Rockstar Games was on a role in 2001 as it help transform video games from a child’s toy to a mature story telling medium. Before the release of Grand Theft Auto III in October, they teamed up with Remedy Entertainment and embraced the concept of film-noir by going in guns blazing with Max Payne.
By taking the darkest and grittiest tone of the genre than blending the auteurism of John Woo, Remedy presented one of the best works of neo-noir since Reservoir Dogs. With the the game celebrating its 15th anniversary, now is time to go back and examine how this game redefined a classic genre by adopting it with a new media.
Gamers are introduced to Max Payne as he reflects back upon the events of the last three days while looking down on the edge of a skyscraper. A devoted cop whose world was rocked when a group of junkies murder his family, Payne has been working undercover trying to bring down the Punchinello Mafia, who are the largest distributor of a new designer drug called Valkyr.
Set in January of 2001 during one of the largest blizzards, Payne’s odyssey begins when he is asked to meet with DEA Agent Alex Balder at a subway station. Upon his arrival, Payne stumbles onto an attempted bank robbery by mobsters working for Jack Lupino. After foiling the attempted robbery, he is able to find Agent Balder only to see him gun down by a mysterious assassin.
Payne flees to a mobster hideout only to learn his cover has been blown. To make matters worse, he has becomes the prime suspect in Agent Balder’s murder. Now with nothing to lose; Payne embarks on a vendetta across New York in an attempt to bring down the Punchinello Mafia and prove his innocence.
Upon its release, Max Payne was highly praised by gamers and critics as it won multiple awards including a BAFTA award and its success was followed by Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne in 2003. Seven years later, Rockstar would return to the noir genre with LA Noire in 2011 and Max Payne 3 in 2012.
So what made Max Payne standout from other action games? To be fair; calling it an “action game” would be like calling The Dark Knight a “superhero movie.” It may have the appearance of its expected style but it is layered with a deep metaphysics regarding the protagonists that it gives the audience a rich experience.
Max Payne has a dark and gritty tone that has been affiliated with the film-noir genre while character is the archetype protagonist commonly featured in the genre. The game is also rich with symbolism that reflects the noir tone, be it Payne’s dialogue or the metaphors encountered.
In the first of this trilogy, Payne is introduced as a character who has lost everything and only lives for vengeance. Max Payne 2 expand on this theme with a character riddled with guilt and following a path of self-destruction. Max Payne 3 will focus on our hero trying to redeem himself after hitting rock bottom.
The noir tone drives its plot, the action is driven by elements that have become synonyms with the works of John Woo. The most obvious thing to note is Max Payne use of a M92F Beretta which is often dual wielded (a trademark of Woo). It was also the introduction of Bullet Timing into the gameplay mechanism that allows players to engage in gun fights that are reminiscent of the highly choreographed action sequences featured in Woo films.
Max Payne was successful in demonstrating that a strong literary content could enrich the artistic merit of a game. 15 years after its release, the story is hailed as a classic while the characters has become the embodiment of vengeance in gaming.
Did you play Max Payne when it came out on July 23, 2001 for the PC? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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