A while back, during one of my CAG-fueled shopping sprees, I picked up a copy of Max Payne for the Game Boy Advance. I had never played Max Payne on the PC (which, by all accounts, was a great game) or the sequel. In fact, my copy of Max Payne sat on my shelf, untouched and unopened, for months while I wasted time on losers like Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the DS. It’s a shame too, because Max Payne is the most of fun I’ve had with a GBA game in a long time. (Even though I’m playing it on my DS Lite)
Max Payne is an undercover cop who’s life is torn apart after his wife and child are brutally murdered, killed by a couple junkies high on a new designer drug called “V.” Max quits the police force, joins the DEA and goes undercover to infiltrate the drug rings pushing V on the street. He’s framed for a murder he actually witnessed and is now on the run. He’s basically got nothing to lose. The story is told from Max’s point of view, and is a spiral into the depths of organized crime, government conspiracies, and Norse mythology. If that alone is not enough to convince to pick this game up, hopefully the rest of the review will.
The hallmark of the Max Payne series has been “bullet-time,” the time-bending film technique used by John Woo and over-popularized in the Matrix Trilogy. It’s basically slowing down time, except for your trigger finger, so you can manuever, mid-flight, to send bullets flying in all directions. From what I’ve read, it works great in the PC version of the game. I wasn’t sure how it’d translate to the GBA version, but it works excellent. Jumping into a room, a 9mm in each hand and dispatching all the bad guys in a matter of seconds while your jump for cover is pure fun.
The game is played from the isometric, 3rd-person view. On the pixelated GBA screen, 3D games often suffer from slowdown and flicker but this isn’t been the case with Max Payne. The controls take a while to get used to, seeing how the movement is at an angle and the directional pad isn’t, but once you’re used to it, it’s not a big problem. Visually, they’ve somehow fit everything from the big screen onto the little GBA screen, which is quite a feat.
As far as sound is concerned, I don’t think this much mileage has been squeezed out of the Game Boy Advance. The story is delivered in stylized cut-scenes, each narrated by Max himself, and they sound suprisingly good. There’s only a few musical themes, but they create a gritty and dark atmosphere.
But the most striking aspect of the game has been the amount of blood! Every gunshot, every explosion, ever swing of the lead pipe solicits a spray of blood. With the lack of gory detail, those little red pixels splattered on the wall are still able to invoke quite a visceral experience. Couple that with the blast of a shotgun and the grunt of a man injured and you’ve captured the essence that is Max Payne. A man after revenge, with nothing to lose. It’s fierce.
So fierce that I’m surprised it’s a GBA game. On the system where Pokemon and Sponge Bob rules, it was interesting that Rockstar would port such a violent game over to the kid-friendly GBA. Max Payne is anything but kid-friendly. But it is rated M, so any parent would be wise to avoid it.
And any “mature” gamer would be wise to pick it up.