New York Minute
Max Payne is a keenly awaited conversion indeed. After the enormous success of the PC version, Remedy have produced a version each for Xbox and PlayStation 2. Technologically Max Payne was a towering example of the heavyweight PC action game, and getting it to work reasonably on the PS2 has been no easy task. A bit like forcing a Christmas tree into a drainpipe. Visually, Remedy has had to cut a few corners. The charismatic Max Payne we know - with his flowing trench coat and sharp features - has been replaced by a blocky, PS2-grade character model with a polygon deficiency. The resolution is much lower than the Xbox version, and the textures have clearly been watered down to keep the hardware happy. These shortcuts still aren't enough to keep the game's framerate on an even keel. Other changes include the slicing and dicing of many of the game's levels to include more regular loading areas. The PC version was fairly reasonable about load times, especially on a fast PC, but the PS2 version takes forever. As you will doubtless be aware, Payne on the PC featured regular comic book-style story sections, which were either loved or hated. Halfway through the PS2 version, these story features combined with regular load times merely conspire to form one of the most disjointed and frustrating experiences ever. Thankfully the game's control system is easy enough to get the hang of, but playing a game like this on a gamepad will still never seem quite right...
One of Max's biggest attractions is the inclusion of Bullet Time. A small hourglass rests in the bottom left of the screen at all times, and when Bullet Time is engaged it empties rapidly, during which time players can move in slow motion. This gives people the chance to dodge bullets and set up Matrix-style action sequences. Thanks to the low resolution though, bullets are almost indistinguishable, making this much-vaunted feature more or less useless. Max is still one of the best single player action games of last year, though, and this makes up for a lot of the PS2 version's shortcomings. The storyline, however wet and soppy, sets up a textbook Hollywood diorama in which our hero is a maverick cop with nothing to lose and a score to settle. As Max Payne, you have to fight through the legions of organised crime and destroy a drug so evil that it turns people into homicidal maniacs. From the game's stunning flashback-style opening to its fiery conclusion atop the Aesir building, it's a rollercoaster ride. The game has you trying to upset a bank robbery, before stumbling upon the murder of your boss - naturally enough, the only man who knows about your undercover role. During his adventures, Max teams up with the Ruskis, and has to escape the attention of the perhaps not overly competent Jim Bravura of the NYPD. The story of Max's fall from grace is well documented by media coverage during the game, which Max picks up from place to place.
The problem with Max Payne on the PlayStation 2 is that it isn't the experience the PC game was. If you have a reasonably specced PC, you should seek out the original game in all its intemperate glory. The PS2 version is still the same game, but the higher frequency of load times and questionable graphics leave a lot to be desired. Max Payne on the PC is a stunning game, with an atmosphere unmatched by any other action game released in the last 12 months. Unfortunately for Remedy and PS2 owners, visual stimulation was a key aspect of the game's atmosphere. A piano still echoes resoundingly at the game's every twist and turn, but Max PS2 has lost a lot of his energy, and I find him incredibly difficult to recommend. With about six hours worth of gameplay and none of the glamour, he's not worth £35, either.