Games for Busy People

Slashdot references this interesting essay on building computer games targeted at busy adults:

Attempt the same mis-timed jump again and again: Why oh why have jumping “puzzles” not died the death they richly deserve? There’s nothing that quite kills pacing like reloading the same quicksave (or better yet, being returned to your last save point) until you beat a tedious activity through sheer trial and error.

This leads me to a few comments on a fantastic game I just finished, Max Payne 2. It was released back in October, 2003, but I only got around to playing it now. It’s basically a narrative third-person shooter. You take the role of Max Payne, a dodgy police detective involved in a conspiracy of crooked cops, secret organizations and the mafia. The plot is kind of Byzantine, but suffice it’s as good as a bad movie, which is high praise for a video game.

On top of the main plot, there’s actually a love story woven into the game. You’ve got the hots for two-faced assassin Mona Sax, and spend much of the game chasing her around (in a violent, as opposed to bedroom, sense). The story was written with film noir in mind, and combines its stereotypes effectively. The game is also not without its humour, which is a welcome break from the bloodshed.

The game’s design itself is extraordinary and very cinematic. The biggest innovation is The Matrix-inspired “bullet time”. It enables you to slow down the action and pick off the bad guys without getting butchered (which happens with alarming frequency). There are a dozen other design elements that blew my mind, including the exceptional physics and artwork. There was a jaw-dropping moment the first time I used the sniper rifle. When I fired, I watched as the game slowed down and the camera rode the bullet’s path to the target. Check out the screenshots. Here, also, are some gameplay video clips.

This is also the first game I’ve ever seen with playable dream sequences. They’re kind of hokey at first, but are actually a pretty inspired feature of the game. They have the surreal logic and foggy feeling of actual dreams.

Max Payne 2 is ideal for the busy adult. Not only is it profoundly violent and suggestive, but it’s deeply linear. With most games, I get stalled, not knowing how to proceed. I run around for a half-hour, and then consult some online walk-through to figure out what I’ve missed. I never had that experience with Max Payne 2, because the game keeps you moving. This route means that you surrender a small part of your sense of accomplishment, but it’s worth it for a pacey, engaging gaming experience.

There’s another review of the game here.

4 comments

  1. Did you play the first Max Payne? It was one of the few games I’ve really, really enjoyed and wanted to keep playing once I got a ways into it. I haven’t picked up Max Payne 2 as I’ve been really busy this summer, but I’m sure it’ll be another one I really enjoy.

  2. I missed the first game. I’ve resisted playing it, having played the second one. I figured it would be disappointing by comparison.

  3. The first one hasn’t got the same prettiness or the ragDoll physics like the second. However, the atmosphere is very good and its highly enjoyable. Definately recommend it.

    Oh, and if you’re looking for a pretty game; check out FarCry.

  4. I actually prefered the first game. The main use of the bullet time feature was the shootdodge (slow motion leaping and shooting). They changed it in the second game and made it a pain to use, and that took a lot of the fun away for me. The fights are less exciting.

    I didn’t get very far in to the second one. Maybe I’ll give it another try…

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