Let us begin by saying that very few games are truly “iconic.” But Max Payne is one of them. For anyone that’s already played it, that unexplainable feeling of giddy excitement and ball-numbing nervousness must’ve swelled up plenty as you edged near a blind spot, hit the slow motion bullet time and leapt into a spray of bullets, frantically scanning your reticle to wipe out as many enemies as you could before hitting the deck.
To this day, the first Max Payne game is a benchmark for ridiculously intense third person gunplay. It’s also a clear example of how premise, storyline and mood can make a game even more engrossing.
The snowy-laden, wintry New York alleyways, the grimy, vibrating pornhouse beds, the damp, dim passageways of the deserted subway system – Max Payne captured a neo-noire motif and ran away with it.
The graphic-novel style cut scenes made the game feel like a live-action Sin City (this was before they filmed one, mind you) with James McCaffrey’s gravely delivery painting the picture of a disheveled, widowed cop with a dark past and even darker future.
Nearly fifteen years on, the game is still aging like fine wine. Play the game on its hardest difficulty and you’ll find yourself in disbelief at the sheer perfection it requires. Make sure you have plenty of painkillers, too. You’ll need the relief.
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
The sequel was essentially a very similar game with a very different story. Creator Sam Lake gave the game a love plot, while reintroducing the classic noire elements of hard-boiled dialogue, rain-swept New York streets and plenty of gun-wielding goons to fend off.
While the game never sold well enough initially (It forced a young Rockstar Games into some financial reassessment), the game could arguably be the best in the franchise. It pushes DirectX 8.1 graphics to the limit, with far more realism in the physics of gun play. Molotovs are like explosive fireballs and grenades wreak visceral havoc. The bullet time was also tweaked, so players could enhance their slow-mo streak by killing consecutive enemies.
This makes Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne feel more like a shoot-em-up than a shoot-n-wait. You dive head long into walls of gunfire, popping enemies and then taking cover while you reload.
It makes for some extremely addictive play, and beating the game unlocks two game modes: “New York Minute” – a speed run mode – and “Dead Man Walking” – a survival mode.
Max Payne (The Movie)
The 2008 film, starring Mark Wahlberg, is a generally disappointing film. It’s meant to mirror the storyline of the first game, but there are perplexing supernatural elements added in and the acting is below par.
If you’re a serious fan of Max Payne, you may watch the film as a completionist, but you’ll probably finish it as just another member of the disgruntled and disappointed.
Max Payne 3
When Rockstar Games took over the development duties for the latest installment, they gave gamers exactly what they wanted, a great story and even better gameplay.
The story takes place nine years after the last game. Max is now a security contractor in Brazil, and he finds himself fighting off ruthless São Paulo gangs to protect the wealthy Branco family.
The gameplay has some great tweaks (besides the gorgeous graphics), like having a legitimate cover system. Players can also shoot at an angle after they’ve hit the ground. When health is fully depleted, the “Last Stand” mechanic allows players to take out the enemy that last shot them.
If you’ve enjoyed the earlier games, Max Payne 3 won’t disappoint. And with the new multiplayer, where up to 16 players can be bullet-timing all over the place, that’s some serious mayhem you shouldn’t miss.
The future of Max Payne
Fans critics always appreciated Max Payne’s dedication to realism. The franchise’s story molds a natural character arc that players can invest in, that they can believe. Max Payne stars a young cop with a dead family and a vengeful death wish. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne shows a man in a desperate romance. Max Payne 3 has him moving fast past middle-age, throwing himself into a dangerous city far from his tri-state. But will there be another Max Payne? It’s hard to say right now given the lack of evidence.
Let’s be honest, though. Max Payne 3 sold incredibly well and was critically acclaimed – two essential reasons why a publisher would finance another title. Rockstar likes to hone their franchises and take their time (GTAV was worth the wait, for instance).
In our opinion, Max Payne will definitely be back for another round. When? That’s anybody’s guess.