Everyone who played third person shooters in the last decade or so is at least aware of the existence of the Max Payne franchise. Despite the fact that 4 years have passed since the latest iteration of the saga, Max Payne is still a name held dear by shooters aficionados. The theme, the characters and, of course, the bullet time feature, contributed to leave a deep mark in the genre.
Let’s talk of the first game of the series. Max Payne originally came out on PC in 2001, and it hit audience and critics like a truck. The New York depicted in the game is a rotten place full of all sorts of human trash. Criminality, corruption, dishonesty and the like are rampant, and Max himself is not immune to all of this. He launches himself in a solitary crusade of vengeance while fighting his interior demons along the way.
The wonderfully crafted noir story is told with the use of graphic novel-like illustrations. This unusual narration mean as long with the amazing characterization struck with players and critics alike, making Max Payne the success that we know. But as good as the storytelling is, that’s not the reason I chose Max Payne as the subject of this article. The reason I think Max Payne advanced the shooter genre is because it introduced the videogame industry to Bullet Time.
Admittedly, Max Payne may not be the first shooter to introduce a time-slowing feature (Hitman: Codename 47 had a rudimentary version of it), but it surely is the game that took the concept to the extremes that we are now used to.
For those unaware, Bullet Time is a feature that allows the player, by the click of a button, to slow down time for a limited period. During that window, everything would move slow except for the player’s camera, allowing Max to aim precisely at the enemies and be able to survive even in desperate situations. It was also possible to activate the Bullet Time while diving to a specific direction, creating scenes that looks straight out of The Matrix.
Today, this feature is almost given for granted. Hell, we have whole games that revolve entirely around that concept (Timeshift and Quantum Break just to name a couple). At the time though, the ability to slow down time at will was enough to leave everyone speechless. Of course, it was also because of how well the feature was crafted.
When Max activates bullet time, not only everything moves slower, but the sounds become muffled and the noise of a beating heart fills the air. When the time slows, the tension rises and the adrenaline is at the apex. In this condition, Max is able to pull off stunts that are almost inhuman, giving the player an unrivaled feel of empowerment and accomplishment.
It made the player feel powerful; he felt like he was raining divine justice on the adversaries and looking awesome doing so.
The formula worked so well that countless games adopted the concept and made their own version of this feature. F.E.A.R., Stranglehold, GTA V, and many more wouldn’t be the same without it. Hell, Superhot would not exist at all if Remedy wouldn’t have showed the world what you can do when you slow time in shooters.
For being a frenetic third person shooter, Max Payne sure showed the industry how beneficial it can be to take things slow from time to time.