Review: Max Payne (Game Boy Advance)

In this review, we enter into bullet time in the Game Boy Advance game Max Payne. We find out how well this top down shooter plays.

This game was released in 2003. It is a port from a console/PC version.

We have a fair bit of familiarity with this series. We’ve already played Max Payne on the PS2. That game got an OK score. Next up, we tried Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. That game also got an OK score. So, we got curious and tried this portable port.

This game follows the same story like as the original Max Payne game.

Of course, the game starts to diverge from the original once you get past the introductions. The first thing that is noticeable is the fact that it’s no longer a third person shooter game. Instead, it is a top down shooter with an isometric style of play much like some of the older NES games and even a few Atari games as well.

The controls will likely also take some getting used to if you hadn’t played a game with this style of control. Up no longer moved your character up and moving diagonally meant that you moved in a 90 degree direction. Essentially, you rotate that directional pad diagonally so you can get a better sense of the direction pad. After an hour of so of playing, the controls will gradually become more natural, but there is that initial learning curve.

Much like the previous versions, this game features a “bullet time” meter. This is shown as the white hourglass-like object. What this does is slow time down so you can enable better reflexes. On top of that, you can dive by moving your character in a direction while in bullet time. This offers a certain amount of temporary invulnerability. While you can’t really control where you go after you make a dive, you can change the direction of your aim while you take out enemies. Again, this does take some getting used to, but it can be mastered.

Also, like other versions of this game, you have a health meter in the form of a silhouette. As you take damage, your pain meter rises with red. Fill it up and it’s curtains for you.

To help with this, you can collect pill bottles of painkillers. Collect it and use select to use. You can carry up to 8 bottles at a time. They will reduce your damage, but don’t take these items for granted or you’ll find yourself begging for small distances through the game to cough up at least one more bottle so your not always on the brink of death.

Additionally, you have a small arsenal of weapons available to you. This includes a lead pipe, a pistol, duel pistols, Ingram machine guns, rifles, and shotguns to name a few weapons. Unlike other versions, reloading is not required. Once you deplete your ammo, the weapon shows up red in your menu until you find more ammo.

Also, you have Molotov cocktails and grenades, though in my playthrough, they only really became useful when disarming traps. Still, they are present and you can use them throughout the game. The only thing is that you couldn’t do any heroic dives while they are selected in your inventory.

You’ll have a host of enemies trying to take you down. Generally, they are armed with the same kind of weapons you are armed with. Because of that, care is needed when you find yourself with a weapon upgrade opportunity. That cool next level weapon will probably be pointed at you first.

As you venture further into the game, enemies will gradually have more health. As a result, only the more powerful weapons will become useful after a while. Otherwise, you’ll probably empty clips into your enemies and those enemies will just keep firing.

On top of this, you’ll be faced with a small number of different obstacles along the way. Occasionally, levels will feature keys that need to be collected to unlock doors. On occasion, you’ll also need to operate some equipment to get to the next area. So, there is a small puzzle aspect to this game as well, but it’s mostly action-based.

One thing to keep in mind is that while the PC or console versions allowed you to peer into the other room sometimes, this game pretty much removes that ability. Instead, the level us generally cut up into smaller rooms for you to move from one point to another. While this may not sound like a big deal at first, all those crafty moves of throwing Molotov cocktails from a doorway into the next room wind up being lost in the process.

In addition, if you move back out of a room, the enemies will reset back to their default positions. Sometimes, this is useful. Other times, it works against you because they may start back in a protected area. Even worse is the fact that some enemies can seemingly shoot through walls in the process. This, in the end, leaves you with a small disadvantage when dispatching enemies while working your way to the exit.

Ammo, keys, and painkillers aren’t the only things you can pick up throughout the levels. You can also find small pieces of evidence along the way. Just look for the large exclamation mark to appear above your head, though sometimes the hit boxes can be a bit finicky. These really just serve as (sometimes) optional cutscenes.

Along the way, there are breakables that hide extra health and ammo. You can also open up cabinets and storage lockers to find other collectibles as well to help you out. Finding these can be challenging, but rewarding.

In the way of objectives, there really isn’t much here. Sometimes, you might chase someone, but that’s about it. Otherwise, you are either eliminating enemies or trying to reach a goal in the level.

One thing that stuck out to me is that this is a surprisingly well thought out port to this game. It retains a lot of what is found in the original game, but crams it into a handheld. A lot of games out there have ports that wind up being some cheap hastily put together package so that the developer can make a fast buck on handheld sales before moving on. This game has a lot of thought put into it to bring what made the original version good into the handheld environment. So, that alone is actually impressive.

The bullet time concept is a nice novel concept for action games. It is pleasantly surprising how well this translated into this version as well.

A pitfall, however, is the fact that there is a learning curve. First, one needs to get used to the isometric style of movement. Additionally, the game has a pretty steep initial learning curve to boot. So, if you’re not careful from the beginning, you could be dropping lives pretty early on in the game. Once you master bullet time, the difficulty does drop, but the game technically doesn’t get any easier from there.

Additionally, I found the game to be rather repetitive after a while. In every room, you use bullet time to blast away the enemies. Once the dust settles, collect items, then move on to the next room. Lather, rinse, repeat for most of the game. There are small things that help make this game less repetitive, but that repetition is definitely present in this game.

Still, if you are a fan of the series, then this game may pleasantly surprise you. It has a lot of what made non-portable versions interesting in the first place. Still, players need to mind the difficulty and learning curves because this gets steep pretty early on.

Graphically, this game is actually not bad. The effects are pretty decent and the sprites are well animated. In fact, it does remind me a little bit of the graphics found in Prince of Persia in a way. There is some variety in the environments and it actually doesn’t look to bad to me at all. So, a pretty reasonable game here in my view.

Audio is a bit of a mixed back. For the music alone, this game does fall short. You really only have four tracks. You have the intro which does repeat throughout cutscenes. From there, you’ve got a general soundtrack for simple gameplay. After that, you have an “action” track when there are lots of enemies in the room (or a boss enemy for that matter). Finally, there is the ambient outside track which is basically just wind. At first, this isn’t bad, but after a while, the tracklist winds up getting pretty thin.

What makes up for it is the voice acting. I was honestly expecting just a few cut scenes to have the voice acting while others just feature the text to read out. Nope. Every cutscene is fully voice-acted. Over and above that, there are voice samples in the game itself. Some lines of dialogue in the game aren’t voice acted, though. Still, what’s in there is impressive. Combine this with a pretty reasonable library of sound effects and those two aspects largely saves this game on that front.

Overall, if you are already a fan of this series, this game is definitely worth trying out. A lot of what made other versions great has been preserved in this game to a surprising degree. Unfortunately, there is a pretty steep learning and difficulty curve towards the beginning, so that does hinder things a bit. Enemies can shoot through walls as well. The graphics are solid and the sound is decent too thanks to the voice acting and sound effects. So, a reasonable play all around.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game.

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 72%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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