Monday, 3 February 2014

Max Payne (PC)

Super Adventures in Gaming Replay 2014 - Game 4

Today on Super Adventures, Replay Week continues with my second look at Remedy's Max Payne, as seen on PC, Mac, PlayStation 2, Xbox, iOS, Android and, uh, Game Boy Advance. It also got a movie in 2008, which was utter shite (no huge surprise there).

I suppose this one's not actually technically a replay, seeing as first time around I was mostly talking about the GBA version instead, which is a great deal more isometric and a great deal less 3D. It wasn't all that terrible either (genuine huge surprise there!)

Here, have Max's theme tune to listen to while you read: youtube link, it's one of my favourites.

(Click the images to view them at a fascinating 1280x1024 resolution.)

I've seen the game's intro a hundred times before and you wanna know why? It's because it's unskippable. But hey I was going to watch it again this time anyway.

It starts in New York City, 1 hour ago, with police being called in to Aesir Plaza as shots have been fired on the rooftop and an officer is in danger. The camera flies around the skyscraper, circling up to the roof to reveal...

"They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point. I released my finger from the trigger and then it was over."
Max is our deadpan narrator for the game, doing his best impression of a private eye in a classic film noir. His character model doesn't talk so much though as his mouth is locked in a permanent pained smirk, his face a photograph of the lead writer projected onto a low polygon mesh.

Here's some other faces that were around in 2001 (also from cutscenes), just to give the graphics some context. I'd say Max has a higher resolution texture, though the other guys have things like ears and lips, and can actually open them to read out their dialogue inside the scene, instead of having their lines float in from the future.
"To make any kind of sense of it I need to go back three years-- back to the night the pain started."


No need for me to explain what's happening in this scene. This is all voiced by the way, presumably by actual voice actors.

Instead of animating the cutscenes in-engine or going with expensive pre-rendered CGI, Remedy decided to use with Graphic Novel pages to tell the story. And instead of hiring expensive models, Remedy decided to make their own staff pose for the photo references. That's why it's the image has got a bit of a 'photo of game developers hanging around the office with a Photoshop filter over the top' kind of look to it.

Honestly though I think it really works; the characters are way more expressive than real-time 3D technology could manage at the time and it gives the game a really distinctive look.

Max arrives at his idyllic suburban home to find drawers pulled open, wardrobes tipped over and a V with a syringe sticking through it has been spray painted onto his wall. Also, most disturbingly of all, his house seems to have grown to twice its normal size! No wonder there's an exclamation mark above his head, for all the guy knows he could be shrinking down to nothing.

The camera flashes to a photo of him and his wife, scattered baby blocks, a bathroom door and finally a ringing telephone. Can't say that the signs are good.

I walked over to pick up the phone and found that the woman on the other end of the line was less than helpful, despite Max's pleading that she call 911, and soon hung up on him. No idea why it doesn't occur to him to put the phone down and try ringing them himself.

I killed the three intruders upstairs, but I was too late to stop them from gunning down Max's family. It's playing a music box lullaby right now by the way just to heavy-handedly hammer home the horror of what's just happened here.

Max is so distraught that he cradles his dead wife in his arms... and shows some actual emotion in his voice.

The graphic novel takes over to reveal that Max discovered that the junkies were high on a designer drug called Valkyr and joined his friend Alex in the DEA to get it off the streets. After finally getting a lead on possible Valkyr trafficker, Max goes undercover as Godzilla and stomps between the puny skyscrapers of Manhattan, terrorising New Yorkers.


After two months undercover, Max gets a call from his DEA contact B.B. telling him that Alex has a lead on Jack Lupino and wants to meet with him at Roscoe Street Station. Also Alex has apparently lost his phone.

I could've gone with a page from the graphic novel to go with that info or a perhaps a picture of the Max coming in on the train, but in the end I couldn't resist this screenshot of cars in snow. This is a pretty impressive looking street for 2001 in my humble opinion.

And here's 20 screenshots of streets from other video games released around the same time to compare it against:

... uh, actually I'll let you guys off this once. Anyway, Max steps off the train to find that the platform is abandoned and the exits are locked. Also there's a dead guy in the maintenance room.

