Is Max Payne Crazy? Observations from Two Classic Games
So that was fun. Like I said at the outset, despite Remedy’s potential hints that Max may not be all there (there are certainly more of them, these I just recalled off-hand), or that his view of reality might be a little iffy (remember how Woden made Max’s murder-spree just disappear after Max Payne 1? Remember the cutscene in which Max mentions a dream in which he killed his wife for Mona in Max Payne 2?), I doubt such an interpretation is actually possible given that Max Payne 3 is about to come out — although if Rockstar maintains the hints at Max’s questionable sanity, I’ll be happy to write another of these.
But the overall point is that, yes, the original Max Payne titles are still very relevant in the world of video games. Playing through both titles gives you a sense of the storytelling evolution Remedy has gone through — the similarities between Max Payne and Alan Wake are numerous.
The Gameplay is Still Good, Too
Remember when Bullet Time was new and different and then every game had it for a while? Well, it’s been long enough (or it was handled deftly enough) that Bullet Time is still great in the classic Max Payne games. The gameplay in general in both titles is still pretty solid despite their age, although the challenge of the first Max Payne often results in players having to memorize enemy spawn locations in order to not get cranked in the chest by a shotgun 40 times.
There are some strange design choices in the world before chest-high walls. For example, Max Payne is a game that encourages players to leap into danger in slow-motion and blow away the competition, but it often penalizes you for doing so by filling you full of bullets before you hit the ground. Exploiting the AI and clearing rooms through rote and attrition is the only real method of success.
Even so, the action is a lot of fun, even a decade on. What’s more, Remedy makes a bold choice with its final boss encounters — forcing players to solve something of a realistic puzzle rather than pitting them in another shooting match. For two games that were all guns blazing for hours on end, the final boss encounters in both aren’t just interesting decisions, they’re ballsy ones. Not every player likes them, but forcing Max to use his brain to defeat his ultimate adversaries is a clever design and a smart character moment.
Get Excited for Max Payne 3, and Play Max Payne 1 and 2
Max Payne 3 is just a few days away at this point, and while you might be stoked about Diablo III, you should really do yourself a favor and get excited about Rockstar’s continuation of the series. It has the potential to be a little strange — it takes Max out of his noir setting of New York and takes place in broad daylight for the first time — but continuing this series is a fantastic thing.
In fact, I implore you to go pick up the PC versions of Max Payne 1 and 2 on Steam, or wherever. Do yourself a favor, especially if you’ve never played them before. Then ask yourself why more modern games aren’t this deep, exciting, or relevant.