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Is it the best game ever?; GAME OF THE WEEK Max Payne (Remedy/Take 2) For PC CD-Rom Price: pounds 34.99.

He's a New York cop with nothing to lose, framed for murder and on the run from the police and the Mob.

It sounds like the plot of a dozen Hollywood movies but trust us, you've never seen a game like this.

Max Payne is a third-person perspective action shooter from the stable that brought us classics like Duke Nukem and Wolfenstein 3D.

After seeing his family murdered by drug-crazed psychopaths, Max goes undercover with the Drug Enforcement Agency to smash the trade in a drug called Valkyr.

Operating undercover, Max gets a call from a police contact, urging him to meet on a subway station.

When he gets there, all that's waiting for him is a pile of dead bodies and an army of mobsters.

From there it's a battle for survival through some of New York's seediest locations.

Remedy have done an inspiring job in creating a highly atmospheric and detailed gaming environment.

It even sounds like New York - the clattering of subway trains mixes with the distant wail of police sirens and traffic, together with the raging ice storm that's battering the city in the game's timeframe.

But there are two elements that make Max Payne stand out from the action genre.

If you've seen the Matrix you'll know that Bullet Time photography is the hot cinematic effect that slows down time and allows for astonishing fight sequences.

Well Max has seen the Matrix a few times too often because he can briefly enter Bullet Time, giving him a real advantage over the opposition. It also makes for the coolest looking game ever.

The other innovation lies in the game's self-adjusting difficulty level. If you are breezing through, the bad guys get harder to kill. Likewise if you are struggling, the game eases up.

While this has the effect of making the game marginally easier to finish, it does mean you don't get stuck for long in too many places.

That keeps the story on the boil and makes for a game which is more of an immersive experience than a real challenge.

Tense, atmospheric, action-packed and often bloody, Max Payne is a game for grown-ups. And with so many fresh production techniques it's a joy to play and to watch.

To get the most out of it you do need a high-spec machine, but you'll get by on a P2 450 with 96mb Ram and a 3D card.

Rating: 92% (RA)

NBA Street (EA Big)

For Sony PlayStation2

Price: pounds 39.99

Out now

If you think finger rolls are party food, and can't tell the difference between a hook-up and an alley-oop, you are probably one of the many Britons who thinks basketball is best left to the Americans.

But with its arcade approach and simplified control system, EA's latest effort may well convert a few PS2 owners to the sport.

NBA Street is set away from the waxed courts of mainstream basketball and on the street courts that litter American ghettos and leafy suburbs.

It's three on three, which means you have fewer players to worry about on both sides. And it plays a bit like a tennis tie-breaker so your team has to be the first to a set amount of points with a clear lead of two.

That's because point scoring is so fast you're almost expected to score if you have possession of the ball. Once you've scored the opposition take possession, so you effectively have to break their serve to win.

Despite the speed of the game there is plenty for you to do on court, with many tricks, dummies and intercept techniques to learn.

The main City Court Mode lets you take your team of NBA players from city to city to challenge the local side.

If you win, you can take one of their players for your squad and move on to the next location. As you progress through the game you unlock more courts and the opponents get tougher.

Then you can play against a friend or try Hold the Court Mode where you have to play successive teams and try to complete record unbeaten runs.

NBA Street is the best looking basketball game we've seen as the courts are outside and are exposed to all kinds of weather effects.

Each city is nicely designed around the court and the players are well animated. You still have to like basketball to like NBA Street, but it's a whole lot more playable than other NBA titles.

Rating: 65% (RA)
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 18, 2001
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