Alas the meeting was a trap, as we soon learn that the station is swarming with Jack Lupino's men. Seems that they assumed that they'd have the place to themselves because no one would be dumb enough to travel in this weather, and they were very nearly right.

I'm not complaining though as it gives me a chance to take part in a little gameplay at last. Max Payne has the rare gift of being able to perceive time at a slower rate, the world slowing to a crawl while his aiming is as fast as ever; meaning that he can arc through the air like this for a second or two, carefully choosing his shots. Though this 'Bullet Time™' is fuelled by the lifeforce of others, so I have to keep getting kills to recharge the gauge afterwards.

Bullet Time isn't just about Shootdodging™ though, as I can run around in slow motion as well. This is handy in situations where... actually it's handy in all situations really. I mean Shootdodging is fun and all, but who wants to end up lying on their ass in a room full of enemies at the end of their slow motion dive? It's just a shame it burns through my hour-glass gauge fast, so I can only use it sparingly.

What's that Max, you've noticed something important over on the left? Well it'll have to wait until I've restocked on painkillers from that medicine cabinet over yonder.

Painkillers are my health items in this, each one restoring maybe a fifth of my health silhouette in the bottom left corner. I do have a small amount of health regeneration, but that only empties the hurt down to shoulder level, enough to for me to survive a single minor hit perhaps.

Personally I don't bother with 'em though, as even with full health I'm incredibly fragile. I quick save every now and again, and if I get hit twice in one encounter I just replay it until I don't get hit twice.


Here's an Easter egg for you: if you get hold of a grenade somehow and throw it into a hole at the start of chapter two, the rats will eventually turn hostile. Also they'll start packing Desert Eagles and attempt to unload them directly in your face.

Here's another fun fact: rats are tiny and hard to screenshot (sorry).


It turns out that Lupino's men had taken over the station to tunnel through to a nearby bank vault and rob the place. I'm not really sure if I managed to foil their nefarious scheme or not, but I'm sure losing like 30-something men wasn't part of the plan.

But here's some good news: I've met up with Alex at last, in an actual in-game cutscene! Though the bad news is that he gets shot in the back and killed. Oh well. Not all of us are blessed with a health bar I guess.

Actually I should mention that the enemies are fairly resilient in this and when you combine that with my impaired accuracy when moving, it means that I can never rely on a single shot from any gun to get the job done. There is an auto-aim option though, which might help with that in exchange for your dignity.

Anyway, losing his old friend does nothing for Max's already fragile state of mind and he goes off to pay Jack Lupino a visit in person. He doesn't exactly know where he is right now, but he has a few ideas and with his cover still in place he should be able to walk right in without suspicion.


Max goes for Lupino's hotel first, running into a pair of assholes who immediately hang a lantern on his ridiculous name. Unfortunately Max's efforts to get Lupino's location out of them are stymied by the fact that they've learned that he's an undercover cop and would rather just shoot him a few times.

Wait hang on, he used his real name while undercover? Seems a bit... unwise somehow.

Well thanks game for dropping me right into a boss fight at the start of the level!

It's just lucky I had some ammo left after my epic killing spree on the last level or else... oh, they're dead already? Wow, I was expecting that to be a massive pain in the ass. Uh, no pun intended.

Max made a comment about the letter on the desk catching his eye, so I went over and discovered it was from Vinnie Gognitti, informing the Finito brothers that Rico Muerte is coming here to watch over a Valkyr deal at the hotel. So there's two more names I need to keep track of.

Okay Lupino is a mob boss, Vinnie Gognitti works for him, the Finito's worked for Vinnie, and there's a Valkyr drug deal going on. Got it. I don't think any of this is relevant to my 'take down Lupino' mission though, except for the fact that there's going to be a lot of locked doors and nervous thugs standing between me and the hotel exit.

Looks like this guy didn't see me standing behind the wall. Oh well, I'm sure he'll hear me unload this pump-action shotgun into his back, and if he's very lucky (and they often are) he'll survive long enough to shoot me back before I can get the next shell loaded.

I have to make sure I have the element of surprise when possible, because reflexes alone aren't enough when bullets are modelled as physical objects that take time to reach their target. Even if I can catch sight of an enemy first and then immediately shoot him dead with a single perfectly aimed shot to the head, I can still end up getting killed by his returning fire.


