Max Payne

by Gwynhala




Remedy Entertainment Ltd.


3D Realms Entertainment


Gathering of Developers, Inc. / Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.




QuickTime Trailer

Release Date:




I was working the day shift out of the U. District. It was hot, business was slow, and I was pretty wound up. I needed a new game to release the tension.


The truck rolled up the driveway like an iron stagecoach. The driver wiped the sweat from his brow and handed me a dirty yellow envelope from his pouch. “You Gwynhala?” he asked. The look on his face told me he’d expected something else. “Yeah. That’s me.” “Sign here.”


I shuddered with anticipation as I took the envelope. It was from G.O.D., and I knew what that meant I’d find inside. Everything there was to know about Payne. Max Payne.


The letter said Max was a man with nothing to lose. A fugitive undercover cop framed for murder, hunted by cops and the mob. It said something about “bullet time”. There were pictures, too. Violent pictures of the muzzle flash of a hundred bullets screaming through a raging blizzard in John Woo slow motion amid briefcases bulging with drug money. Pictures of tired-eyed prostitutes with a talent for blackmail. Pictures of stop-action explosions. Not kid stuff.


The driver backed away slowly. I went inside, ducked behind a nearby desk, and slid in the CD as the screen sizzled to life.




Max Payne’s world was real eye-candy. The background cityscapes and “real world” architecture pulled me in, while the brilliant particle effects, moody lighting and detailed player models held my attention like the gals in the late show at the Tiki Club.


Every bullet whistled through the virtual air at the speed of sound, a realistic three-dimensional projectile of death, as its shell casing clinked to the virtual ground.


Then there was “bullet time”.


Max had a bad habit of turning up in places where the mob – or someone worse – wanted him dead. The only thing between him and a reserved seat in a wooden crate six feet under was “bullet time”, an unnatural ability Max had to slow time around him while dodging or squeezing off an extra kill shot. Graphically, bullet time felt like slow-motion gunplay, stuff right out of a Keanu Reeves or Chow Yun Fat picture, except it was Max dodging the bullets, not some actor drawing a fat paycheck.


When Max found a sniper rifle and lined up a fast-talking perp in the crosshairs, we squeezed off a kill shot and rode the bullet straight through his heart. It was strangely satisfying.


Back in the office, the computer was a 750MHz Athlon with 256MB of RAM and a GeForce 256 DDR. It slowed down a few times under the strain of rendering Max’s world. Mostly, though, it ran like a dream. I took a few screenshots to jog my memory,




“Jeu Noir.” She said it was French for “Dark Game,” like “Film Noir” was French for “Dark Film,” except it was Max dodging the bullets, not some actor drawing a fat paycheck. I was in no position to argue. Instead, I admired the view down the barrel of the Ingram she’d stuck softly into my cheek.


Max Payne’s story had unfolded in three dark New York episodes, each with about eight chapters. Pretty classic stuff: undercover cop with nothing to lose falls into a frame-up web of sex, drugs, conspiracy, and dirty politics, only to be redeemed in an epiphany of lead and flames. I’d read better prose, seen better acting, but never in pulp fiction I could play along with.


The story was a circle. It started at the end, then flashed back and played forward like a painful memory. The dream sequences were a trippy mix of enigma and self-parody, as if whatever programmer was at the helm that day was doing Valkyr painkillers by the handful. I laughed. Uncomfortably. The kind of laugh that accepts a laugh in payment and gives you two grimaces for change. The no-one-under-seventeen-admitted storyline hung heavy over every scene, dripping sex, violent death, long forgotten Norse gods and apocalyptic prophecy. Still, somehow, it was funny,


Well-etched comic book panels and cinematics faded in and out on the glowing monitor, telling me Max was a real hard luck case. His wife and kid were killed three years ago by dopers strung out on the designer drug Valkyr. Earlier today his cover had been blown, and now the mob wanted him dead. He’d make some unlikely friends on his journey, uncover some dark secrets, and leave a trail of blood and broken dreams a mile wide in his wake. He’d nearly lose himself in the delusion that he was part of a graphical novel, a puppet in some deadly video game.


Eva took the gun out of my face. “You hef not heard me comink in, Gvyn?” “It’s this Payne case. It’s got me…preoccupied.” “I hef cure for that.” Man, did she ever.




Max Payne was a cliché for every pulp thriller that had ever seen print. I wasn’t sure whether his story was interactive fiction or a shoot-em-up, or that it mattered anymore. The action blurred from quiet narration to armed conflict to bizarre puzzles and back again more times than I could count. There were guns. Lots of guns. And painkillers to keep me going, even when the bullet time turned a split second of agony into an eternity.


