Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Replay Review - Max Payne [2001]

One of the greatest video games and protagonists came to life with Remedy Entertainment's smash hit Max Payne in the summer of 2001. It took the bullet time from The Matrix, fused it with John Woo's action styling and wrapped it in a Micky Spillane inspired noirish graphic novel with an investigation and conspiracy story that even delved into Norse mythology. It may sound like a bizarre mash-up of ideas but it walked away with the BAFTA for best PC game that year. As Remedy announced a remake of Max Payne 1 & 2 last year, I said I'd go back to the original and see if it still held up.

I've gone back to Max Payne several times over a little more than 20 years. The cinematic experience of seeing your own character on screen for the whole game was a pretty new concept to me in 2001. Jedi Knight and Rainbow Six had situational 3rd person views but Max Payne was my first real 3rd person shooter and I played the hell out of it. The last time was before 2015 however when I pretty much ceased the use of my optical drive.

Max Payne had two major gimmicks. It's story was told through an extremely well done graphic novel style pages with panels appearing from the darkness as various characters voiced their speech bubbles with the subtlety of a grenade. The sheer style of this was extraordinarily unique for the time and I don't think any game I played has presented its plot so well, no matter what the quality of full motion cutscene it had.

The second gimmick was of course bullet-time. With a snap of the right click button (and a combined direction), Max would enter a slow motion bullet time as he dived and you could effortlessly target and shoot enemies with a perfection and clarity not afforded to you by real-time action. While stylistically it was The Matrix, the action was it represented was as much John Woo than anything. Only the doves were missing as Max perforated enemies with dual Uzi sub-machine pistols.

Like many other 20+ year old games, Max Payne has certainly aged - but absolutely not as much as most others of the era and certainly not once the one of the games dedicated fanbase patches with A.I. upscaled textures has been applied (in fact the 'vanilla' Max Payne game is unlikely to run natively on Win11) . The Max Payne 1, Complete FixPack - 2023 Edition is a one-stop shop fix for the Steam version, fixing the expected incompatibility issues six or seven versions of Windows later.

Final Verdict: I'm delighted that Max Payne can still be enjoyed today. Sure there's a lot of nostalgia at work but the core gameplay added with some refreshed graphics from dedicated fans make this classic well worth a revisit.

Technicals: 8.5 hours through Steam with an Nvidia 4070Ti @ 3440x1440 (Capped FPS to 60). UW support via fix pack. Win 11 HDR provided minimal enhancement.

Bugs: Vanilla Max Payne didn't run on Win 11. It ran flawlessly once the 'Complete Fix' pack had been applied

Availability: Max Payne is available from Steam for €9.99. Review copy purchased from Steam for €2.25 in Sep 2016.

Max Payne series:

  • Max Payne [2001]
  • Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne [2003]
  • Max Payne 3 [2012]
  • Max Payne 1 & 2 Remake [TBA]

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