Uh-oh, Buffy's staking junkies now? He didn't explode into dust so I don't think that he's a vampire, but maybe I should cut his head off or something just to make sure.

Well there's no way back into the corridor from this secret side room so I guess I'm leaving via the window, same way I came in.

Hey look, I've found the Valkyr deal! I figured I might as well drop in and stop this while I was here, seeing as I'm fighting a one-man war against drug dealers in general. Also there's a locked door down the corridor and I need to look in all of these side rooms for the key. Some good old fashioned level design there.

There's not much scope for wandering off the path in this really, aside from some unlocked rooms, though it's very much worth my while to search every corner, open up every cupboard, and smash every box for ammo and painkillers.


It took me two chapters to make it out of that hotel in the end, but after a little bit of trouble with a locked exit door and a well hidden bastard of a door switch, I made it to the next chapter of the comic.

Max decided that his next stop should be Jack Lupino's slum tenements, seeing as he wasn't at the hotel and there's no one left alive there who'd know where he is. There's no one left alive there at all really. Unfortunately the tenement buildings were rigged to blow, thanks to the Russian Mob, so now I've got to get in and out before the whole place comes down.

Oh and there's another two names for my list. Vladmir is the leader of the Russian Mob, Don Punchinello is Jack Lupino's boss. Man, I should be drawing up a chart.

Some games just go with a road block or a fence to block off the street (while others just say RETURN TO THE BATTEFIELD) but Max Payne isn't satisfied with anything less than putting a flaming oil truck in my way. Well I ain't going down that road then.

Fortunately fire and destruction can also be used to my advantage, as shooting this gas tank sends another canister flying across to blow open a hole in the opposite wall.

I've also been shooting a bunch of people, but you've seen that already. Just assume that there's a dozen enemies between each screenshot.

Well crap, explosive destruction is a fickle ally indeed. The bombs have destroyed my path up to Lupino's office, so I'm going to need go up through a neighbouring building and cross back via some pipes.


First though I needed to go up through another building to convince this guy to come back down with me and tell Lupino's men a password that'll get me through the door. Basically he's a walking-talking red keycard.

Speaking of talking, this isn't the kind of game where I can go and trigger a conversation with someone. I do exactly two things in this game: look at my graphic novel and shoot folks.

Actually there's a third thing I do and that's hang around listening to these TVs and watching the images cycle for a minute or so whenever I come across one. The last one I found was showing a period drama called Lords and Ladies, and this one's showing a surreal film-noir inspired by Twin Peaks, called Address Unknown. At least I'm assuming it's supposed to be like Twin Peaks, I've never seen the series myself.

It has a backwards talking pink flamingo in it and that's got to be a reference to something, dammit. Creepily one of its lines is "The flesh of fallen angels", which is what that junkie said to him three years ago after killing his wife. I guess he must've been a fan.

Ah, the old 'try to open the door, accidentally open the wall instead' gag. Explosions can make anything funny. I should've known there was something up with this door anyway; usually the doors I can go through have light bleeding in from the room next door because of how the shadows are pre-calculated.

Hey, what's the big deal, letting Max shoot Vinnie Gognitti in a cutscene then leaving me to fight the room full of his goons afterwards? I wouldn't mind so much except that I have to put up with this scene appearing every time I fail and reload my save.

Man, I am so glad I'm not playing on Dead on Arrival difficulty, with only seven save games to last me the whole level. Then again that difficulty is locked until I've finished the game on medium mode, which itself is locked until I've finished it on the easiest skill level, so it wasn't really an option for me. Incidentally, locked difficulty levels is not a concept I'm fond of, for obvious reasons.


Well I've found a way out of that street.

Max figured that Vinnie would know where Jack Lupino is (seeing as he's his boss) so we're chasing him down. He's surprisingly fast for a guy with an open gut wound; in fact I'm amazed he can move at all.

Damn, he can leap from a moving train and fire a Desert Eagle, and he isn't even chewing whole bottles of painkillers to stay on his feet (like I am)! I still think those are nice graphics, considering that this was from the era when game characters had their fingers glued together. Shame about his shoulder though.

