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Revisiting The Max Payne Trilogy; An Overview

Max Payne is one of the most popular franchises in the video game industry. It is loved for its gritty neo-noir setting and explosive action that's like straight out of a John Woo action flick, and featuring a great storyline, while being the game that popularized bullet-time into video games and set a new bar for third-person shooters.

If you’re guilty of not having played the Max Payne franchise for all those years, then this should get you convinced to give it a go.

Starting out with the original, Max Payne is a third-person shooter action video game that was developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Gathering of Developers in 2001 for Microsoft Windows(PC). Later it was ported to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, as well as a separately developed version for the Gameboy Advance, which were published by Rockstar Games. There was also a Mac OS port in the next year and years later, found its way to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as Android and iOS.

Max Payne definitely set its own bar of standard when it came out and redefined action third-person shooter games, mainly with its inclusion of and popularizing the bullet-time mechanic, which basically lets you play all those cool action flicks with slow-motion shoot-outs, while featuring a good amount of weapons that are all useful and work out very well, and will have you strategizing your way through the levels and using the weapon most suitable for the situation. The gameplay is very fluid and fun, consisting of endless shooting. There are no melee attacks, the only non-firearm weapon in the game would be a bat. There is a good variety of weapons in the game, ranging from mild to heavy, short range to long range, grenades and finally, the sniper. All guns have proper sounds and have a good use, no weapon is useless(besides the bat, you'll only be using it when you're forced to through story).

To make things even cooler, throughout the game you can collect pain killers, which you use to replenish some of your lost health.

The game has a fair length, spawning 10 hours on an average play for a usual gamer, and lacks replay value besides harder difficulties which are unlocked as you beat it over and over. Thankfully, you will not be forced to play through a boringly easy mode to unlock the harder ones, as the easiest mode is rather challenging for its name anyways. The hardest difficulty would have you don a personification of Sam Lake’s constipated grin that stays on Max Payne’s model in the game even if he’s burning to death. Beating the game on different difficulties also unlocks slightly different modes to replay the game, such as ‘New York Minute’, which forces you to complete each chapter in a limited time, and ‘The Last Challenge’, in which you have a fight with perpetual bullet time against a certain kind of enemy from the game.

The story is one of the best stories you'll find in a third-person shooter action game of its kind, which is thrilling, containing some suspense and allowing the game to be long enough to give you a satisfactory experience. While it appears cliche at first, the way it plays out and its characters are distinctive, and provide one hell of a ride.

The game starts with a story that is nothing new for a typical revenge flick, starting in New York City, 1998, with a detective coming home to find his loving wife and baby murdered, and thus embarking on a revenge in the worst blizzard of New York. What makes it special is the way it is presented, and its characters that are rather unique and distinctive in an otherwise cliche revenge story. The story is not that cliche anyway, as it starts off as one but eventually expands to a conspiracy and larger picture, not being limited to crime dons and the mafia, but also having high profile characters such as governmental and corporate individuals. Even the generic characters such as the mafia, are portrayed a bit differently than the usual and have fun personalities to follow, and the game has a lot of humor here and there, featuring Max Payne as a very sarcastic individual himself, while other characters can be funny as well, and even regular henchmen are given a bit of personality by having them talk to each other at certain points of the game.

Instead of long cut-scenes explaining the story, Max Payne has graphic novel panels with sound effects, music and good voice acting to explain and progress the story, with the characters played by real people, and Max Payne played by the writer Sam Lake himself. The casual in-game cut-scenes remain for shorter scenes. On the other hand, story is narrated by the voice of James G. McCaffrey as Max Payne, as Max narrates the story whether it's a graphic novel, a cut-scene or within gameplay.

Max Payne 1 Where it all began scene

If all that did not convince you to give it a go, the game has a few other elements to make itself stand out amongst the other countless action games, such as a special ‘nightmare’ sequence which plays out a bit differently than the normal game, and taking a little break from all the killing in the form of televisions throughout the game in which you can watch fictional TV shows such as 'Address Unknown' and 'Lords and Ladies', which are funny short shows that, although have no animation, have changing pictures much like the game's own cutscenes.

While the soundtrack is nothing groundbreaking, it fits in very well with the game and does a nice job of keeping you into the atmosphere, featuring one of the best video game themes. The voice acting is pretty decent in itself, and you’ll definitely love James G. McCaffrey’s narration as Max Payne.

In a final verdict, Max Payne is a 9 out of 10.

It is an excellent action third-person shooter that features stylish and fun gameplay that can be challenging, as well as an interesting way of progressing story through the graphic novels, with a good story and gritty design, while also keeping you giggling throughout the whole ride with its humor and sarcastic nature. The game's overall length is around 10-12 hours, which may seem short from some perspectives, but given the fact that the average games of such type are roughly 6-8 hours long, this is good enough. And while it lacks multiplayer or replayability in any form, the unlockable difficulty levels are a good way to enjoy the adventure all over again, but harder and more challenging the next time. The game is out on so many platforms by now, you can’t even make an excuse that you lack a device to play it on, so I hope you stopped reading this halfway through and went to the closest physical or online store to get the game.

