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Max Payne
game: Max Payne
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Rockstar Games
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004

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By Eric Qualls

Max Payne is a good example of what developers should be doing with the GBA. This is a portable version of the original Max Payne, but it still plays very much like its PC and console counterparts. Developer Mobius could have slapped Max into yet another craptastic side-scrolling beat-em-up that most GBA developers settle for, but they went the extra mile to try and recreate what made the other versions of Max Payne so interesting. The experiment was definitely a success, and the GBA version of Max Payne is an impressive title that just may be worth checking out for fans of everyone's favorite cop who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Since this is a scaled down version of the original Max Payne, the story should be familiar. Max's wife and daughter were brutally murdered by junkies. He can't let his life go completely down the crapper, however, so he takes an assignment to go undercover to try and put an end to New York City's organized crime. His cover is blown and he is framed for murder, so every copy in NYC is after him. The story is told through cutscenes consisting of still images with subtitles that are also spoken in full voice. The story really binds everything together and drives you to play the game so you can see what happens next, just like any good story should do.

The gameplay in Max Payne is viewed from an isometric perspective. You move from room to room shooting pretty much everything that moves and also activating a switch or two. Max has a huge arsenal of weapons to work with, but combat isn't as simple as pointing your gun at an enemy and pushing the fire button. If you just stand in one spot and shoot, you aren't going to last very long. That is why Max has an advantage. He can go into a bullet time mode where everything slows down. This allows him to dodge bullets as well and take more precise shots at his enemies. The gameplay is surprisingly smooth and it is easy to walk around the environments, pull switches, and do anything else you need to do. Shooting it out with enemies is also incredibly satisfying thanks to the large amount of gore in the game and destructible objects littering the levels.

Something that it detrimental to the experience is that enemies can shoot at you even if you can't see them. It is not uncommon to enter a room and get shot as soon as you go through the door. It is frustrating to be exploring a level only to get shot by someone you can't even see and your only course of action is to shoot wildly in their direction and hope some of your shots hit. Enemies also like to gang up on you in bunches, and there are some points in the game where you will enter a new area and are immediately gunned down by the four or five enemies standing by the doorway. You can survive these encounters by liberal use of bullet time, but the game suffers a bit due to the cheap AI.

The graphics in Max Payne are impressive in every regard. The characters are nicely detailed and the pre-rendered backgrounds look very good. There are lots of little details such as crates and bottles that you can destroy and you'll leave bullet holes and blood spatter on the walls during shootouts. The animation is very smooth and it looks even better when you use bullet time. Characters move around the screen in a very believable way and fall back with arms and legs flailing when Max shoots them. It all looks very impressive. The sound is also incredibly well done. The music and sound effects are clear and sound very good overall. What is more remarkable is all of the voice that is in this game. It has been compressed, so it doesn't sound perfect, but the fact that there is 20 or 30 minutes of voice narration in a GBA game at all is amazing. You really need to hear this to believe it.

Max Payne is one of the best action-shooter games on the GBA. It is impressive that so much of what made the game fun on PC and consoles has been implemented here, but there are a few problems that make it hard to fully recommend the game for purchase. You have to learn how to use bullet time effectively very early on because it is the only thing that is going to save you when you enter a room full of enemies or someone is shooting at you from offscreen. Aside from the difficulty, the game is only about four hours long. It is fun while it lasts, but four hours of gameplay before you put it on the shelf isn't going to be worth the investment for most people.