The Max Payne franchise began in 2001 with Max Payne, a sequel in 2003, and a third installment in 2012. It would not be too far a stretch to call the first game one of the most influential third-person shooters ever – fluid controls, fun gameplay and the game’s use of a slow-motion mode called ‘bullet time’ was near-revolutionary for 2001.
The games focus on the titular Max Payne, a former New York police officer hellbent on vengeance for the death of his wife and child. All three games are punchy and violent third-person shooters. The first two are relatively distinct to the third – developed by Remedy Entertainment, and featuring a cold and dark New York City as a background to Max weeding out a criminal conspiracy in his quest for revenge. Remedy has gone on to create Control, considered to be one of the best games of 2019 and a game whose roots you can see in Max Payne. The third game, developed by Rockstar Games, sees Max escape New York to take a new job in Brazil, and deal with the destruction he seems to bring about wherever he goes.
Max Payne’s gameplay has always managed to be excellent. There is a reason why people still play the first one today. Every game’s tight controls and breakneck pace demand split-second reactions and accurate aim above all else. Every level, if played well, feels like a John Wick film. The third especially has excellent gun audio and realistic enemy reactions, mixed with Rockstar’s excellent animations. The broad story of revenge in the games betrays the series’ deep plots and interesting characters. Revenge for a dead family may be somewhat cliché, but the story that evolves around Max is always interesting. Perhaps to escape the staleness expected in a long-running series, Max Payne 3 drastically innovates itself; a new country with Max as the outsider changes the entire dynamic of the story. His investment is more moral, less vengeful, giving space more to humanise Max rather than focus his lust for revenge.
What is perhaps most interesting in this trilogy is that each game differed subtly with its given developer. Remedy’s Max Payne games are dark, depressing, and a little off-kilter. One mob boss is obsessed with a comic book character, Max breaks the fourth wall rather spectacularly, and one level finds him gunning his way around a funhouse. Rockstar’s Max Payne game is seedy and more realistic, but there is an edge of snark, and it develops Max as a person far more than the first two. As far as film comparisons go, some have described the first two as Hong Kong action thrillers, and the third as a Michael Mann film.
I think Max Payne deserves a fourth game, whether it focuses on him or someone else. Better yet, the developer change shows that the game can survive Rockstar selling it off to someone else as capable as them. Such an action feels like a necessity given Rockstar has not even given the series the side-eye since 2012, and have not even touched a linear game since. Max Payne represents two declining trends in gaming, third-person shooters and shorter linear experiences, which in my mind leaves a perfect Max Payne-shaped hole in the gaming industry. Here is hoping for Max Payne 4 before Grand Theft Auto VI.
The Max Payne franchise is available on PC and consoles. You can watch a trailer below!