In 1992 Chinese born Hong Kong film director John Woo released his magnum opus.
He had directed Kung-Fu action film “The Young Dragons” starring legendary Asian actor Jackie Chan in the 70s and had replicated his success with comedy film “Money Crazy“ shortly thereafter, yet in the mid-80s he began to suffer repeated commercial failures with somewhat generic gangster films.
As his passion for directing slowly began to wane, he worked hard on his pet project, entitled “A Better Tomorrow”, and after being bankrolled by supportive industry veteran and friend Tsui Hark it was released. With the huge success of A Better Tomorrow came the creation of the sub-genre known as Gun-Fu, defined by close quarters firefights in predictably reactive environments along with slow motion and dual-wielded pistols (typically Beretta 92fbs).
The pinnacle of this new and popular sub-genre was seen within Woo’s masterpiece Hard Boiled, specifically in a two-and-a-half-minute scene in which two characters battle through a hospital setting sending debris both human and material flying through the air. Whilst Hard Boiled, due to its dark tone and deglorification of Asian gangster culture (to which Woo had previously contributed) was largely unsuccessful in China, the film solidified Woo’s future in the US film industry, and whilst the Gun-Fu sub-genre within cinema has been largely forgotten, its presence as a cinematic style is significant in other mediums, especially within gaming.
Last year saw a multitude of indie releases attempting to emulate the feel of popular 90s FPS titles such as Doom, Quake and Hexen/Heretic, with varied success. Whilst games such as Still not Dead, Crimson Metal, DEVIL GUNS and Minimized have struggled to impress, such titles as Strafe, Dusk, Devil Daggers and Amid Evil have continued to generate interest in the ever-growing genre. In all genres in gaming, niche and unappreciated titles exist, and Maximum Action (an FPS game not unlike Soldier of Fortune 2 mixed with Max Payne and Paint the Town Red), is somewhat of a hybrid, having recently gained attention from Nostalgia shooter fans, yet having been largely ignored on Steam.
Released in September, having spent two-years in the now-defunct Steam Greenlight system, Maximum Action has recently reached its fourth major update, and whilst barebones, the current build showcases accurately the games potential. Like Dusk, Maximum Action has a simple and easy to memorise control scheme, and allows the player to pick up, holster and discard guns, jump, punch, kick and engage slow motion with the push of a button. Within slow motion mode various actions are modified in typical Woo fashion, with the jump now become the jumpdive (which can be done in any direction a la Max Payne), the punching, kicking, throwing guns at and shooting of enemies having a noticeable more severe impact on their physical condition and the mid-air dropkick hitting enemies with the might of a thousand suns exploding simultaneously.
Whilst all this is happening, the player can fill enemies with considerable quantities of lead, and to add variation the game has a multitude of both conventional and non-conventional firearms of every calibre for the player to use. The typical shooter fare is there, such as the Kimber 1911, Glock 18, Mini-Uzi SMG, double barrelled shotgun, AK-47 and RPG-7, alongside more Woo inspired firearms such as the iconic nickel-plated Beretta 92fs, 357. Magnum, sawed off shotgun and silenced laser sighted MP5 and even less traditional picks such as the Tokarev, Wildey 44. Hunter, MP7, M60 MG and Zukovsky’s favourite the HK MP5K.
All these weapons can be equipped akimbo (even with different combinations), whilst two pistols can be holstered giving prepared players a veritable arsenal to reduce their adversaries to Swiss cheese. Enemies themselves are surprisingly competent, being vicious in normal play and still worthy enemies in slow motion. If disarmed, enemies will temporarily surrender, eventually attempting to beat the player with fists or trying to find a dropped weapon. Upon damage enemies haemorrhage blood and can be dismembered and partially decapitated with both explosives and higher calibre weapons which is a wonder to behold. A personal favourite moment of mine is when I was able to shoot an enemy’s Grenade in mid-air, with the resulting explosion sending him spiralling through the air in slow motion, eviscerated.
The presentation and style of Maximum Action is unapologetically Woo-esque, with missions such as the hospital, restaurant and city streets being heavily inspired by Woo’s seedy yet elegant cinematic depictions of China, with the hospital intro directly referencing the Hard Boiled hospital scene with an almost identical level design, and archetypal Asian gangster enemies. Whilst the gameplay itself is clean and pixelated, the menus are covered by a VHS-style blurring effect, and whilst present in certain missions neon lighting is most notable in the main menu screen.
These effects help create a compelling 80s theme and are similar in effect to games such as Midnight Ultra and Amberskull. Currently the game has four short playable missions (not including the tutorial), a level creator, sandbox mode and an incredibly fun endless (survival) mode, in which I have been spending a great deal of time. Whilst the replay value of the current campaign is low, it is improved by an integrated film-making system, in which you can customise your character model, name him and your own directing company and playback a mission afterwards to catch your bloodthirsty rampage on film.
Whilst these aspects are impressive, Maximum Action does still have its fair share of shortcomings. Multiple glitches, both inconsequential and otherwise are commonly seen including enemies phasing through walls (with hilarious distortion), moving bullets and shells disappearing after the enemy firing them is killed and the more rage-inducing and game breaking examples of falling through levels, becoming unable to reload/change weapon and (albeit rarely) hard crashes.
Being in early access the content is also fairly limited, and for a current price of £11:59 on Steam it is questionable whether the average consumer will have any incentive to buy the game on its content alone. Nevertheless, the potential for Maximum Action’s success is significant, as games that have attempted to replicate Woo-esque gunplay, such as the F.E.A.R games or the Max Payne Series have had great success over a number of years, and since both franchises have been dormant for over five years, Maximum Action may find a niche in the market sometime soon.
By Philip Gallagher