Max Payne (character)

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Max Payne
Max Payne character
Max Payne in Max Payne 3
First game Max Payne (2001)[1]
Created by Sam Lake[2]
Voiced by James McCaffrey (games)[2]
Motion capture James McCaffrey (Max Payne 3)[3]
Portrayed by Sam Lake (Max Payne)[2]
Timothy Gibbs (Max Payne 2)[2]
James McCaffrey (Max Payne 3)[2]
Mark Wahlberg (film)[1]

Max Payne is a character from the neo-noir video game series of the same name. He was originally created by Remedy Entertainment and 3D Realms, and introduced in the 2001 third-person shooter Max Payne. In the games, the character was based upon and initially portrayed by Sam Lake, with Timothy Gibbs and James McCaffrey later taking over the role, and consistently voiced by McCaffrey. Mark Wahlberg portrayed Max in the film adaptation. The first game in the series presents the story as retold by Max from his point of view, while the first sequel, The Fall of Max Payne, alternates between his and that of the femme fatale character Mona Sax.

In the original Max Payne, Max is an NYPD police officer and an undercover special agent for the DEA turned an unstoppable vigilante following the murder of his family and later also the murder of his police partner that he was framed for. Later, he returns to the service as a detective, before his life is soon shattered again by death and betrayal. At the start of Max Payne 3 by Rockstar Games, he finds himself employed as a bodyguard for a wealthy man's family in Brazil. Max Payne has been very well received by media and general audience alike, being widely acclaimed as one of top video game antiheroes and even overall best characters in the history of video games.

Character development[edit]

Sam Lake created the character and portrayed Max in the original Max Payne

In the creation of Max Payne, the publisher 3D Realms "wanted to develop another strong character that would be the foundation for a new gaming franchise, much like we [3D Realms] had done with Duke Nukem."[4] The titular character of Max Payne was originally named Max Heat.[5] He was modeled after Sam Lake (Sami Järvi), who wrote the game's story and script for the Finnish company Remedy Entertainment.[2] Lake also dressed up and played this role for the graphic novel-style cutscenes.[6] For Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, however, Lake declined the role. Due to having a much larger budget this time, the developers were able to hire professional actors, choosing Timothy Gibbs to be the new model for Max.[6]

In both games, Max's voice actor was James McCaffrey.[6] McCaffrey recalled: "Originally, I’d worked on a show called Swift Justice, and there were some similarities between the two characters in terms of them both having experienced some family tragedy and were familiar with the concept of vengeance, but there weren’t any specific characters that Max is based on."[7] In an early announcement from Rockstar Games (the franchise's new developer and publisher) Max's voice actor was to be recast with an older actor.[8] In the end, however, McCaffrey did return to the role of Max in Max Payne 3, for which he also provided the motion capture material.[3] McCaffrey said that performing motion capture helped match the dialogue to the scenes and compared it to "having to act in Avatar."[7] He added that he would be happy to voice Max again in the future.[7]

Payne's look changed significantly for the third game, featuring an older, bald and bearded Max; this move received an overwhelmingly negative reception. In response, Rockstar Games made changes to the game,[9] as Max's appearance shifts over the course of the game, including his 'classic' appearance during flashbacks of his time in New Jersey.[10] According to Rockstar's Sam Houser, "This is Max as we've never seen him before, a few years older, more world-weary and cynical than ever."[11] McCaffrey compared Max in the third game to Charles Bronson's character Paul Kersey in the film Death Wish.[7]


Max Payne has been put into a fatalist situation against his will, in the style of a classic element of many noir films, the fall guy.[6] Max is an antihero, as he himself states: "I was not one of them, I was no hero." The character is noted for his complex use of both metaphors and wordplay to describe the world around him within his inner monologues, which often contradict his external responses to characters he speaks with.[1] He is an extreme introvert and his life is largely illustrated through dramatic and often morbidly cynical soliloquies describing his feelings about his actions and situation.[6][12] It is also hinted through the games that Max has some very questionable grip on reality.[13]

At the beginning of the first game, Max is seen differently as a smiling, happily married extrovert with a bright personality. However, after his family was murdered, Max loses his meaning of life and blindly works toward his only remaining purpose: vengeance.[14] However, he has not nullified his feelings, as he is taken with the femme fatale contract killer Mona Sax first they meet, and befriends Vladimir Lem. All the while, Max shows signs of survivor's guilt and self-destructive behaviour,[6] considering his life to have ended "in a New York minute". At the end of the second game, he finally seems to find peace within himself, saying: "I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was alright."[15] However, this is not the case in Max Payne 3 as in the opening cinematic the drunk Max is angrily throws a portrait of what is implied to be his family against his apartment wall; he regrets this act and picks up the picture.[16]

