A game arrived at my house one day, in a red, white, and blue envelope. Inside was small black box. Max Payne was the title, made for the Game Boy Advance. Surprise came over me. Could the GBA handle the action and bullet time first captured on the PC? I anxiously opened the package to find out. After loading the GBA, I turned it on. The familiar panes used in the original showed up just like the PC, with the same gritty, dirty feel to them. The panes looked like a TV station you couldn’t quite tune into, but that was the style, and the way it was meant to be.
The GBA was never meant to handle intense 3D graphics, so the isometric perspective was used. Max could walk around easily, and if he walked behind a wall, the wall became transparent. Max’s coat would wave like the breeze when taking a dive. The muzzles of the fired guns would flash, causing the screen to look like a fireworks display. When enemies were hit, blood would pool on the ground or fly onto the wall. The carnage left behind would quickly become Max’s signature throughout the game.
Max’s trials would take him through many environments. From a seedy bus station to a red-light district hotel, the grit of the city was so visible you could almost smell it. TV’s playing the latest sleaze and posters of bikini-clad women could be seen through the hotel, with vending machines scattered throughout the area. Bathrooms would be filled with stalls, and the occasional medicine cabinet with the much-needed painkillers, not to mention the occasional perp caught with his pants down. Although the grit would make the game seem dark, the brightness is adjustable. The sound of speech tickled my ears as I watched the intro. It lasted throughout the entire sequence. Although the speaker doesn’t do the sound effects justice, it is amazingly clear. Max would not be silenced, also being heard between levels. His cool tone clashed with the grittiness of his character. One wonders how Rockstar crammed so much speech into one cartridge.
The music of the game does its job, just like the cubicle worker who never gets much recognition. The music is there, providing an ambiance for the game, but it doesn’t become overpowering. Chills run down your spine as you wonder if the next corner or doorway will cause some enemies to appear. The music completes the masterful work of being recognizable without becoming too prominent.
Guns ablazing would not mean anything if they didn’t have sound effects to them. While there might not be that much of a difference between the different gun shots, a noticeable difference is there, similar to how women can pick up on slightly different colors of lipstick. Telephones will ring, painkillers will shake, and canisters will explode. One would be hard pressed to find better sound effects in another GBA game. Control of Max is simple, but he certainly had more moves than a marionette. Max would run with a press of the D-pad. The carnage would be caused by the A button, with the B button allowing Max to jump. The weapon selection screen would be shown using the L button, and the R button would give Max his Bullet Time and Shootdodge moves. Start will pause the game, while painkillers are used with the Select button.
Controlling Max is easy enough, but sometimes movement can be confusing because of the isometric view. After a few levels, moving Max becomes second nature. Although the D-pad is small and can be sensitive, he moved around without trouble. Movement was never hindered because of the size of the D-pad or the response of the buttons. One might think that Max Payne wouldn’t convert to the GBA well, but Mobius has done a masterful job. Those who have played the PC game or the other console version will recognize the many seedy locations on Max’s quest for revenge.
Max needs to take down a large number of enemies, and he certainly is given the arsenal to do so. M9, Desert Eagles, Molotov cocktails, and shotguns are just a few of the many weapons Max will find available to him. Neo would be proud.
Since the accuracy of a keyboard and mouse isn’t available, Max aims in 8 directions during the game. If he shooting is in the general area, the shots will generally hit. Don’t mistake this for every shot hitting the mark. They certainly will not, and the generous amount of painkillers to rejuvenate Max is highly appreciated.
The largest draw of Max Payne is the Bullet Time feature. It allows time to slow down, giving Max the ability to aim his shots better and fire faster. This advantage becomes a huge part of the strategy of the game, as only a certain amount of Bullet Time is available. However, Max can replenish his Bullet Time by shooting enemies. Max also has a Shootdodge move that uses his Bullet Time. By moving in a certain direction and hitting the R button, Max will dive and shoot at his enemy. The diving animation is well done, even for the GBA.
Although the characters are small, there is enough variety in the game that shooting them never gets old. A few puzzles are thrown in, but they aren’t that difficult, as the main focus of the game is the action.
For each level, five lives are granted. When Max is killed, you start off near to the area where Max left off, ready to avenge the death. Once these five lives are gone, Max starts at the beginning of the level with five new lives. Because of this the game never feels like it is too long, and you don’t have to go to the beginning of a level each time you die. Max Payne isn’t that difficult, and the difficulty levels of the first game are absent from this game. Also, the five lives per level make the game fairly easy to complete. However, dying is definitely a part of the game since enemies can’t always be seen on the GBA screen. Sometimes you are shooting blind.
This would make it sound like Max Payne isn’t worth playing again, but the animation and cheesy dialogue make this game hard to put down again. The game is also nice to play in short intervals.