Max Payne

Some people say that in extreme, life-threatening situations, time slows down so that even a gunshot seems to last several seconds. The game's Bullet Time feature simulates this effect with stunning results - its third-person gunfights are spectacularly cinematic, and it manages to look as cool and dramatic as a film noir while being more fun than most other shooters.

The hero, Max Payne, is a composite of every action-movie hero of the last 60 years. More specifically, he's a tough New York City detective with a permanent sneer on his face. He's framed for a crime and thrust into the middle of an evil scheme involving the Mafia, a CIA-like group, and a dangerous new drug called Valkyr. Solution: kill everybody.

Payne's gruff narration is convincing, even if the script is laughably overwritten ("The cops arrived, sirens singing in the off-key harmony of a manic-depressive choir."). No game, except maybe Half Life, has done a better job of weaving story into gameplay.

In addition to the dark, graphic-novel-style cut scenes and Max's ever-present narration, the game is most notable for its use of Bullet Time, which is similar to slo-mo scenes in "The Matrix" and most John Woo movies. If you turn it on in the middle of a firefight, the action slows so you can see bullets in mid-air and can aim with precision while your enemies are just blasting wildly. It looks amazingly cool and works surprisingly well. Expect many imitators.

Even without the Bullet Time gimmick, Max Payne would be a first-rate title. The gritty New York City environments are among the most detailed and realistic ever created. Shoot a tile floor and a chunk of tile blows apart. Turn on the shower and water flows. Coolest of all is when you're diving across a room, spraying bullets at your enemies, sending sparks and blood flying - all in dramatic slow motion. While it only takes about 10 hours to complete Max Payne, it will be 10 of the best hours you've spent on a computer in a long time.

Developer: Remedy Entertainment; Publisher: Gathering of Developers; URL: http://maxpayne.godgames.com GRAPHICSNew York City has never looked so bleak and gloomy - or so true to life. You can almost feel the grime on the walls of the subway. Everything can be bashed or shot, and the weapon effects are awesome, especially the Molotov cocktails.

SOUND

Max's gruff narration is the main sound effect, and it fits the game's mood perfectly, though it's a time zone or two on the melodramatic side. The sleazy bad guys have some good lines, the voice acting is high quality, and the weapons sound like the real deal.

CONTROLS

While using the slo-mo sounds complicated, the controls in Max Payne are simpler than those in most shooters. Anyone who has played a first-person shooter before will be blasting bad guys in no time. Bullet Time is one of the best new features in any game in years.

FUN FACTOR

Max Payne is a well-polished gem. Everything is done perfectly, from the graphics to the gameplay to the voice acting to the story. Of course, with that much refinement, it's not surprising the game lasts only about 10 hours. But they're 10 great hours.

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