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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[2]
Portrayed by Sam Lake (Max Payne)[1]
James McCaffrey (Max Payne 3)

Max Payne is the main character and protagonist from the neo-noir video game series of the same name. Max was introduced in the 2001 third-person shooter Max Payne, which was written by Sam Lake and developed by Remedy Entertainment. The game's publisher, 3D Realms, intended Max to serve as the "foundation of a new gaming franchise". In the first game the character was portrayed by 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 sequel, Max Payne 2: 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. Max becomes a vigilante following the murder of his family and later the murder of his police partner, which he was framed for. Later, he returns to the service as a detective, before his life is soon shattered by death and betrayal. At the start of Max Payne 3 by Rockstar Games, he finds himself employed as a bodyguard for Rodrigo Branco, a wealthy man in Brazil. Max Payne has been very well received by media.

Character development[edit]

Sam Lake created the character and his face was used 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." The titular character of Max Payne was originally named Max Heat, and 3D Realms spent over $20,000 worldwide trademarking this name before someone at the company suggested the last name Payne, which was immediately adopted.[3] 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.[3] 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.[3]

In both games, Max's voice actor was James McCaffrey.[3] 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."[4] 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.[5] 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. McCaffrey said that performing motion capture helped match the dialogue to the scenes and compared it to "having to act in Avatar."[4] 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,[6] as Max's appearance shifts over the course of the game, including his 'classic' appearance during flashbacks of his time in New Jersey.[7] 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."[8] McCaffrey compared Max in the third game to Charles Bronson's character Paul Kersey in the film Death Wish.[4]


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.[3] 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.[3][9] It is also hinted through the games that Max has a questionable grip on reality.[10]

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.[11] 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,[3] 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."[12] However, this is not the case in Max Payne 3 as in the opening cinematic the drunk Max 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.[13]

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."[14] 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."[15] Max Payne 3 has him display not only extreme violence but also more restraint than in the previous games.[16]


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 the investigation of a new street drug known as Valkyr. 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.[3][16]

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, Max 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; the investigation leads to Mona's death.[3][16]

Following the events of the second game, Max is dismissed from the force, and is now addicted to alcohol and painkillers. 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.[3] After Rodrigo's 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.[16]

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.[17][18] 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."[19] 3D Realms' Scott Miller, however, said Max Payne was poorly portrayed in the film, falling short of the game's standards.[20][21]

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; a college professor who would tell him stories of ancient mythology. 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 years 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.[22]

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.[23] Max Payne 3 Special Edition was bundled with a 10" tall collectible Max Payne statue made by TriForce.[24] 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.[25]


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.[26]

—Matt Bertz, Game Informer, 2010

Max Payne was named the year's best game character by Eurogamer in 2001.[27] In 2008, PC Zone ranked him as 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."[28] Game Informer included him on their list of game characters that "shaped the 2000s," as chosen by the staff and readers alike.[26][29] In 2011, readers of Guinness World Records voted Max as the 42nd-top video game character of all time.[30] 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."[31]

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.[3]

—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."[32] That same year, Max was ranked sixth on the list of gaming's top antiheroes by ScrewAttack,[33] and 360 ranked his name as fifth on their list of the top "manliest" character names on Xbox 360.[34] IGN featured Max prominently in their 2012 article "A History of Badasses,"[35] ranked him as the gaming's "most notorious" antihero that same year,[36] and called him "one of video games' most troubled characters."[37] In 2013, Complex ranked him as the 42nd "most badass" video game character of all time.[38] He was also ranked as the eighth "most bad-ass" video game character by The Ultimate Gamer that same year.[39]

In addition, the sex scene between Max and Mona was ranked as the fifth sexiest moment in gaming by in 2007, who called it "actually one of the most fitting [sex scenes] ever seen in a video game."[40] Their affair also ranked as sixth on the list of the most "disastrous game romances" by GamesRadar in 2011.[41] ScrewAttack, in 2012, 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.[42] 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."[43]

