Max Payne is one of the best third-person shooters out there, and while I’d personally have to say that Max Payne 2 is the better game of the two (I refuse to accept the existence of the travesty that is Max Payne 3), there’s still so much to love about the original game if you can get it working. I couldn’t get it to work in Windows 7, personally, but it works flawlessly in XP.
For one, it’s a game released in 2001 that doesn’t suffer from any of the problems that games of that time often suffered from. Enemies don’t magically sense your presence before they see you, and while they sometimes shoot as soon as you come out of cover, it’s in a very realistic, “pulling the trigger out of surprise” kind of way. While that’d be a turn-off in most games, the prominent bullet time element of the gameplay ensures that you always have a chance against their reflexes.
I really, really like this game’s story. It’s a great revenge-driven neo-noir that draws heavily on Norse mythology (though knowledge of the mythology isn’t ever necessary). The only downside is that there are sections that, while technically necessary, are “heavy” enough to distract from the overarching story. The worst example of this is early on when you’re dealing with Jack Lupino, a drug-addled devil-worshiper. This part of the game is so dark and eerie that I can’t help but feel that it takes away from the rest of the game. Still, the story as a whole “works” and makes Max Payne worth playing through at least once, if only for the voiced graphic novel panels that further the story and set the tone of the game.
Bullet time is not only an included feature, but an essential one—it’d take a huge amount of luck, skill, and advance knowledge of the game to play without it. I have a habit of using bullet time to dispatch just about every enemy in the game, though that’s a personal preference that has more to do with convenience and entertainment than actual necessity; while bullet time helps greatly with dispatching groups of enemies, you can often finish off single opponents without it by riddling them with bullets before they can retaliate.
There are two ways of initiating bullet time: as part of a shootdodge, or to slow down the normal game speed. The shootdodge is what you’ll be using the most, and it’s as simple as moving back/forward/left/right and pressing either shift or right-clicking. In the case of the shootdodge, bullet time automatically ends when you hit the ground. This keeps you from using it all up (there’s an hourglass that roughly shows how much bullet time you can use, and it’s replenished by killing enemies) and having none when you need it most. Pressing shift/right clicking without moving in a direction, on the other hand, slows down ordinary gameplay and has to be canceled manually. This is less helpful and tends to be more wasteful, though there are certainly a few occasions where it can come in handy.
Sometimes you won’t see enemies coming and will take a few bullets. It’s inevitable on a first playthrough, really, because some sections surprise you. A lot of the game can be enjoyed without constant saving and loading, though you do have the freedom to easily quicksave, run ahead to see what enemies will do, and then load your quicksave having come up with a clever way to take them all out. If you don’t want to do that, it’s fine—there are bottles of painkillers lying all over that act like health in other games (except for the fact that you can choose when to use them, and they heal you gradually over time rather than all at once).
If I were to complain about anything in Max Payne, it’d have to be its tendency to introduce new mechanics suddenly, only to never use them again. For example, one section of the game requires you to shoot a panel through some bars to open a door. I can’t recall a single other instance of this being necessary. Another time, you have to shoot some wires and then shoot a metal tower thing to make it fall down. Again, this is something that you only do once, so it’s not as obvious as it probably should be. New elements like this suddenly being introduced can be confusing once you’ve become accustomed to the internal rules of the game and what can and can’t be done. Luckily, this only happens two or three times throughout the entire game.
I usually talk about the graphics and music in the last bit of my reviews because of how trivial they tend to be. However, they can add a lot to a game, and Max Payne proves this. While the graphics themselves are far from impressive to the modern eye, the game frequently utilizes voiced graphic novel panels to further the story. These hold up far better than the in-game graphics do, though the true star of the show is the art style; everything about the overall art style communicates and reinforces the neo-noir element of the game, lending an asphyxiating quality to the world that sucks you in.
The music also aids greatly in this, frequently using piano and instruments with a lot of reverb that suit the game world perfectly. The in-game level music can occasionally feel a bit off, however, always suiting the areas Max finds himself in but sometimes feeling disconnected from the game’s overall aesthetic. That’s to say that some of the level music sounds too electronic and impersonal for the game’s noir style, and it makes certain sections feel far less dark and in line with the rest of the game than they probably should.
Here’s what you should do: