Bring on the Payne!! That seems to be the message gamers are sending with the latest sales data for the action game, Max Payne. The numbers don’t lie as Max Payne has shot to the top of PC game sales chart during the week ending August 11th (source: NPD Intellect). Action gamers have been clamoring for something different in the world of shooters and Max Payne seems to be supplying the right medicine with its tightly woven storytelling and cinematic gameplay.

Max Payne is a former New York City police officer whose life is shattered when he comes home one day to find his wife and infant murdered by junkies high on the drug, Valkyer. Max seeks revenge by taking the direct line to the source of this vicious drug – da’ Mob. It’s your typical one man vs. the syndicate story but it makes for some entertaining pulp fiction, both literary and figuratively through its illustrated storybook pages and narration. Remedy Entertainment has done a solid job of pulling you into the story and keeping you locked there like a p**ed-off cop’s headlock.In simple terms, think of it as a third-person version of Soldier of Fortune meets The Matrix. I won’t pull any punches here – this is a very violent game and with its Bullet Time feature, you get all the action in its full slow-motion glory (or maybe that should be gory). I was initially skeptical when I first heard about this feature since it sounded more like a marketing gimmick but after playing the game and using it, I have to say it really adds another dimension to the action. With the press of a button, Bullet Time puts everything in a slow-motion mode, which gives Max an upper hand for taking out multiple enemies.

Shootdodging is the most common Bullet Time move and it’s just flat out cool to use. Hit the Bullet Time button and press a movement button and Max will make a slow-motion dive in that direction. The most common move is hitting either the left or right button, which produces a sideways dive that is highly effective in dodging gunfire but still enables you to keep your aiming reticule on an enemy. A forward or backward dive is just as dramatic but tends to leave you more exposed to gunfire heading your way. The neat thing is that you find yourself replaying a lot of the action just to try out the different slow-motion moves. It’s all very cinematic in that it gives you the experience of controlling a character in your own personal Matrix film.

Bullet-Time is something I could see being implemented in other types of games, with sports games being the most obvious. Kudos goes to Remedy Entertainment for introducing such an innovative feature to computer gaming.Now on to the standard gameplay fare. Overall, puzzles are kept to a reasonable level and tend to be very logical and actually fun to figure out. Make no mistake about it, this game is designed for the action sect and it doesn’t stray from its winning formula. The primary mission is to take out any and all thugs that get in your way of finding out who is at the center of the Valkyer drug distribution. The thugs in the first two chapters are classic Mafia-type caricatures with names such as Spinelli, Punchinello, etc. Like the game’s illustrated storyboards, they are strictly comic-book material but nonetheless entertaining. I won’t spoil it for you but the last chapter introduces, let’s just say slightly more combative enemies.

The enemy AI is good in respect to the accuracy of their shooting but the enemies do leave themselves vulnerable while they’re shooting at you. This is most likely a design decision since it plays into the use of Bullet Time. Some more variety in enemy fighting styles would have been nice since most of the enemies just come right at you with their guns blazing. Once in a while you’ll get a guy lobbing a grenade at you, which definitely mixing things up but this type of attack change doesn’t happen quite nearly enough. Make no mistake about it, the gunfights are intense and are a kick to experience but after mowing down what seems like a hundred thugs, you crave to use your brain by going up against different attack modes. Facing foes with different skills such as a sniper, silent a*assin, or maybe even a huge thug (where you can only fight him with a melee weapon) are prime examples that come to mind.

Whiffs of strategy are evident with the use of the sniper gun (to take out long-distance enemies) but most of the time, it’s blast away!What about the replay factor? Unfortunately, Max Payne is only a single player game so you won’t be able to show off your Bullet Time moves online. There are different difficulty modes, which become unlocked after completing the standard “Fugitive’ level. The “New York Minute” is the most challenging with its in-game countdown timer. These won’t cure your fix for playing online but should add some extra hours to your Payne.The graphics are exceptional. Set in a winter storm in New York City, you’ll find yourself wandering the streets as snow flurries around you. You can even see the mist coming from Max’s breath. The downtown streets are realistically portrayed so it feels like you’re walking through an actual city. The graphics make extensive use of photo rendering, which adds to the gritty realism of Max Payne’s world. The level of interactivity with objects around you is exceptional – turn TVs on and off, water flows from faucets, toilets flush, open furniture drawers and cabinet doors, get a soda from a soda machine and more.

This is what every game should be like! The damage effects are even more impressive. You can blast virtually anything and get a corresponding effect such as wood splintering, exploding computers and TVs, wall surfaces shattering in bits and pieces, just to name a few. Most impressive!At this point, I would have to say Max Payne is the leading candidate for Action Game of the Year. It’s cinematic approach and strong storytelling are first-rate and should prove to be irresistible for any action gamer. The last game that had me this locked in was Half-Life, which is not bad company to run with. This game does prove that Payne is good!

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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