There's something very... 'The Matrix' about this short interlude somehow though.


In fact there's been a few shots so far that have reminded me of The Matrix and I can't imagine they were all put in by accident.

The Matrix (DVD).
Of course this is a classic shot that's shown up in movies since at least Hitchcock's Vertigo back in 1958. You could just as easily argue that it was inspired by something like, I dunno... Ghostbusters.

Rotated, cropped and brightened Max Payne screenshot.
But having the stairs shot AND this rooftop leaping shot in the same chapter starts to raise suspicions.

The Matrix (DVD) again.
I know that Max Payne was in development before the release of The Matrix in 1999, so the Bullet Time feature and the leather coat is possibly just a coincidence. But that doesn't mean that the film couldn't have influenced the cutscenes late in production.

(If you put the game on and look at the ground after those tiles have landed, they're obviously in the shape of Tetris pieces).
The Matrix (DVD). (No Tetris pieces hidden here that I'm aware of.)
This comparison's a real stretch, but both pictures look cool so whatever. Slow-motion door explosions are not something to ever be cynical about.

The Matrix (DVD).
Max Payne does have levels involving shoot outs and pillars, but none of them quite like The Matrix's famous lobby scene as far as I remember. However, the MAX-FX engine was licensed for the 3DMark2001 benchmark software and, well...

3DMark2001 Lobby demo.
It's not shot for shot perfect, but man if you wanted to see what Max Payne would look like if it really was an intentional Matrix rip off, this remake of the lobby scene should satisfy your curiosity.

Uh, just forget you saw that fps though, okay? I'll upgrade my rig when I see smoke coming out the back of it. Again.


In the end Vinnie Gognitti went down surprisingly easily. I just ran right at him, holding down the trigger on my dual Ingrams and kept him flinching in pain until it was over. I could've shown a picture of my boring victory, but wouldn't you rather look at this miserable old building instead?

This is the Ragna Rock nightclub, where Jack Lupino is definitely hiding out this time, or so Vinnie assured me after a bit of encouragement. No exploding oil trucks needed this time as they've started me off locked inside the building.

When possible I like to lean the camera around corners and use the third person camera to spy on what's around the other side. But when faced with a door all I can really do is kick that thing open, dive back, and try to get a head start on the gunplay. Or look like an asshole shooting at absolutely no one, that's always a possibility.

Then I just have to hope that there's no one left waiting to shoot me in the second it takes for Max to pick himself back off the ground.

Or throw a fucking grenade at me! That'll also do it.


That's all I get. Two ticks as the grenade lands and bounces and that's both my warning and my countdown to detonation. Honestly, it seems that there's only two ways to avoid grenade deaths: foreknowledge or pure luck. Of course it's not a huge problem with my quick saves, but I kinda didn't want to rely on them too much.

I'm over here now dumbasses. Man look at that cloud of shotgun pellets fly past on the left.

As the bullets actually have a travel time it's possible for me to simply move out of the way of them by predicting where they're going to go. Though this also works both ways, as I can accidentally dive right through incoming fire. And by 'can' I mean 'always do'.

I should probably throw in a shot of Max's current arsenal and show off the weapon selector. No two gun limit here that's for sure and I'm far from a full set right now.

Oh in case you were wondering, yes Max does hit those drums if you activate them. He draws the line at karaoke though.


Finally, it's Jack Lupino in person! Wow, I guess Vinnie didn't lie to me.

There's that line again, "the flesh of fallen angels". I suppose Max could've tried asking Lupino how he knew that he was a cop, but I'm sure a lunatic apocalypse-obsessed demon-worshipping drug-dealing psychopath high on his own product would sooner carve out his heart than give a coherent answer to any question. Plus Max really really wants to just shoot the fucker right now.

The first half of this epic boss fight was a bit rough for me, as there were people dropping down behind me while goons sniped me from the upper floor. Now that Lupino himself has entered the fight though, it's all going very... Vinnie Gognitti. He can roll around all he wants, I've got plenty of Bullet Time in the tank and I'm dual wielding Ingrams. It's over.


