Is Max Payne Crazy? Observations from Two Classic Games

Still Relevant

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.

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4 Comments on Is Max Payne Crazy? Observations from Two Classic Games


On May 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm

It is clear in Max Payne 1 + 2 that Max is losing his sanity. I think that even he would agree that his grip on reality slipped more than a few notches in the first one. But I don’t think that it shows that he killed his wife. The references to him being the killer are things that are in his subconscious. He believes that he is responsible because he was unable to protect her. There is even a scene in one of the drug sequences where he shoots the killer only to see that the killer has his face (IIRC).
I think that if he had literally killed her himself, there would have been a lack of dead junkies in his apartment when the cops showed up and his story wouldn’t have held up (he would not still be a cop and a free man).

Phil Hornshaw

On May 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm


I don’t disagree, which is why I mentioned that that interpretation isn’t pretty clearly not canon. I’ve talked with numerous people about it and “survivor’s guilt” is basically the answer they’ve all given me. However — the dialog is weird. It’s a weird delivery, it’s weirdly written, and it seems to imply much more than what happened. She’s begging Max to stop; there’s no situation in which I see that as being derived from his guilt. It’s…it’s just weird.

Granted, however, at least in Max’s memory — junkies did it. But then again, in John Mirra’s memory, his Double did it. But anyway, this whole discussion is just about how nuanced the writing is.


On May 12, 2012 at 6:54 am

Ever seen The Fugitive? ‘Nuff said.


On May 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Mirrors are more fun than television.