...Where Text Seemed to Fade Into a Mind Numbing Blur, Yet I Knew the Truth Was Within.
Max Payne is quite an interesting trip into a new area of gaming. It is quite evident to me that in the years they spent developing it, the bulk of their inspiration came from a few classics. First off, not only in the way the story ends up going, but even in how the gameplay, ammo, and other environmental aspects of the game, Half-Life was a definite inspiration for the game. It was subtle, but I definitely noticed it right off. One day, everything just goes wrong, and you're placed in the story as it happens.
Another point of reference for the game seems to lie in Warren Specter's modern classic: Deus Ex. Granted, I still like the overall story and the global setting of Deus Ex quite a bit more than that of Max Payne, but there was a certain ambiance to the game, and the game style certainly reminded me of Deus Ex (without the annoying inventory system.) Gameplay, of course, is more like what Deus Ex should have had.
Finally, one of the more unusual contributors to the game was the movie The Matrix. I'm sure we all remember the scenes from The Matrix where the camera spins in slow motion around an Agent that had just been killed, or around Neo as he just finished a move. Perhaps you also recall the slow motion when Neo walked into the lobby area, or the bullets gliding by in the shootouts with the Agents. Max Payne manages to capture this same thrill in a convenient video game format. Using Bullet Time, players have a limited amount of time in which to enter a slow motion mode and take out some enemies, or dodge shots in any direction in slow motion, while enabling perfect aim for clear shots. Bullet time is regenerated by killing more enemies (sort of an unusual approach, but it's as good as any, and certainly beats a "slow-mo pill" or some other power-up nonsense.) Also, after key shootouts, the camera will rotate around the fallen final enemy of the group. Possibly coolest of all, though, is the live bullet tracing of the sniper rifle. When you fire a good shot with the sniper, the camera will follow the bullet--well--into your enemy.
While we're on the topic of bullet tracing, that is one of the most fundamental differences with Max Payne than any other shooter game. In most games, damage from a projectile is a calculated thing. If the weapon was fired at a certain time in a certain direction, and the enemy was traveling at a certain velocity in a certain direction, then after so much of a delay the bullet would hit, hence the player is damaged. Max Payne does what most engines would shutter to think about: it renders each and every bullet in real time, and that projectile can be dodged, and seen, by the enemy. This is certainly the most realistic approach I've seen yet to life-like shooters.
Weapons are, of course, all common weapons, using real ammo types that are stored in believable locations. There are no plasma cannons from an alien race, or experimental mind ray guns, nor mysterious floating Beretta armor on a ledge that served no reason for being there. New York and the buildings within were mapped out to the finest detail of reality (some great camera crews and architects on the Remedy team.) All weapons are stored in gun cabinets, armories and other realistic places. Pain killers (the life source) are typically in a medicine cabinet in a bathroom or other useful location.
One other useful feature in the game is the self-adjusting difficulty system. If you can't get past an area, the game will ease up on the difficulty for you. If you're the type of player that can tear through Quake on nightmare skill without needing a single health pack, then the game will make sure the game is challenging enough for you. This ensures that everyone will make it through the normal game with about as much relative difficulty for their skills as any other player. It's certainly a feature I wish was implemented long ago in many other games.
The way the game plays, you basically tear through as many enemies as you can using a tactical approach, ducking behind walls, switching weapons, and using Bullet Time to your advantage. After you complete the game on normal mode, Hard-Boiled and New York Minute are unlocked. Hard-Boiled is pretty tough, even with the self-adjusting difficulty, and in boss areas you'll be stuck there for a while. In New York Minute, you have a limited amount of time to tear through the levels. It's pretty much a forced edition of Quake Done Quick. Finally, after beating Hard-Boiled, Nightmare is unlocked. Don't say I didn't warn you, the name is a pretty good indication of what you're up against (though, really, shouldn't one bullet kill? It is an ultra-realistic game, after all...)
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