Vengeance-stricken, the trench-coated beast walks on.
Thus opens the ghoulish narrative of Max Payne, a reckless, pitiful New York detective who strives to make a mark on the city of despair. His pretty wife, young and innocent with child in tow, was bumped off at the hands of a mysterious foe. Worse yet, Payne is framed for murder. So his goal is clear-cut: sweep the streets of the Big Apple clean, brushing away the junkies, pimps, prostitutes and the rest of the criminal element. one body bag at a time.
Utilizing “bullet-time” tech made famous by The Matrix, players guide the ruthless Payne through a film-noir world of corruption, blackmail and ultra-violence. The slow-motion effect is most useful — and extremely cool — when tapping into a warehouse full of scumbags, allowing extreme, sniper-sharp precision. (Don’t be surprised if this hip feature is adopted by dozens of other games come next year.) Players can yield a lowly pistol, sawed-off shotgun, dual-auto machine guns or even Molotov cocktails. There’s a brouhaha of carnage, to say the least.
Adding to the game’s attractive nature, besides a slew of drug lords drowning in their own blood, is an atmospheric story design. Rather than unfold in 100-percent full-motion video, a crime comic approach was plotted. Sinister, dramatic panels fade slowly in pulp fashion, hitting a narrative beat with rhythmic, private-dick lingo.
It’s comparable to the “Resident Evil” series in terms of mood and “Syphon Filter” with its precise, explosive action. But ultimately, “Payne” is in a class all its own.
And if your PC couldn’t handle the “Payne” graphics engine, which tended to gobble memory, the PS2 version will fire onto store shelves in a matter of weeks.
Finally, a game that truly earns its “mature” label.
Read Adam Druckman's Netropolis column about "Max Payne"; he believes its plot-rich, cinematic style may be pointing the way to the future of all computer video games.
Jon M. Gibson investigates the triumphs — and pitfalls — of games and other technological poundcakes. E-mail him at email@example.com.