Rockstar vice-president Dan Houser described Max Payne in the third game as "a drunk, somewhat morose, widowed ex-cop, trying to find some kind of peace with himself. [...] A man who has spent his life killing, even in the service of his idea of what is right or wrong, is going to be extremely damaged. [...] He wants to be a thinker but he's much better as a doer. When he thinks he gets wrapped up in himself or makes mistakes. When he acts, he is brilliant, almost super-human. That is his character, and the dichotomy between the two is the reality of his life, and at the heart of the game. He cannot seem to move forward emotionally, but physically he is relentless."[17] Max is shown to be quite aware of his shortcomings and flaws, stating: "I'm not slipping. I'm slipped. I'm a bad joke."[18] Max Payne 3 has him display not only extreme violence but also more restraint than in the previous games.[19]


In video games[edit]

An outfit worn by Sam Lake for Max's role in the original game's cutscenes on display at Game On exhibition in the Science Museum

In the original game, spanning the period of three years between 1998 and 2001, Max Payne (voiced by James McCaffrey) is a former New York City Police Department (NYPD) homicide detective whose wife Michelle and six-month-old daughter Rose were brutally murdered in a home invasion connected with Valkyr drug case. In response, Max joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a secret agent and went undercover in the Mafia. Eventually, framed for the murder of his NYPD and DEA partner Alex Balder, and with his identity exposed, Max becomes a fugitive wanted by the Mafia and the police alike while waging his personal war on the crime. Eventually, he discovers and seemingly destroys a powerful conspiracy behind all these events.[6][19]

After solving the Valkyr case and avenging his family, Max is cleared by his contact in the powerful secret society known as the Inner Circle and returns to the NYPD. In the first sequel, taking place in 2003, during which he begins investigating a series of murders by a shadowy group of professional killers called the Cleaners. Soon, Max reunites with the murder suspect Mona Sax to solve the mysteries of the Inner Circle as once again people close to him die - including his new, corrupt partner (killed by Max) and in the end Mona herself.[6][19]

Following the events of the second game, Max is fired from the force, now addicted to alcohol and pain killers and still haunted by the ghosts from his past. After a violent mob confrontation, he eventually leaves New York City for the unfamiliar streets of São Paulo, Brazil. Max gets a job working in a security detail for Rodrigo Branco, a wealthy businessman along with Raul Passos who went through police training with Max.[6] After Rodrigo's trophy wife is kidnapped, Max and Raul discover and then destroy a human organ harvesting ring involving local street gangs, right-wing paramilitary mercenaries and a corrupt Brazilian special police force.[19]

In film[edit]

Mark Wahlberg at the premiere of the film version

In the film adaptation, loosely based on the plot of the first game in the series, Max Payne, played by Mark Wahlberg, is a NYPD cop seeking revenge against his family's killers.[1] When Mark Wahlberg first read Beau Thorne's script he thought it was "awesome" but became wary after finding out it was based on a video game.[20][21] Describing his role, Wahlberg said: "It's probably one of the edgier roles I've played but also the most layered. Here's a very happy guy who worked a dismal job, had a beautiful family. But the beauty in his life was taken away. He just goes on a rampage. It's all driven by emotion."[22] 3D Realms' Scott Miller, however, said Max Payne was poorly portrayed in the film, falling short of the game's standards.[23][24]

Other appearances[edit]

A three-issue Max Payne 3 tie-in digital comic, created and released in partnership between Rockstar Games and Marvel Comics explores Max's early years and the events prior to the third game in the series. Max was born to Helen and Jack Payne. Max's father was a PTSD suffering Vietnam veteran who cheated on and sometimes beat his wife. An important influence on the boy was his maternal grandfather who would tell the child mythical stories. Helen died in 1976, possibly due to her alcoholism; Jack's death followed three years later. As a young man, Max graduated from the New York City Police Academy as the top trainee in his class. Several year later, he has first met his future wife Michelle by saving her from two robbers. They married six months later and their daughter was born on February 4, 1998.[25]

In 2012, several sets of Max Payne's Xbox Live Avatar clothes from the original game were released by Rockstar on the Xbox Live Marketplace.[26] Max Payne 3 Special Edition was bundled with a 10" tall collectible Max Payne statue made by TriForce.[27] According to an Easter egg in Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake, Max died 13 years after the events of Max Payne 2 (in 2016).[2] However, this is not canonical, as the rights to the series have moved to Rockstar Games. In Rockstar's 2013 Grand Theft Auto V, the player character Michael can be customized to look like Max in Max Payne 3.[28]


