This review is essentially a reminder....to myself.
Most of the time when I write a review, it's not just preserving a memory, it's putting a time-stamp on it.
Eventually I'll play through Max Payne again, or maybe I'll play through its sequels. When that time comes around, I want to have something to compare and contrast with. This is also so that I don't fall into making the same discussions, or focus on material that I've already covered in a previous review.
It's my personal Hell.
Speaking of Hell, Max Payne sure went through some ♥♥♥♥ didn't he? He was practically touching the American Dream, but then it all fell apart in a New York Minute. His blood-soaked tale of revenge is about as good as 3rd-person shooter storylines need to be. The plot is great, the characters are memorable, and the writing is artsy...well the good kinda artsy. It's enough to make you care, enough to make you imagine, but not so into itself that it comes off as pretentious trash. Max Payne is a bit more cultured than you'd expect from a homage to John Woo films and Noir comics.
But let's focus on the game itself. Max Payne 1 is a classic. Despite being released nearly 14 years ago, it still holds up and is great fun today (grab the widescreen fix). These days we tend to demand more from our videogames. When we pay however much it is that we're willing to, we expect our videogame to do a lot. The third-person shooter is no longer allowed to just be about shooting people, aliens, robots, mutants, or all of the above. There has to be stealth-elements, a vehicle, some turrets, and a segment where you walk slowly and wait for the exposition to finish.
Max Payne 1 is almost quaint by comparison. There's some platforming, a moment where you don't have a single gun, and stupid pet tricks (shooting switches & trip-wires). Otherwise all you're going to do be doing is shooting people. Walk into a room, bad guys appear, and you shoot them. All of the encounters are scripted, and if your eye is quick enough you can sometimes see thugs appear out of thin air. Shockingly, this standardized approach manages to maintain its high level of quality entertainment, for the 7+ hours a first-playthrough is likely to take.
Where similar games fall to the depths of mediocrity and banality, Max Payne rises above. This is precisely because it gets the primary form of interaction (shooting people) absolutely perfect. Let's start with the bullet. Your mission is to put bullets into enemies while trying to keep them out of Max Payne. There's none of that hit-scan nonsense in this game. While you can't always see the bullets as they travel, you know where they're coming from, and where they're going. These bullets travel at the same speed, cut through friend and foe alike(always a plus when bad guys accidentally shoot each other), always leave an impact. This isn't something you're liable to notice when you start the game, but over time you will acquire a new-found appreciation for bullets and the mechanics that revolve around them.
The most important strategy is to keep moving. Enemies tend to aim for your head/chest, so you're most vulnerable when standing still or getting up from a dodge. Gun-battles are short and to the point; either you die in a couple seconds, or the bad guys die in 10-15 seconds. Making shots count is important, especially if you're using the slow-motion dodge. Bullet-time can also be very effective when used properly. It's not free, and you'll get yourself killed trying to play Neo, but it's good for those times where you need a moment or two to figure things out, even during a gun-fight. Otherwise, your best strategy is liable to be F5/F9ing your way to success (though it's not so effective on the hardest difficulty).
The most interesting aspect of Max Payne is that once you think you've finally grasped how the game works, it's about to end. This is where you move onto the next difficulty, and see if you've really learned anything. When a game focuses almost entirely on one element, you will find yourself focusing on that same element as well. With every firefight you learn something new, you calculate how many shots you can make with each gun while dodging, you mull over every situation and what you could do to not only survive it, but to own it. The controls, mechanics, and everything else that makes the genre work is done in spectacular fashion.
I'd write more, but I think you should play this game and see for yourself. Although I would be shocking if you haven't played it already.