In bullet time, Max was a regular acrobat, gliding forwards, backwards, or sideways like a hummingbird packing heat. I wish I had half his moves when playing Quake 3 Arena, Counterstrike, or Unreal Tournament. Bullet time was the cat’s meow.


The computer was watching me. It studied my moves like a hungry spider, adapting as I got stronger. This meant more bad guys, less ammo, fewer painkillers, and tougher kills. It was fine by me. I liked the feel of the gun in my hand. The way it recoiled. The path the bullet traced through still air. The grace and beauty of a well-timed shootdodge. I was hooked. Sure, the story was linear, and the puzzles were designed by moron-targeting chimps, but that came with the beat. I wondered when a game designer would have an original thought on puzzles, and break the mindless cycle of jumping, maze-navigating, and deus ex machina exploding props that had settled on the industry like a cold, hard, rain. I stopped myself. There’d be time enough to think later.


Max’s journey ended in a rain of napalm and twisted metal, unlocking two new game options. Same game, new rules.


In Hard Boiled mode, the rules were simple. Just like the first time, but with more bad guys, less ammo, fewer painkillers, and tougher kills. The computer would still adapt, but to someone better than me. An opponent imagined in the dark recesses of its silicon mind.


It was all about time in New York Minute. Max was a dead man if he didn’t complete each level before the round clock expired. He could add time to the clock by killing, and slow the clock with bullet time, but when the fat lady sang it was all over. The bad guys weren’t any tougher, but there was less time to pick up ammo and painkillers, or to play hide and seek with a sniper. Same levels. Same objectives.


One more game mode was left and its name reeked like a New York alley. Dead on Arrival. It was Hard Boiled on steroids. The bad guys were bad, bad guys. A limit on the number of savegames would heighten the tension, increase the pain. That’s what they told me downtown. I fingered the Baretta on my shoulder. We’d see.


Max Payne was a loner, and it showed. His world was for solo players only. No co-op. No multiplayer deathmatch. I felt sorry for him. Maybe the bullet time was too much, or maybe he just got lazy. Either way, it left a hole the size of Statten Island in his long-term gaming options. Sure, there was a level editor on the CD. It didn’t interest me. Not solo. Max’s fate was to be a player once, maybe twice, and then to cool his jets on the pile of spent shooters that had accumulated in the back room.



The music was everywhere. Poignant piano punctuating the pen-inked panels of a pulp novel. A relentless heartbeat of rich bass keeping bullet time. Death by surf guitar.


The arrangements were simple but deadly, something a guy with talent could knock off in a garage on a Tuesday afternoon and be proud of on Thursday, after the thrill of creation had faded. It all sounded good to me. The main thing was, it didn’t get in the way.


The foley work was seamless. Foley. That’s a word they use in Los Angeles for the sound effects when a man walks or a car drives by. It was fine by me. I liked the sound of the gun in my ear. The whistle of the bullet in still air. The silence of a well-timed shootdodge. It pulled me in. Held my attention. I was hooked.



Fifty bucks in this town and a Geisha girl named Keito will walk on your back for an hour, or a clean-cut clerk named Norm will sell you Max Payne. Either way, it’s a passing pleasure. Either way, you’d better be old enough to handle it.


Fifty spent on Max Payne gets you a decent interactive graphical novel with flashy visuals and music, and some novel gameplay. Creative types can write their own sequel with the level editor, character editor, and effects editor.


Me, I’m a people person. Max Payne was all single-player and no co-op or deathmatch. Sure, I still respected him in the morning. There was just no future for a guy like me and a guy like him. Max was a one-night stand. Besides, I had Eva.


“Gvyn? Turn off computer. All your bases are belong to me.”


Other Stuff You Oughta Know


A version 1.01 patch is available at


An important Max Payne FAQ is available at

and another at


System Requirements:

450 MHz CPU / 96 MB RAM / 16MB D3D Video / DirectX 8 / Win95/98/ME/2K


System Recommendation:

700 MHz CPU / 128MB RAM / 32MB D3D Video / DirectX 8 / Win95/98/ME/2K



·         Innovative mix of comic book and cinematic exposition with action gaming

·         Highly maneuverable player character with slick bullet time and shootdodge moves

·         Excellent attention to detail and aesthetics in the visuals, architecture, and sound work

·         Includes level editor, character editor, and effects editor in addition to game content

·         Great adaptation of the “film noir” genre to video gaming (“jeu noir” )

·         Guns. Lots of guns.


·         Linear single-player gameplay (like nearly every other shooter…)

·         Unimaginative puzzles (rendered imaginatively, though)

·         No social gaming modes (no co-op, multi-player deathmatch)

·         Pretty simplistic extended gaming modes (New York Minute, Hard Boiled, and Dead On Arrival are just harder, not different)
















This review originally ran on 8/25/2001. The site is now offline.