If you could distill all of Max Payne’s bitterness into a rock, it would be a 500-carat diamond. Max doesn’t have that luxury, so instead he uses his introverted rage to fuel his vigilante sense of justice, dispensing anger in the form of bullets. Dirty Harry would be proud.[29]

—Matt Bertz, Game Informer, 2010

Max Payne was named the best game character of the year by Eurogamer in 2001.[30] In 2008, PC Zone ranked him as the PC gaming's seventh-best character, commenting: "He might be a film noir cliché, but Max Payne is a relatively unique specimen in games, with a superb script and suitably smooth voice acting to match."[31] Game Informer included him on the list of game characters that "shaped the 2000s" as chosen by the staff and the readers alike.[29][32] In 2011, readers of Guinness World Records voted Max as the 42nd top video game character of all time.[33] In 2012, GamesRadar ranked him as the 23rd "most memorable, influential, and badass" protagonist in video games due to his "series of extraordinary mobster-murdering scenarios."[34]

It took an enthusiastic group of Finns to nail that uniquely American mix of modern action and classic noir, but even they underestimated Max's enduring appeal. He is the man pushed too far, the doomed anti-hero who keeps fighting, the lone cop betrayed but never broken, always sardonic, never bleak. Max's constant struggle feels timeless.[6]

—Rus McLaughlin, The Escapist, 2012

Gulf News ranked him as second on their 2011 list of top video game characters, adding that "his no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners attitude won him legions of fans."[35] That same year, Max was ranked sixth on the list of the gaming's top anti-heroes by ScrewAttack[36] and 360 ranked his name as fifth on the list of the top manliest character names on Xbox 360.[37] IGN featured Max prominently in their 2012 article "A History of Badasses",[38] ranked him as the gaming's "most notorious" antihero that same year,[39] and called him "one of video games' most troubled characters."[40] In 2013, Complex ranked him as the 42nd "most badass" video game character of all time.[41] He was also ranked as the eight "most bad-ass" video game character by The Ultimate Gamer that same year.[42]

In addition, the sex scene between Max and Mona - "actually one of the most fitting ever seen in a video game" - was ranked as the fifth top sexy moment in gaming by in 2007.[43] Their affair also ranked as sixth on the list of the most disastrous game romances by GamesRadar in 2011.[44] ScrewAttack included both the new and the classic versions of the character in Max Payne 3 on their list of top ten "gamer costumes" for Halloween 2012.[45] That same year, GamesRadar included Max among the "13 unluckiest bastards in gaming", stating that "it’s hard to think of a protagonist who gets shit on more relentlessly than Max Payne" and noting him for having "the most comically overwrought internal monologues ever to appear in a game."[46]

