Blast From The Past
Blast from the Past: Max Payne

Back in the day, the release of Remedy Entertaiment’s neo-noir cop story, Max Payne, was one of the huge events of PC gaming. It was another limit breaker like Far Cry, Crysis and Metro 2033 following it. By today’s standards it’s quality is laughable, yet, when you go back and play it again, laughing isn’t something you find yourself doing.

Max Payne opened like a graphic novel. A small slideshow of 3 narrated comic panels appeared one after another to depict a major cut scene, plot point or interesting discovery rather than being tied and dragged down by either the real-time scenarios or a wall of text. The panels all did a superb job of moving the game forward by being backed up by fantastic voice and art work that, at times, really sent a shiver down your back through it’s believability and down right creepiness.

The opening scenes of the game followed the beginning of Max’s huge life turn of events. Coming home from a day of his city cop job, Max entered his house in the midst of a break-in, while his wife and new born baby are still there. You regained control to examine just what the hell was going on. You focused on the strewn papers, damaged goods and the resistance and force marks being worn by the walls; all the while trying to work your way to the source of the painful screams which echoed around the house. Popping off the intruders and seeing Max’s new-born baby laying in it’s own blood was a real shake up. Something I haven’t felt in any game for a long, long time. You know there isn’t anything you can do for the poor child, so you press on just in time to watch as the last man standing murders your wife right before your eyes for a reason you can only imagine. It’s easily one, if not the most effective game scenes in my memory. The famous Final Fantasy 7 scene doesn’t even come close, and that had hours of character development before it!

Following the incident, Max vowed to get revenge on the people behind the slaughtering on his family. The man had nothing else to lose. Even if it meant becoming a rogue cop and  shutting down the city’s underworld crime syndicate single-handed, he had no reason not to.  The art of bullet-time brought Max Payne into the feel of The Matrix as you could look around a corner, pinpoint your enemies, and perform a slow motion dive whilst picking them off.

Max Payne’s characters are all backed-up in a way similar to that of the 1998 version of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. Each character or enemy face was that of a real guy simply plastered onto the model. While it did a better job than the modellers could manage with the technology back then, Max’s own face ruined many of the short real-time cutscenes by wearing a one-sided smug smile no matter what the situation. For example; on the first stage, the train station, Max enters a locker room to find the corpse of a railway worker before anything else. His reaction to this wasn’t any sense of remorse for the guy or even his own safety. He simply stood there with that same smug look and pulled out a gun with just his thumb and index finger. He looked more like an antagonist than a hero.  Something the graphic novel scenes completely avoided.

The game’s noir setting gave a fantastic feeling of this guy’s one-man mission. Prowling through the back alleys and dank habitats of mobster henchmen really showed Max’s hatred toward the city’s crime problem. Something he knew his own force wasn’t doing enough to control. Each of the early settings were filled with the creepy ramblings of paranoid drug abusers rocking back and forth in the corridors, an inclusion which just got even creepier when you hear their screams as you willingly kill them. Something you actually regret afterward. The further you delve into the case of your murdered family, the more dark and sadistic it gets. Running into a crazed mob leader obsessed with the occult lead to one disturbingly amazing chapter again with some incredibly believable voice work, and the forced drug use by the hands of the other intervening forces throughout the story leads Max to constantly relive the opening scene in his head as he watches himself gun down his own wife.

Max Payne was, and still is, the pinnacle of story telling within a video game. The dark one-man mission to claim retribution and clean up the problems of his city made you really feel for Max’s character as he uncovered a conspiracy far deeper than he expected. Any ally team-ups were incredibly short lived and left him to focus on his own aims. While the game did take a questionable turn toward the end, you can’t argue that the amount of plot twists dotted throughout the title made the story grow into something much more different to the conclusion you jumped to. The story telling methods backed up with the amazing voice work and music pulled the game together as an experience that should be witnessed my anyone and should be seen by other developers as the bridge between video game and cinema story telling. It’ll be hard for any game, even the upcoming second sequel to ever top.

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