After being done with the first game, you’ll instantly look for more. Lucky for you, Max Payne 2 lives up to the standard set by the first game, and features an even improved gameplay experience, alongside other aspects of the game.

Max Payne 2 was developed by Remedy Entertainment and published Rockstar Games in 2003 for Microsoft Windows(PC), PlayStation 2 and the Xbox platforms.

The game picks up where the first one left off, and not just in terms of story and setting but in gameplay as well. Taking everything from the first game, and improving on it, Max Payne 2 proves to be an experience even more solid than the previous title. The gameplay is now more fluid, and allows you to use bullet time without having to necessarily lunge around the place, while also still keeping that. The game is still difficult, and will have you strategize your load-out and methods to get through the area, although the Easy of this one is more forgiving than the first, while the other difficulties fill in for the hardened gamers. Among the new improvements, Max can now carry an extra weapon for instant use rather than having to select it before, such as grenades, a melee attack and you will also be playing as Mona for a segment in the game, which was a fun addition. The other things that made the first game unique also make a return, such as taking breaks from the usual gameplay and including a nightmare sequence, a gripping plot altogether with interesting characters, and having fictional TV shows for you to watch throughout the levels.

Revisiting Max Payne 2

Max Payne this time is played by Timothy Gibbs, while James G. McCaffrey continues to be the voice of Max Payne. And speaking of changes in the face, Max Payne now has multiple facial expressions(constipation does wear off)!

Unlike the first game which had a pretty decent length for an action game, a bad aspect of Max Payne 2 is that it’s shorter, spawning only 6 hours of gameplay. The first difficulty adapts to the player, if they are good it will remain fairly difficult, but if they keep dying, the enemy AI becomes weaker and more pain killers can be found. The game lacks replayablity, and the closest thing like the first game, is extra difficulties and modes. After beating the game, ‘New York Minute’ and ‘Dead Man Walking’ are unlocked. The first one is the game with a timer, where you are given score based on how quickly you finish it, and the second one is kind of a survival arena with five scenarios, Max must fight endlessly spawning enemies until he dies. But something that the first game lacked; finishing Max Payne 2 on the hardest difficulty will unlock an alternate ending to the game.

Like the first game the story is one of the best aspects of Max Payne 2. It picks up two years after the first game, and Max Payne is again a detective in the NYPD. While investigating murders by a group of hitmen, he eventually runs into Mona Sax who was presumed dead after the first game. Max Payne and Mona eventually have to join forces to figure out a bigger conspiracy which is full of betrayal and deaths. The story this time is less cliché than the first one, and is basically a noir-love story, in a way. The main characters mostly return from the first game, while some new ones join the cast, and while the game continues to be grim, it also incorporates humor at the right moments to keep the essence of Max Payne intact.

The game still uses graphic novel panels with sound effects to progress the story instead 
of cut-scenes, and the voice acting remains just as decent. The sound of the game, like the first game, is good and fits the atmosphere well, but nothing special besides the main theme, which is great. The sound effects are also pretty well-made, and every gun has proper sounds and enemies have more dialogue between themselves.

In a final verdict, Max Payne 2 is an 8.5 out of 10.

Max Payne 2 is an amazing action game that keeps up the stylishly fun gameplay and improves on it, while offering a story even better than the first one that will keep you engaged to find out what comes next, while maintaining chunks of humor in the gritty design of the game. The length of the game is criminally short but that is the only downside to this great game and the extra modes, while not much, should keep you occupied for a while to test yourself with hardcore conditions of the game’s difficulties. The alternate ending unlocked through the hardest difficulty is also a nice touch to have you come back to it, and playing as Mona for a part of the game was certainly a plus.

Max Payne 3 was developed by Rockstar Studios and published by Rockstar Games in 2012, for the first time not being developed by Remedy Games, nor written by Sam Lake. The game was released for Microsoft Windows(PC), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Mac OS X.

Max Payne 3, like the previous games in the franchise, is a third-person-shooter action video game, and the gameplay is similar as well. However, as to be expected with the gap of a generation between Max Payne 3 and the previous games, the game is significantly different.