In 2013, Complex included Max Payne at the number two spot on the list of "old school" video game characters who were style icons, as "the gritty, hard boiled NYC cop look was a perfect fit."[47] The character's initial design changes during the long development cycle of Max Payne 3 brought severe criticism from the fan community as well as the media;[48][49][50][51] commented that "his suave, noir look got booted by trailer trash sensibilities" and blamed Obadiah Stane, Bam Bam Bigelow, John McClane and Kerry King for being "most responsible for Max's new style".[52] Keith Stuart of The Guardian opined that, with the third game, Rockstar succeeded in turning "its ex-cop anti-hero into a credible character," even as there is a "slight disconnect between the shambling Max of the cinematic sequences and the athletic psychopath we control in the interactive sections."[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Max Payne character study". 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "10 Things You Didn't Know About…Max Payne". X360 Magazine. 2010-07-20. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  3. ^ a b "Max Payne 3 Info Dump and Screenshots Inbound « DualShockers". 2011-04-25. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  4. ^ "The Apogee FAQ: Max Payne and Max Payne 2". 2002-11-08. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  5. ^ Remedy Company History, Remedy Entertainment.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rus McLaughlin, The History of Max Payne, The Escapist, May 12, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d Jake Gaskill, Max Payne 3's James McCaffrey on "Wild Experience" of Resurrecting an Icon, G4tv, April 19, 2012.
  8. ^ Gilbert, Ben (2009-06-15). "Max Payne 3 gets different, older voice actor". Joystiq. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  9. ^ Podcast, Gspot (2011-04-04). "Max Payne 3 as seen in Edge Magazine – The Game Fanatics". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  10. ^ Ben Richardson, Dissecting the Max Payne 3 Technology & Design Trailer, GameFront, November 17, 2011.
  11. ^ "Max Payne 3 Announced!". 2009-03-23. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  12. ^ For example, regarding his bullet time abilities, Max comments: "Einstein was right. Time is relative to the observer. When you're looking down the barrel of a gun, time slows down. Your whole life flashes by, heartbreak and scars. Stay with it, and you can live a lifetime in that split second." (Max Payne 2)
  13. ^ Phil Hornshaw, Is Max Payne Crazy? Observations from Two Classic Games, GameFront, May 11, 2012.
  14. ^ "The Making of Max Payne - Edge Magazine". 2008-11-02. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  15. ^ Josh Engen, Max Payne 3 Review for Xbox 360, Cheat Code Central, May 15, 2012.
  16. ^ "Max Payne 3 Opening Cut Scene". 2012-05-15. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  17. ^ 'Max Payne 3' is a character study shaped by addiction and violence, Polygon, April 30, 2012.
  18. ^ John Breeden II, Review: Max Payne 3 (Rockstar Games), Game Industry News, 2012.
  19. ^ a b c d Phil Wiebe, Max Payne and Sympathy for the Heartless, Push Select, March 13, 2013.
  20. ^ Cortez, Carl (July 25, 2008). "Day 1 - Comic-Con - July 24, 2008: Mark Wahlberg has no aversion to 'Payne'". iFMagazine. Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  21. ^ "Max Payne Comic Con Interview". CraveOnline. 2008-08-01. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  22. ^ Adler, Shawn (2008-06-17). "Mark Wahlberg Calls Max Payne The Most Complex Character He's Ever Played". MTV Movies Blog (MTV). 
  23. ^ "Producer of Max Payne Game Not a Fan of Max Payne Movie". 2008-10-21. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  24. ^ Kris Graft (2008-10-20). "3D Realms "Bewildered" by Max Payne Flick | Edge Magazine". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  25. ^ "Original Comic Book Series | Rockstar Games Presents Max Payne 3". Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  26. ^ "Avatar Marketplace". Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  27. ^ Dutton, Fred (2011-11-21). "Max Payne 3 special edition detailed • News •". Retrieved 2011-12-04. 
  28. ^ "29 Awesome GTA 5 Easter Eggs - IGN". Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  29. ^ a b Matt Bertz, The Snubbed List,, November 19, 2010.
  30. ^ "Max Payne Game Awards". 3D Realms. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  31. ^ PC Gaming's Best, And Worst, Characters, CVG, 23-February–2008.
  32. ^ Bryan Vore (2010-12-03). "Readers' Top 30 Characters Results Revealed". Game Informer. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  33. ^ "Guinness Names The Top 50 Video Game Characters Of All Time". 2011-02-17. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  34. ^ 100 best heroes in video games, GamesRadar, October 19, 2012.
  35. ^ "The top ten video game characters". 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  36. ^ Machinima (2011-01-22). "Ten FTW: Top 10 Gaming Anti-Heroes! (machinima)". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  37. ^ DanHowdle. "The Top 10 Manliest Character Names | 360 Magazine". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  38. ^ Mitch Dyer, A History of Badasses, IGN, February 24, 2012.
  39. ^ IGN Staff, Gaming's Most Notorious Anti-Heroes, IGN, March 5, 2012.
  40. ^ Daniel Krupa, Max Payne 3 Review, IGN, May 14, 2012.
  41. ^ Drea Avellan, The 50 Most Badass Video Game Characters Of All Time,, February 1, 2013.
  42. ^ "Top 10 Most Bad-Ass Video Game Characters... EVER |". 2013-07-22. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  43. ^ GamePro Media:. "Pants Optional: Top Sexy Gaming Moments| Net Tens". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  44. ^ Dave Meikleham, The Top 7… disastrous game romances, GamesRadar UK, 2011-02-18.
  45. ^ ScrewAttack, Top 10 Gamer Costumes for 2012,, 10/26/2012.
  46. ^ Mikel Reparaz, The 13 unluckiest bastards in gaming, GamesRadar, April 13, 2012.
  47. ^ Hanuman Welch, Old School Video Game Characters Who Were Style Icons,, May 23, 2013.
  48. ^ Grant, Christopher (2009-06-09). "Whoa! Max Payne is a total slob". Joystiq. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  49. ^ "Whatever happened to Max Payne?". Den of Geek. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  50. ^ Jon Wilcox (2011-04-09). "Critical Hit: Payne Killers |". Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  51. ^ Tyler Wilde, GamesRadar US. "New Max Payne 3 screenshots feature Payne before and after hair". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  52. ^ "Max Payne 3: Origins of a Bald Man". 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  53. ^ Keith Stuart, Max Payne 3 and the problem of narrative dissonance,, 18 May 2012.

External links[edit]