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Splinter Cell
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Max Payne
Max PayneIn the likewise titled action game from Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, Max Payne has nothing to lose and even less to laugh - in contrast to the gamer who can only win with this fabulously designed "Matrix"-style 3D shooter. The reason is fairly simple, with Max being probably the coolest - and most pitiable - anti heroe in gaming history. Contrary to the Duke or Gordon Freeman (Half-Life), Max doesn't fight against a horde of hideous extraterrestrials but against mafia thugs of the nastiest kind. But he's not out there to thwart their criminal activities (although, basically, it will have the same effect), no, Max Payne has only one thing in mind - revenge.
Everything ripped apart in a New York minute:
Roscoe Street StationThe intro of Max Payne starts at a point where other games would normally end. In the middle of a full-blown blizzard, a battle-weary Max is standing on top of a skyscraper, weapon in hand, leaving the havoc behind he had wreaked only moments before. Cut - three years earlier. On coming home one night, the NYPD cop Max Payne has to face his personal nightmare scenario. His family has been senselessly killed by some junkies high on drugs, and Max comes too late. The murderers had injected themselves the previously unknown synthetic drug "Valkyr", a drug that seems to be spreading through the whole of New York City. Max sets out on a crusade of revenge against New York's mafia who is behind the mysterious drug. But when his boss and best friend at the DEA is killed, Max is framed for murder himself, becoming the hunted in turn by the police and mafia alike. In his fight against both sides, the distinction between "good" and "bad" soon blurs...
Slow-motion to the Max:
New York CityNaturally, it's now up to the player to thwart the drug bosses' plans in a so far unparalleled action manner. Core piece and main innovation of Max Payne is the "Matrix"-inspired "Bullet-Time" mode. By hitting a button, the player can slow down time for eight seconds in order to target his adversaries while in slow-motion. It's not only extremely cool to watch, especially as the ballistic of each bullet becomes visible, it also gives you the advantage of reacting faster than your opponents do. While everything slows down around you, you can take aim with Max' weapons in normal speed. With some practice, the slo-mo allows you to dodge enemy bullets effectively by lurching into a sidelong roll. This makes Bullet-Time your most important tool for survival in more advanced stages, in which the enemies have a tendency to hit Max almost constantly.
As Max Payne has been prohibited in Germany, a partly cut German version will be published soon. For infos on the changes, please visit the publisher Take 2.
Rumble in the Bronx:
Sniper RifleIf it wasn't for the powerful graphics eninge, the Bullet-Time effect would vaporize like hot air. With the help of lighting effects and digitized textures, Remedy breathes life into New York in a surprisingly authentic way. However, most of Max Payne's settings are dimly-lit backyards, draughty subway stations, run-down warehouses and shabby bars - the game doesn't employ colours too lavishly. But the developers paid attention to all sorts of details that contribute greatly to the feeling of actually being there: falling snow (New York experiences its worst blizzard in years), foot prints in the snow, working coke or water dispensing machines and toilets, as well as tiles shattering into hundreds of tiny pieces when hit by a bullet. Besides this, the ambient sounds (e.g. the far-off whining of sirens) or Max' deep voice (commenting events now and then) fit into the game seamlessly. While playing, you can see Max from the Tomb Raider perspective, but important events are either displayed directly in the 3D graphics or in the form of scripted, comic-style sequences. And once you've found the sniper rifle, your jaw will slack in the face of terrific camera rides on top of a bullet...
As to the weapons - in order to cope with the numerous enemies, Max makes use of firearms such as dual Berettas, sawed-off shotguns, Ingrams or even grenades. The Mafia and police have access to the same weaponry, of course, making it necessary for Max to tend to his wounds with painkillers. Twice in the game, Max loses all his weapons and has to defend himself with his baseball bat - no easy task, given the absence of any protecting armour.

Max Payne,
Demo version


very good



very good

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Pros & cons:
Bullet-TimeAdmittedly, Max Payne isn't without flaw. Both nightmare levels, in which Max experiences the traumatic events once more, are unusual but somewhat unnervingly designed. Because of their linear structure, most levels can be accomplished fairly quickly, with your progress only rarely hindered by puzzles. The game is artificially prolonged with the help of three difficulty levels, of which the next level can be unlocked by managing the previous one. Sorely missed are entertaining parts where you steer some vehicle, for example. The same is true for a multiplayer mode, by the way.
But Max Payne thrills you nevertheless, mainly due to its film-noir story and, of course, its brilliantly staged action scenes. Even after the 100th time, you won't get fed up with the cool Bullet-Time mode. Also authentic New York with all its tiny details creates an unparalleled atmosphere. Fortunately, Remedy left out excessive displays of violence as in games like Soldier of Fortune. The story inspired by Max' crusade of revenge still sufficed to ban the game in Germany; a German version is in the pipeline (see box). But that didn't prevent the game from becoming a commercial success, receiving praise from press and gamers alike, and being honored with the "BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award" for the best PC game of 2001. From now on, Max Payne will have its place among action landmarks such as Half-Life, Unreal or No One Lives Forever.
© 11-03-2001 by CE