Back in 2001, I was more concerned with how Nintendo were about the apparently blow away their competition with the GameCube (spoiler: they didn’t, but it was a great ride regardless) rather than what was happening on the PC scene. I had barely started what would become a deep appreciation of Valve’s work on the Half-Life series. While I certainly don’t come at the series as a long-time fan, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a potential shift in the way the next game in the series, Max Payne 3, presents itself. While the Rockstar hype train is guaranteed to result in sizeable sales for the new game, it still remains to be seen whether or not they’ve truly looked at what made Max Payne, well, Max Payne, beyond the ability to slow down time during an action sequence in a rather gratuitous fashion.
The common praise we all had for it was the presentation of the world and its story.
In discussing the virtues of the original Max Payne with friends and m’colleague on the right, it was interesting to note the shift in appreciation for it. I bought Max Payne off Steam recently, during one of their wallet-draining sales, and only finished it a few weeks ago, whereas the others had experienced the game in its heyday. While our opinion on the success of the various gameplay mechanics and the somewhat punishing difficulty varied, the common praise we all had for it was the presentation of the world and its story.
Max Payne leans heavily on noir to establish the mood and themes of the story. It presents a harsh, other-worldly version of New York, bitten by a seemingly eternal winter. The environment directly reflects Max’s state of mind, a swirling haze of revenge and stoic determination to solve the physical mystery at hand and quell his inner demons. It’s these aspects that elevate the game beyond it’s technical achievements and much lauded implementation of the bullet-time mechanic. Even though budgetary setbacks forced the developers, Remedy Entertainment, to utilise their own faces in the creation of the game’s characters (to, perhaps, not great effect), Max’s intent, debilitating as it may be, is incredibly clear. It’s a game that certainly manages to eclipse its various shortcomings, and earn itself a place as highly notable in video game history.
Max’s intent, debilitating as it may be, is incredibly clear.
With Max Payne 3 still yet to be released, at this point it seems that Rockstar’s focus at the moment is away from matters concerning the mood and themes. Rockstar have marketed the great technical achievements of Max Payne 3, in the form of realistic character animation and an (over)abundance of bullet-time assisted action set pieces, but from the look of things, it certainly doesn’t have that ingredients that made the original game truly unique. As stated, it is too early to tell if this indeed the case, but it would be a complete shame if Rockstar sidestepped those factors and replaced them with what they deem have made their other licenses successful. Max Payne 3 may be a great game in its own right, but that does not necessarily make it a great Max Payne game.
The first Max Payne game was released in 2001 and was considered a big success. It was produced on a fairly low budget (and that was all too visible when you looked at the character models), but developers Remedy Entertainment compensated with an interesting storytelling technique, fast-pased action, and really damn cool gunplay and bullet time mechanics.
It’s a fantastic example even today that the amount of polish on a game’s graphics doesn’t usually represent the quality of the game itself. Of course, after the success of the first game, Max Payne 2 was given a higher budget during development, and most of the polish that was lacking in the first game was more than made up for in the second.
Combined, the Max Payne series represented a few things. First, we have the noir-style storytelling technique. It’s another example of less being more. Instead of in-game cutscenes, the series used graphical novel panels to narrate the game. It’s a common element in the noir storytelling style (according to Wikipedia), and it slots into the game really well.
Mixing with the game’s style is the game’s theme. The story has a lot of drug references and this is reflected in the plot. It does tend to get very silly, but it does seem to do it in a mature way (if that even makes sense). A number of times throughout the series, Max is drugged up and then you play through a crazy tripped-out level full of drug-induced visions. They’re very abstract, and wouldn’t usually fit in a game of its kind, but the Payne games do a good job of getting them in there without them seeming too out-of-place.
Anyway, while the series weren’t the very best games ever released, they are definitely in my top 20. The combination of dark noir-style storytelling and great gameplay made them stand out as excellent games.
Ok, that’s the review out of the way – now we get to the rant. Rockstar will be releasing Max Payne 3 very soon, and it doesn’t really look like they’re doing a good job of it. First of all we have the stupid focus on multiplayer that all big developers are pushing these days – like they think that nobody will buy a game if it’s singleplayer only (which is obviously not true, even now six months later Arkham City and Skyrim are still in Steam’s top 5 best sellers).
Second we have the lack of the noir-style storytelling from the first two games. Gone are the graphical-novel-style cutscenes, in favour of your standard boring cinematic in-game cutscenes. I fully expect the story of the game to be much less interesting than the first two games, instead being a boring clone of something from Call of Duty.
I haven’t played Max Payne 3, so I could be wrong about it on all counts. But based on previous experience with Rockstar’s games, it’ll end up being pretty sloppy. I don’t think I’ll ever be playing it, either, considering the ridiculous $90 price tag on the Australian Steam store, as well as the utterly insane hard disk space requirement of 35GB.