Max Payne always makes me giggle. The first game came out in the time where it was acceptable to have childish and downright stupid titles for games. Think about it, Max Payne. As in, “I am so gosh darn cool that I will not only force pain upon my victims, but the severity in which I do it can only be considered the maximum amount of pain possible.” Oh, and of course, that is also the protagonists name. The game was released by the soon-to-be household name “Rockstar” games, and it would go on to spark sequels and the inclusion of “slo-mo” or “bullet time” in nearly every shooter for the next few years. I like how they were forced into keeping the name as the series went on. People knew the game by the name Max Payne, and to change it would cause a rift between the different games and their fan base – so they kept it. You know how if you say something enough times, it stops being awkward/stupid sounding? I’m sure you can think of a band name off the top of your head that this works with. The first time you hear it, you think “That sounds really bad.”, but after you hear it enough times, it stops becoming a dumb sounding word and turns into a string of phonetically normal sounds. That’s what Max Payne has become. It was born in the “No title is too stupid, extreme or testosterone driven” era and then was carried into the current era where a title can make or break a game.
For how goofy the title sounds, the games were remarkably dark and deep. Even looking back on the first game, I can remember feeling a sense of dread as the game starts out with your family being murdered (oops, spoilers) as I started my quest for vengeance and answers. I remember being freaked out at the dream level, I remember how cool it was diving into a room full of bad guys and blasting them in slo-mo, I remember wanting to find out who was responsible for Max’s terrible situation and I remember a great action experience. That’s all I really remember about the first Max Payne, perhaps because it’s been so long since I’ve played it or that’s all the game had to offer. Regardless, I wasn’t expecting to have a “Max Payne” game in my mental top ten list of games – but then Max Payne 2 came out.
…by Max Payne 2 came out, I mean then the Max Payne 2 DEMO came out. There was that great handful of years where nearly every game that came out pushed out a demo a few weeks before launch. Sure, it still happens, but not nearly as frequently. I would sit at home and download demo after demo to satiate my gaming appetite in response to my middle school self not having money for many full titles. The first time I pull the virtual trigger I notice that the person I shot fell limp. I had seen only a few games before it incorporate rag doll physics, and this was eye-opening. I then spent the next few weeks of my free time replaying the demo over and over with the sole goal of killing people in as many different ways as I could. I’d dive into them with my sawed off shotgun and fire it point blank into their chest, I’d enter a room with two uzi’s only shooting at enemies legs, I’d shoot enemies in the groin with Deagles just to watch them bend over when they died… I must have played through that demo two hundred times. When the game came out, I had already spent more time in that game world than most people had playing through the full game – and I wasn’t disappointed. The story was what I expected it to be, a dark gritty crime drama where nobody seemed to be who they said they were, violence and sex ran the world and Max was his usual self-deprecating, dead inside, poetic self.
Cut to a few years later, Max Payne 3 is announced and then forgotten about. I of course, showed up to my local gaming store and put five dollars down on it years before it would even be released. I had money down on Max Payne 3 before Grand Theft Auto IV was released. Grand Theft Auto IV did a lot of things well, but many more things terribly. It was a great piece of tech and a perfect machine for those unique, one in a million physics moments, but I felt the actual game suffered. But boy oh boy was Natural Motion’s Euphoria tech beautiful. One of the things that I felt was lacking was the actual shooting elements in GTAIV. The guns didn’t feel powerful, the enemies reacted well, but the shooting felt pulled back and impersonal. The cover system they implemented was extremely clunky and compared to a game like Gears of War that had popularized the concept, it was laughably bad. Red Dead Redemption comes out and moves things along in the right direction. The cover was more fluid, the gun play seemed far more intimate and brutal and the guns had a significant amount of kick. The characters still moved like tanks, granted smaller nimbler tanks, but they still were tanks none the less. At least this time, you didn’t have to walk in a circle to turn around.
And this is when I started getting worried. I had seen the previous games on Rockstar’s proprietary “RAGE” engine. I had seen the amazing physics, graphics and tech behind them, but I had also seen the clunky character movement, cover systems and impersonal gun play, and I knew that Max Payne 3 was up next on their release schedule (skipping over L.A. Noire, of course.) Max Payne has always been fluid, fast paced and intimate – I.E. Everything GTAIV and Red Dead are not. Could the next Max Payne be the game I want it to be? Could Rockstar deliver the game that I and other Max Payne fans want to play?
Despite some early trailers leading me down a path of worries and anxiety, I can safely say that Max Payne 3 looks phenomenal. If Max Payne 2 can be summed up by it’s use of rag dolls, Max Payne 3 has a perfect parallel with the Euphoria engine. The tech and gameplay videos currently out prove this point definitively. Max moves unlike Nico Belic or John Marston before him, and moves like you’d expect him too. He’s floaty in the best way possible, and even in his old age hasn’t lost his ability to dive onto his face if it means he took out some baddies in the process. The story looks as gritty as ever with just the perfect amount of dread and violence to supplement the dark tone of the game. While I can’t say this for sure until I get my hands on the game, but I feel like Max Payne is finally back.
If you want to take something away from this love letter I have written to the Max Payne series it’s this: If you aren’t excited for Max Payne 3, I have to ask you: Did you even PLAY Max Payne 2?!
…And then to answer my rhetorical question, I would point you to the steam page so you could play it. You know, something like this: http://store.steampowered.com/app/12150/
And then if you still weren’t excited for Max Payne 3, I’d post some sort of great tech demo like video showing the possibilities of the engine, You know, something like this:
With a May 15th release date, There won’t be much else in the way of competition. I’ll give you my full impressions of the game then, but I can’t wait. Consider me officially excited.