Ghost of Games Past: Max Payne 1
Publisher: Rockstar Games
It can be difficult to figure out how to approach older games. On one hand, you have to respect the era in which they were created. Sometimes, however, a game can be bad even for that era. The opposite of course is also true, a really good game can transcend the period it was made in, and have a timeless quality. Max Payne is one of the latter — and then some. The first game came out well over seventeen years ago and was ported to consoles the following year. Even just playing briefly, it is mind-blowing how well the game holds up nearly two decades later, and for that matter is just a well-designed noir story to boot. Max Payne is nothing if not masterful.
Max Payne follows the story of — of course — Max Payne; a cop who ends up becoming an undercover DEA agent in order to find the source of the Valkyr epidemic, which killed his wife and baby. The game is best described as a shot glass of noir tropes. A hard boiled and cynical detective who’s alone in the world, first-person narration, a femme fatale, and tangling with criminal conspiracies. The cutscenes are also told in comic book panel style. While that’s not necessarily an original choice (Metal Gear Solid and Infamous are among the other games that have done the same), but it makes for an interesting one in an already stylish game. The game also peppers its already noir-tastic world with Norse mythology references; which, honestly, only make the game more appealing when you get to draw lines between the game’s events and the Norse stories on which they’re based. All told, the game’s world is a very unique one in an industry that’s happy to recycle over and over again.
The game’s combat system holds up surprisingly well too. While the game predates cover shooters like Gears of War, Max Payne still gives you an even playing field. The combat mechanics of this one owe more to John Woo films than anything else. The shooting is very much about style, and the Bullet Time mechanic allows you to slow down time in order to see where bullets will hit you, better aim at enemies, and best of all: dive face first towards them in bombastic glory. You’re also given a pretty healthy arsenal of weapons and multiple ways to use them. Thankfully, dual-wielding (which also appears) isn’t difficult to use either. There’s plenty of room given for you to use your loadout as you please, the rule Max Payne adheres to the most is fun first.
It’s also worth noting that Max Payne is a very brisk game. You go through multiple setpieces very quickly, as well as advance through the story at a healthy pace at well. While it’s easy to worry about game length these days, a stretched out shooter can make for a boring game experience. In that respect, I really do appreciate that Max Payne has an eye for keeping the show going, while still allowing the player to bask in the world its created.
So at this point it just has to be said: yes, Max Payne is absolutely worth playing. While the only drawback is that on the PC, it needs mods to play on a modern computer (cue the PC master race). Otherwise, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. You’re not going to find many games that merge hard-boiled noir with Norse mythology after all.
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