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What If Max Payne, But Shooting Vampires In Slo-Mo Instead?

When the original Max Payne was ported to consoles in late 2001, I couldn’t get a copy fast enough. I wasn’t a PC gamer at the time, and so for a while I could only enjoy Max Payne through the internet and TechTV at the time. I was transfixed by the graphics and luscious time-slowing bullet time gameplay on display. And when I finally played it on my original Xbox, it did not disappoint. Now, having played a select portion of El Paso, Elsewhere, a modern spin on this classic, third-person shooter, I am delighted to have experienced the classic vibes of the original Max Payne once more.

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And, honestly, El Paso, Elsewhere is close to making them better than the original.

Expected to release in late 2023, El Paso, Elsewhere comes courtesy of Strange Scaffold, whose previous games have included Hypnospace Outlaw, a Strand-like (?), An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs (that’s the title, also an apt description), and most recently, Sunshine Shuffle, which got the dev in a little bit of trouble with Nintendo over jokes about child gambling (as one does). El Paso, Elsewhere also follows El Paso, Nightmare, a first-person shooter with similar retro vibes. But instead of aiming for head-mounted perspectives and center-positioned guns of yesteryear, El Paso, Elsewhere is a gritty shooter with the narrative and gameplay vibes of the first Max Payne, meaning you can slow down time to a crawl, upping your reaction time to increase your aim and take out multiple enemies at once But this time you’re going after friggin’ vampires instead of the mob. Though, six in one, really.

My preview of El Paso, Elsewhere went through the game’s first four chapters and, god damn it, I was sad when it stopped. Not only did it spark my nostalgic love of the first Max Payne, it did so with some genuinely great additions to this formula and a killer hip hop soundtrack that had me vibing the whole ride through.

In El Paso, Elsewhere, you’re taking on vampires and other hellish manifestations in a trippy, otherworldly motel. And in doing so, El Paso, Elsewhere, thus far, improves on one of the shortcomings of Max Payne and many other shooters that demand high bullet output but take place in otherwise realistic settings.

Game Design In Bullet Time

As fun as Max Payne is, one of the problems I always had was that, since your enemies are just mobsters and well-armed human beings, each gun battle is more or less the same—fun as though the loop is, there’s a lack of variety in terms of enemies. And on top of that, the amount of bullets you spit out tends to dilute the realistic premise to a certain degree.

That’s not a problem for El Paso, Elsewhere. Since the bad guys are evil things that go bump in the night, I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief as to how many bullets are required to take these things down. That does come at the cost of Max Payne’s fantasy of two-way bullet exchanges rippling through the slowmosphere, but the trade off is that it makes the gun battles far more interesting as enemy types are more varied thus far.

The aesthetic shift of paranormal hostiles immediately makes a difference. Simply having more interesting-looking enemies coming at you instead of Max Payne’s endless hordes of dudes-with-guns™ breaks up the monotony. But it’s not just Max Payne set in Party City during Halloween season here.

By having foes with different kinds of attacks, you have to react differently, and thus make use of bullet time in more varied ways, be that dodging werewolves that leap at you, vampiric ghouls that burst out from behind crates, or from other unworldly begins that fire down large purple orbs at you, injecting a sense of verticality to the gameplay that isn’t always present in Max Payne. The pace of gameplay becomes more varied; I’m not just running from room to room trading fire with yet another nameless dude firing a gun at me.

Sure, Max Payne’s task of taking down the mob by the dozens, and dozens, and dozens, (or in the case of Max Payne 3, dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens….) is fun, but it’s a breath of fresh air to have something new to engage with.

Also, I never felt too overpowered. In this preview, El Paso, Elsewhere managed to strike a nice balance between giving me the player the power to slow down time and unload tons of bullets while also holding me to account for what I’d over indulge in, be that bullets, time stopping power, or, yes, painkillers.

I did find that I would run out of ammo and my bullet time meter if I wasn’t careful, meaning that while I had an edge over the hordes of evil creatures coming my way, I had to be strategic in how I used it. Do I use bullet time to be more accurate? Or do I use it to get a sense of my surroundings and determine just how bad the threat I’m facing is? I liked that delicate balance and it made the game feel alive beyond just the initial “oh, nostalgia! Let’s slow down time” feeling that I instantly felt. Managing my powers against ongoing threats was a rush I was eager to continue when the preview came to an end.

El Paso, Elsewhere is also very faithful to the narrative tone of Max Payne. As you use painkillers to heal yourself, the protagonist reflects on his diminishing sense of sanity as he continues to take drug after drug to keep pushing through. There is an ongoing narration from the protagonist that mirrors that of Max Payne’s own style of speaking and storytelling. And maybe because it’s about vampires, it doesn’t feel as campy as the original Max Payne somewhat feels in hindsight. And when you enter new areas, you’re hit with that delightful bass drum pulse and big title screen in bold white lettering ala Control.

While some environments did have me running around a bit guessing as to where I supposed to go, the ride through this preview was genuine fun and I was quite bummed to hit the end of the preview.

And you know, I can talk all day about how I think the enemy variety mixes things up pleasantly, or how there seems to be a nice balance of resource management, but feeling like I don’t want to put the gamepad down? That’s a feeling I like in a game.

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