In 2013, Complex included Max Payne at the number-two spot on their list of "old school" video game characters who were style icons, as "the gritty, hard-boiled NYC cop look was a perfect fit."[44] 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;[45][46][47][48] UGO 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."[49] 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."[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Character Study: Max Payne". UGO. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "10 Things You Didn't Know About...Max Payne". X360. 20 July 2010. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McLaughlin, Rus (12 May 2012). "The History of Max Payne". The Escapist. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Gaskill, Jake (19 April 2002). "Max Payne 3's James McCaffrey on "Wild Experience" of Resurrecting an Icon". G4. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Gilbert, Ben (15 June 2009). "Max Payne 3 gets different, older voice actor". Joystiq. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "Max Payne 3 as seen in Edge Magazine". The Game Fanatics. 4 April 2011. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Richardson, Ben (17 November 2011). "Dissecting the Max Payne 3 Technology & Design Trailer". GameFront. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Max Payne 3 Announced!". RockstarWatch. 23 March 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ Hornshaw, Phil (17 November 2011). "Observations from Two Classic Games". GameFront. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Making of Max Payne". Edge. 2 November 2008. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Engen, Josh (15 May 2010). "Max Payne 3 Review for Xbox 360". Cheat Code Central. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  13. ^ "Max Payne 3 Opening Cut Scene". YouTube. 15 May 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  14. ^ Crecente, Brian (30 April 2012). "'Max Payne 3' is a character study shaped by addiction and violence". Polygon. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  15. ^ Breeden II, John (2012). "Review: Max Payne 3 (Rockstar Games)". Game Industry News. Archived from the original on 30 October 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c d Wiebe, Phil (13 March 2013). "Max Payne and Sympathy for the Heartless". Push Select. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  17. ^ Cortez, Carl (25 July 2008). "Day 1 - Comic-Con - July 24, 2008: Mark Wahlberg has no aversion to 'Payne'". iFMagazine. Archived from the original on 22 August 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  18. ^ "Max Payne Comic Con Interview". CraveOnline. 1 August 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  19. ^ Adler, Shawn (17 June 2008). "Mark Wahlberg Calls Max Payne The Most Complex Character He's Ever Played". MTV. 
  20. ^ Pigna, Kris (21 August 2008). "Producer of Max Payne Game Not a Fan of Max Payne Movie". Retrieved 2 January 2015. [dead link]
  21. ^ Kris Graft (20 October 2008). "3D Realms "Bewildered" by Max Payne Flick". Edge. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  22. ^ "Original Comic Book Series". Rockstar Games. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  23. ^ "Avatar Marketplace". Xbox Live Arcade. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  24. ^ Dutton, Fred (21 November 2011). "Max Payne 3 special edition detailed • News •". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  25. ^ "29 Awesome GTA 5 Easter Eggs". IGN. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Bertz, Matt (19 November 2010). "The Snubbed List". Game Informer. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Max Payne Game Awards". 3D Realms. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  28. ^ "PC Gaming's Best, And Worst, Characters". Computer and Video Games. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  29. ^ Bryan Vore (3 December 2010). "Readers' Top 30 Characters Results Revealed". Game Informer. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  30. ^ "Guinness Names The Top 50 Video Game Characters Of All Time". Brutal Gamer. 17 February 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  31. ^ "100 best heroes in video games". GamesRadar. 19 October 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  32. ^ "The top ten video game characters". Gulf News. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  33. ^ Machinima (22 January 2011). "Ten FTW: Top 10 Gaming Anti-Heroes! (machinima)". YouTube. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  34. ^ Howdle, Dan. "The Top 10 Manliest Character Names". 360. Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  35. ^ Dyer, Mitch (24 February 2012). "A History of Baddasses". IGN. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  36. ^ "Gaming's Most Notorious Anti-Heroe". IGN. 5 March 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  37. ^ Krupa, Daniel (14 May 2013). "Max Payne 3 Review". IGN. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  38. ^ Avellan, Drea (2 February 2013). "The 50 Most Badass Video Game Characters Of All Time". Complex. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  39. ^ "Top 10 Most Bad-Ass Video Game Characters... EVER". The Ultimate Gamer. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  40. ^ Cook, Chris. "Pants Optional: Top Sexy Gaming Moments (page 2)". Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  41. ^ Meikleham, Dave (18 February 2011). "The Top 7… disastrous game romance". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  42. ^ "Top 10 Gamer Costumes for 2012". GameTrailers. 26 October 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  43. ^ Reparaz, Mikel (13 April 2012). "The 13 unluckiest bastards in gaming". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  44. ^ Welch, Hanuman (24 May 2013). "12 Old School Video Game Characters Who Were Style Icons". Complex. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  45. ^ Grant, Christopher (9 June 2009). "Whoa! Max Payne is a total slob". Joystiq. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  46. ^ "Whatever happened to Max Payne?". Den of Geek. 30 March 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  47. ^ Jon Wilcox (9 April 2011). "Critical Hit: Payne Killers". bit-tech. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  48. ^ Tyler Wilde, GamesRadar US. "New Max Payne 3 screenshots feature Payne before and after hair". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  49. ^ "Max Payne 3: Origins of a Bald Man". UGO. 29 June 2009. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  50. ^ Stuart, Keith (19 May 2012). "Max Payne 3 and the problem of narrative dissonance". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 

External links[edit]