me. It conflicts with the character from my side of the screen.
I may be spoiled by HD graphics and new technology but I really don't remember PS2 game looking so bad. I have had happy meal toys with more points of articulation than the models in this game and the expression on Max's cube shaped head when he dies is ridiculous and off putting for anyone that has seen a video game in the last 7 years. For a game so full of "emotion" you would think animating a face, the most expressive part of the human body, would be a pretty high priority.
From what I have found after playing the game Max Payne has received a lot of love... on PC. It had a long development cycle and I guess I'm glad that the developer took the time to make at least one good version of this game instead of two ok versions. I'm just disappointed it's not the one I decided to play. I may hove only spent $3 on it but I was hoping for better.