But wait, a new character arrives with disturbing revelations! Mona Sax, professional femme fatale and contract killer, and Max's kryptonite. Not that he knows it yet.

Mona is the sister of Lisa Punchinello, who is married to Angelo Punchinello, Lupino's former boss and the man who apparently set up Alex and Max to be at that train station in level one. More names! It looks like his roaring rampage of revenge is going to have to continue higher up the chain... except Mona drugged his drink to get him out of the way, so he's actually going to lie unconscious on the floor in Ragna Rock as Angelo's goons come to investigate what's going on. Thanks Mona!

I didn't plan to continue playing through the second third of the game as well, but I couldn't quit without showing off one of the dream sequences.

This is a distorted version of Max's house, where the corridors never bloody end. Only one of these paths leads to the exit, the other two send me in a loop. Though all the hallways look the same so I have no idea where I am at any time. Oh plus Max's wife is crying and yelling things like "Max, no! Please Max, why? I didn't mean to, I'm sorry!"

But wait, it gets better!

After solving the first maze, I'm rewarded with a second one, this time made up from blood trails floating in a void. Slipping off the lines means death. Oh also this time I'm serenaded by Max's crying baby child, so I'm trying not to think too hard about where all the blood is coming from. I'm definitely starting to get a good idea why Max snapped and went on a killing spree though.

Fortunately I remembered that I can jump across to a different line near the start of the maze and skip the whole thing more or less... but there's another dream sequence like this after part 2 as well, and you have to do the same thing there as well! So I think I'll quit here.

Nostalgia tells me that Max Payne is one of the greatest games I've ever played. Nostalgia is such a liar. Not that it's a bad game though, it's just not quite as entertaining as it used to be for me. I found compensating for the bullet speed a little awkward, and it threw me off how I couldn't rely on being able to kill an enemy in a certain number of hits. Sometimes I could nail a target with a single shot from down a hallway, other times I could hit some point blank in Bullet Time with the same gun and still need a second or third shot. In a game where I'm often surrounded, I'd like to be able to put an enemy down and switch to the next target as soon as bloody possible.

I have to admit, I was completely lost by the storyline first time around, which is weird because it's not that complicated. Part 1 is basically just a remake of Super Mario Bros., except the princess is a murderous Mafia boss and the castles are mob-owned clubs and tenements full of junkies. I think the game just threw out too many names for me too soon, leaving me confused about where I was and why. But hey, I had to love the game anyway for the gameplay alone. Plus it doesn't really matter so much what Max is saying anyway; it's all about his turn of phrase and the sour delivery.

Do you want to prove to the world that you exist and that you also have opinions about things? Perhaps you want to point out all my mistakes and prove yourself to be a wise and knowledgeable person on the subject of [video game title here]? Or maybe you'd just like to say 'hi' and throw a little thanks my way for taking the time to assemble these words and images in such a manner purely to brighten up your day? Well... I guess you could use the message box below to leave me a comment if you're really THAT bothered. I mean, that's what it's there for I suppose.


  1. Woah there! These updates are coming faster than an express bullet train on a fresh organ transport mission! I can't keep up, this is madness!

  2. Do you have a PCI-E slot?

    1. Sure, my PC isn't THAT old!

      I'm guessing my framerate on that benchmark demo was so bad because I had everything up to max, I was recording it, and it wasn't able to make full use of my graphics card's modern hardware... relatively modern hardware.

    2. Low? I remember running that demo on my computer back when it came out and getting 18 fps, which was amazing back then.

    3. Ah! Thought I'd found my HD6950 a worthy home when I go up to an R9 290x.
      When the bitcoin miners lay off on buying them all.

  3. "if you wanted to see what Max Payne would look like if it really was an intentional Matrix rip off"

    If I remember right there was a mod called Kung Fu mod, if I remember right, that gave you the ability to do kung fu which pretty much turned the whole game into The Matrix. Especially with the final level having pretty much a remake of The Matrix lobby shootout.

  4. I like how "three years ago" is a paragraph title.

  5. I like the era comparison screenshots. Two games on there are major masterpieces, Shadow of Memories and Anachronox. What are those other two games though?

    1. If I remember right, the one on the left is Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the next one along is Grand Theft Auto 3.


Semi-Random Game Box