Reviewed: January 4, 2004
Released: December 16, 2003
When you take a technologically groundbreaking and innovative title such as Max Payne from the PC and Xbox and try to squash him into a handheld device like the GBA you might think certain sacrifices would have to me made. While Rockstar and Modbius have made a few trimmings to fit all the mind-blowing action of the original game into the GBA you might just be surprised how good this game is.
At last, the definitive third person shooter arrives bringing Max Payne’s stylish, urban, revenge driven action game to the GBA in a title that redefines the M rating. A dark, searing tale of corruption and murder, Max Payne combines cinematic gameplay and all the trademarked Bullet Time action elements of the original to give you the ultimate GBA action title.
Even the classic graphic novel screens of the PC version of Max Payne return to drive this twisted story of deception and despair. Combined with more than 30 minutes of spoken dialogue, this is easily the most cinematic game you can play on the GBA.
Rockstar is known for ruffling the feathers of Senators and parents around the world with their crime-based games featuring excessive violence, sex, drugs, and even a bit of rock and roll. Hey, when you can get Australia to classify your game as “porn” you known you are doing something right.
Max is a dark and twisted tale that starts with the murder of his wife and baby. Max then goes all vigilante and starts shooting up the town. After being framed for the murder of another cop he is soon hunted by fellow cops as well as the quickly depleting mob hordes. There aren’t a lot of M-rated games out there for the GBA, but Max Payne will remind us of why that rating exists.
With more than 12 levels to fight through, filled with sinister inhabitants of New York City’s criminal underworld and more than 10 weapons, from Dual Handguns to Grenade Launchers to eliminate them with, there is more action here than the last John Woo movie (that’s “Paycheck” for the record).
UK’s Mobeius Entertainment was brought onboard to port Remedy’s PC title to the GBA and rather than start stripping away at the original they redesigned the game from scratch to make the most of the handheld platform. Control is flawless, the graphics, animation, and sound are just about perfect and the GBA has never seen gameplay this challenging or fun before.
As anyone who has played or at least heard about the original game, the hook for Max Payne is the Bullet Time, the slow motion Matrix-like effects used to slow time so Max and unleash massive firepower on overwhelming odds in cramped quarters. Max introduced and perfected the system in the first game and while it’s been imitated often nothing has ever achieved the same level of interactive fluidity as the Max Payne games.
Since Bullet Time gives you a huge advantage over your enemies the game limits its use by slowly depleting your BT meter. While your meter does refill at a slow rate, judicious use of Bullet Time is essential in getting through the harder parts of the game.
When you strip away the Bullet Time you are still left with a highly stylized and energetic shooter that mixes in plenty of action game elements such as exploration and rudimentary puzzle solving like finding switches and opening doors.
I was wondering how in the world they were going to pull off the amazing visuals of the PC game on the GBA. The 3D engine does a fantastic job of moving the 3D characters around the levels in smooth, almost flowing animation. The Bullet Time effect is very nice and totally convincing as characters leap, dive, and fly around the screen with arms and legs waving wildy.
Environments are not only interactive but also totally destructible. You can smash just about anything you can see and walls are subject to bullet holes and blood will paint the floor and walls in crimson red. All of these visuals are enhanced even further in Bullet Time where you can almost study the frame-by-frame animation and subtle details the designers have put into this package.
The only complaint I have is the camera perspective that often has you fighting enemies that you cannot see. Thankfully, the game has a primitive lock-on function that allows you to shoot those enemies, but it can be a bit disconcerting to find yourself killing off-screen enemies, but then again, better them than you.
The music is rather limited and not nearly as epic as the soulful violins of the original. Even so it does a great job of setting the mood and supporting the action. I was totally impressed with the voice work and the fact they managed to cram 30-minutes of dialogue onto the cart. Admittedly, the speech is compressed and noticeably so, but it’s still nice not to have to read everything in a GBA cutscene.
Sound effects are flawless and each weapon has a great audio effect. There are plenty of bangs and booms and cool Bullet Time sound warping effects, and environmental objects all clank and smash apart with satisfying results.
Max Payne is divided into three main chapters, each with 12 missions that will take you anywhere from 5-8 hours to finish. Yes, the game is short but so was the PC original, and while there is no multiplayer modes there are some new challenges that will become available after your first pass through the game. Those, combined with the fact that this game is just so much damn fun to play will make this an instant favorite for a lot of GBA owners.
This is a fantastic edition of the Max Payne game that proves the GBA doesn’t have to sacrifice anything of the original to make a great port provided the designers are willing to give it the time and attention it deserves.
Everything from the violent visuals, great sound, classic narration, graphics novel presentation, and intense gameplay is back and condensed into one of the best GBA action titles of 2003. If you own a GBA and old enough to play an M-rated game then Max Payne should be an instant and permanent part of your GBA library.