Retro Monday: “Max Payne”

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Title: “Max Payne”
Developer: Remedy Entertainment (PC)
Publisher: Gathering/3D Realms (PC)
Released: July 2001
Reviewed Version: PlayStation 2 Port
Port Developer: Rockstar Toronto
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Released: January 2002

There are many film connections with “Max Payne”. The strongest is the film adaptation with ‘Marky Mark’. It was on the TV the other day but I still haven’t seen it. I have too much love for the game. Then there is the film connections in the game itself. It was the first popularisation of the ‘Bullet-Time’ visual mechanic. “The Matrix” beat the game to the ‘first use’ punch but the game was is development before the film was. Guess is was people coming up with the some idea at the same time. It happens. You would think the bullet-time would be a gimmick in a shooter, especially in the game when it was first used, but its not. It can give you a tactical advantage in some of the thinner corridor sections when health-destroying shotguns are the weapon of the day. One section early on has you in a relatively small room with the Finito (I see what you did there) brothers who weld the aforementioned sawn-off health diminisher.
The pun by calling an Italian American crime brothers pair the Italian for ‘finished’ goes with the neo-noir style. Max himself is the follows the definitive ‘hard-boiled cop’ noir stereotype from start to finish. The noir story leans a little into the conspiracy fiction area when super-solders get involved but it is still very noir.
One thing that cements the noir style throughout the game, but is also a great looking but inexpensive cut-scene stand-in, is the comic book panel narration sections. Max is visually designed to look like (and actually is in the panel sequences) Sam Lake AKA Sam Järvi, the scriptwriter for the game while James McCaffrey is the gravely voice. The rest of the people in the panels are others guys from the Remedy office. Shows how much money they had when making the game. It works fantastically well. The real life photographs they use for the panels adds a humanistic element to the very polygon graphics that where the late 90’s.

While the guys at Remedy are the real-life people in the game, they also had a hand in the subtext of the game. Norse mythology is layered into the game and makes up its story. Considering Remedy is based in Finland you could call Remedy Nordic. The story revolves around the drug V AKA Valkyr invented during secret experiments by the US government called the Valhalla Project. (There is a reference to the 1990’s film “Jacob’s Ladder”, a film about a super solder drug made during Vietnam, but I haven’t seen it so I’ll gloss over that.) Valhalla, for those who have not seen “Thor” yet, is the land of the afterlife in Norse mythology. The Valkyries (AKA Valkyr) are female figures who decide who dies in war and who doesn’t. Lots of subtext, but that not all. The Aesir Corporation, the corporate bad guys, are named for the Æsir, the pantheon of the Norse gods and you have a shootout at the Ragna Rock nightclub, named after the Norse apocalypse Ragnarök.
It’s not just Norse mythology they rub into the game. A ship you end of boarding and getting many guns on is called the Charon, named after the ferryman they ferry souls to the Greek afterlife hell that is Hades.

To wrap this up, there is a lot of depth in the game. As a piece of noir it is a stand out. The added subtext of the mythologies add layers to game while the human narration and comic panels tie off the package nicely. Even if you just want to just have a shoot out, the controls are solid and the mechanics (even for a port) and well rounded. The only thing that that has really aged about the game is the graphics and you should be able to look past that.

Retro Score: 5/5

Modern Score: 4/5

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