Looking at Max Payne, Im going to have to agree with nearly every point James made in his review, especially his view that the game falls short of being an "amazing, breakthrough" title. Is Bullet Time cool? Hell yes. Is it enough to carry an entire game? Hell no.
The story is standard gangland stuff with no surprises or interesting twists. The classic "murdered family" provides the motivation, pitting Max against mobsters, drug addicts and thugs for revenge. Theres no moral ambiguity or any real ethical issues raised, so kill people stylishly and dont even think twice about it... its wholesome entertainment.
Speaking of the story, James is right on the money when he says the comic-book cutscenes pull you completely out of the game. Going from fully rendered 3D into an old-school static method of storytelling just doesnt work at all. A schizophrenic presentation like this one says to me that either the developers didnt have enough skill to direct the scenes using the in-game models, or the models arent good enough to use. In this day and age, the only reason someone would want to use an antiquated technique like this is if it genuinely added artistic value to the game. The cutscenes in Max Payne do not.
Adding insult to injury, not only are the story interludes jarringly disruptive to the immersion, but the content is incredibly amateurish, bordering on laughable. The sophistication of the plotting is below the level of a straight-to-video release, with exceptionally poor characterization and pacing. Listening to Max spout his by-the-numbers noir as the clichés started stacking up did nothing for me except make my eyes roll.
Its gameplay is solidly average, but I think I would have liked to see Bullet Time used much more infrequently (perhaps even limited to certain dramatically tense scenes). Its definitely overused, and loses the gee-whiz value when youre constantly flying through the air and slowing time in every other room.
Dont get me wrong, since the effect certainly "wows" you for the first hour or so. Still, the appeal of being a Smith & Wesson superman rapidly wears thin. Since the game is a standard third-person shooter with the sole distinguishing feature being the slow-motion effect, its the textbook definition of the phrase "One-Trick Pony". Theres not much to keep a person involved once youve lived out your Matrix and Chow Yun-Fat fantasies a few times. Note to the developers: even the best special effects lose their punch with enough repetition.
Max Payne amounts to little more than a really cool tech demo with an average game design stretched and made to fit around it. Its decent enough if you can overlook the repetition and you might even be entertained briefly, but its pretty clear that the gimmick made the game, and not the other way around.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.