Keeping the kick-ass shooter experience intact, except even more fluid this time around, Max Payne 3 is a solid game that lives up to the standard of the franchise and makes it even more fun to shoot your way through heaps of bad guys, taking you through the skyscrapers and the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The game finally adds a cover system which allows you to take cover behind objects to avoid taking damage, as well as other new additions to the gameplay such as being able to continue shooting even after falling down from a dodge(rather than having to wait until you get up), and ‘Last Stand’, in which if you have a pain killer left, if you run out of health entirely, you have a few seconds in bullet time to shoot the exact enemy who shot you down. If you manage to do that, Max will get back up using the remaining pain killer – whereas failure would mean Max dies. Other additions include proper melee attacks; if you get close to an enemy and attack, you enter a stylish take-down animation where you kill the enemy. The game also adds auto-aim for those that cannot properly kill enemies in free-aim, making it easier for new gamers. There’s also a nice range of weapons in the game, but for some reason there are no useable grenades in the game, only a grenade launcher that can be picked up occasionally. You also cannot have one weapon each of all the kinds of weapons in the game like the previous installments, making it limited and causing you to strategize your load-out.

The game is slightly longer than Max Payne 2, but still relatively short in itself, spawning around 8 hours of gameplay for an average gamer. The game has extra difficulties which you can play for a challenge, but extra modes for single player are initially not there. Through the last DLC released for the game, you can obtain a mode called ‘New York Minute Arcade Challenge’, which is pretty much the same as mode of the same name in Max Payne 2. Speaking of DLC, Max Payne 3 becomes the first game in the series to have DLC, with most of the content being multiplayer-only, only New York Minute Arcade Challenge and extra skins for Max being single-player content. AND speaking of multiplayer, Max Payne 3 finally becomes the one to introduce multiplayer to the franchise, which means you’d be playing the game for quite a while, contrary to the poor replayability of the previous titles(even in 2016, there’s some people available in the multiplayer community of the game). The multiplayer is also very well executed, as to be expected from Rockstar’s standards, and features tons of weapons, modes and skins(although some being DLC) and also includes grenades as a weapon; something missing from the single-player game. You can also carry over your crew from Max Payne 3 to Grand Theft Auto V. The game continues the tradition of including TVs around the game where you can catch an episode of a fictional TV show.

The story takes place several years after Max Payne 2, with Max Payne being addicted to alcohol and pain killers, and being very depressed and cynical with the world. No longer a cop in the NYPD, he moves to Sao Paulo and works as a bodyguard for a wealthy businessman. Hoping for a new start, Max Payne is instead thrown into a plot of conspiracy, corruption, betrayal and death, desperately trying to protect people, find the truth and a way out. The story is not that new, but it’s executed very well. The characters are decent, and while you may be able to predict some plots of the game, it can still surprise you with turns of events. Max Payne is as witty as ever, and continues to be voiced by James G. McCaffrey, again narrating the game, while the character is no longer modelled after Timothy Gibbs. Instead of progressing the story through the visual novel panels, it actually uses cut-scenes this time. While serious in tone generally, Max Payne 3 still mixes in moments of humor to keep the essence of the series alive, with Max back to making jokes unlike the second game, where his statements were more poetic.

The cut-scenes are well rendered and are quite a welcome change, the downside being the fact it takes away an important aspect of the atmosphere of the original games. Another issue with the cut-scenes is the fact they have an annoying effect that keeps shaking the screen with colors and highlights words on the screen, possibly trying to throwback to the graphic novel panels. But unless you have some sort of a condition, this shouldn’t really be an issue and the rest of the thing is fine. The voice acting is very decent, and the soundtrack of the game is also pretty good(although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as it is performed by HEALTH and caters to the specific atmosphere of the game). So something all 3 games share; we can all agree the theme is yet again the best part of the soundtrack, and this time there’s around 5 variations to it(hooray!). The rest of the sound effects are great as well, the pill popping, environmental damage, guns and yelling, all are done decently.

In a final verdict, Max Payne 3 is an 8 out of 10.

Max Payne 3 is a worthy addition to the franchise and is one of the best action games you’d be playing that came out in the past few years. The game is extremely fluid, the gameplay is very fun and it is accompanied by a good story to keep you hooked. The length of the game may not be that long, but it is still a satisfying experience, and to add up to the replayability, we have the multiplayer mode which is a very fun addition to the game, and a welcome addition as a whole to the franchise. If you enjoyed the first two games, or just enjoy TPS games as a whole, Max Payne 3 is certainly a game you should give a go. Max Payne 3 could be the last game in the series, and if that is the case, the franchise definitely ended on a high note. Only thing that could've been better would had been an inclusion of segments such as nightmare sequences, which were one of the things with the first two that made them so special.

If you still haven’t started playing Max Payne games after reading all this, you’re honestly missing out on one of the best action video game franchises of all time, and I would really recommend you to give it a shot. You can send in thank you letters after you’re done!


Muhammad Junaid

Muhammad Junaid is the writer of Entertainment Ghost. He writes articles, reviews, previews and entertainment news about gaming, technology, the media and so on. You can follow him on Twitter @Mr_MJunaid and Facebook MJunaid

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Published On Entertainment Ghost At Monday, May 01, 2017