Games I Own: Max Payne

Written by Joe Martin

January 21, 2010 // 10:50 a.m.

Tags: #2001 #alan-wake #bullet-time #games-i-own #max-pane #max-payne-2 #max-payne-3 #pc-format #pc-gamer #remedy #sam-lake

I don't know how, but I completely missed all of the hype and anticipation leading up to Max Payne's 2001 release. I was still very much into games at that point, but I think I must have been more into indie games and things I could get for free, so I probably wasn't reading a lot of PC Gamer previews.

The first I knew of Max Payne was when I unwrapped it at Christmas that year, though to be entirely honest that doesn't always mean it was my present. It could have been my little brother's. Either way, I played what I later learned to be one of the most anticipated and celebrated titles of all time and I enjoyed it. Not immensely, but enough to finish it and fiddle half-assedly with things like the Kung-Fu mod.

Then that was it. I've never really seen what all the fuss was about, to be totally honest.
[break]
Don't get me wrong; Max Payne is an fun game. Bullet-time was a lot more novel back then and I spent a lot of time drifting through the air in slow-mo with akimbo pistols – because they were the best weapon in the game so long as you were going for headshots. The graphics were amazing – or the textures and shaders were anyway; I always thought the geometry and animations were a bit stiff. The story was obvious and monotonous, but it did the job even if I still consider watching all the Max Payne cutscenes back to back to be just about the most masochistic thing a gamer can do.

Games I Own: Max Payne *Games I Own: Max Payne
Grumpgrumpgrump

When the game was done though...I didn't feel compelled to play it again, nor did I lament the lack of multiplayer or feel moved enough to give it any thought what so ever. I finished it, uninstalled it and went back to whatever game had previously held my attention, probably some obscure Half-Life mod. To be honest I'd kind of forgotten that I even owned it until I saw it in the bottom of my crate of games, which rests under my desk.

My interest in commercial games and buying games magazines must have been restored a few years later because I can remember reading previews of Max Payne 2 and seeing it billed as the sequel to what more than one journalist labelled as one of the most important and interesting action games of the decade. I was confused. Had I played the wrong game? I remember Max Payne as a fun game, definitely, but I also remember it as a rather unimaginative one, with a story and mechanic that doesn't evolve after the opening sequence and which sticks with it's oppresively noir themes to a fault.

Games I Own: Max Payne *Games I Own: Max Payne
Well, he got the monotone right at least...

Maybe I'm just jaded and, to be clear, I really do like Max Payne in much of the same way I like Serious Sam. It's the type of game where you switch your brain off and shoot everything that moves as quickly as possible, nothing more. You start the game with an ability. You end the game with the same ability. There's no evolution between the entrance and exit to Max's bleak world and anyone who claims the story is drawing them through clearly never bothered to engage their brain because it was always obvious what was going to happen, more or less. Throwing a secret society in at the last moment doesn't count as an original thought in this medium.

Still though, I see Max Payne 2 in Top 10 lists and I remember that it sat for a long time as PC Format's Best Action Game and I see praise piles on to the franchise. That's doubly true as Remedy prepares to release Alan Wake, also penned by Max Payne writer and model Sam Lake (and who I think does have a lot of talent if you judge his prose outside of the medium of videogames and on its own merits) and as info on Max Payne 3 trickles out. People seem to love Max Payne, rather than merely like it. People say it redefined the genre and introduced new ways of storytelling, but to me it added slow-mo and picture-based cutscenes that were self-indulgently too long.

And, by the way, all I could see that Max Payne 2 added was a new bullet-time animation.

Am I missing something here?

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