Max Payne

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This article is about the video game. For the character, see Max Payne (character). For the series, see Max Payne (series). For a film version, see Max Payne (film). For the British racing driver, see Max Payne (racing driver).
Max Payne
Developer(s) Remedy Entertainment
Publisher(s) Microsoft Windows
Gathering of Developers
PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, iOS & Android
Rockstar Games
Mac OS
Distributor(s) 3D Realms
Take-Two Interactive
Producer(s) George Broussard
Scott Miller
Designer(s) Petri Järvilehto
Artist(s) Sami Vanhatalo
Writer(s) Sami Järvi
Composer(s) Kärtsy Hatakka
Kimmo Kajasto
Series Max Payne
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Mac OS, Game Boy Advance, iOS, Android
Release date(s) Microsoft Windows
  • JP 10 August 2001
  • NA 23 July 2001
  • EU 27 July 2001
  • WW 4 January 2008 (Steam)
PlayStation 2
  • NA 6 December 2001
  • EU 11 January 2002
  • JP 22 May 2003
  • NA 1 May 2012 (PSN)
  • EU 2 May 2012 (PSN)
  • NA 12 December 2001
  • EU 14 March 2002
  • WW 27 April 2009 (XBL)
Mac OS
16 July 2002[3]
Game Boy Advance
  • NA 18 December 2003
  • EU 19 March 2004
12 April 2012[4]
14 June 2012
Genre(s) Third-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player

Max Payne is a third-person shooter action thriller video game developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Gathering of Developers in July 2001 for Microsoft Windows. Ports created later in the year for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and the Game Boy Advance were published by Rockstar Games. A Mac OS port was published on July 16, 2002 by MacSoft in North America and Feral Interactive in the rest of the world.[2] There were plans for a Dreamcast version of Max Payne, but they were canceled due to the discontinuation of the console.[5] The game was re-released on April 27, 2009 as a downloadable game in the Xbox Originals program for the Xbox 360.[6] The game was also re-released in the spring of 2012 as a downloadable game in the PlayStation Store for the PlayStation 3 under the PS2 classics banner, iOS and on Android.

The game centers on NYPD Detective Max Payne, who attempts to avenge the murder of his family. It features a gritty neo-noir style and uses graphic novel panels (with voice-overs) in place of animated cutscenes to narrate the game, as it draws inspiration from hard-boiled detective novels by authors like Mickey Spillane. The game contains many allusions to Norse mythology, particularly the myth of Ragnarök, and several of the names used in the game are those of the Norse gods and mythos. The gameplay is heavily influenced by the Hong Kong action cinema genre, particularly the work of director John Woo,[7][8][9] and it was one of the first games to feature the bullet time effect popularized by The Matrix.

Max Payne received very positive reviews and was praised for its exciting gunplay and use of noir storytelling devices. The game won a large number of accolades,[10] including the BAFTA Award.[11] As of 2011, the Max Payne game franchise has sold over 7.5 million copies.[12] It also inspired a feature film under the same title.


Max Payne is a third-person shooter in which the player assumes the role of its titular character, Max Payne. Almost all the gameplay involves bullet time-based gun-fights and levels are generally straightforward, occasionally incorporating platforming and puzzle-solving elements. The game's storyline is advanced by the player following Max's internal monologue as the character determines what his next steps should be. Several of the game's levels involve surrealistic nightmares and drug-related hallucinations of Payne.

Initially, the player's only weapon is a semi-automatic pistol. As the player progresses, access to other firearms is given, including melee and hand-thrown weapons. Some of the game's weapons can be dual wielded. Max regains health by taking painkillers, which the player collects. The game's AI is heavily dependent on pre-scripted commands: most of the apparently intelligent behavior exhibited by enemies (such as taking cover, retreating from the player, or throwing grenades) actually is pre-scripted.[13]

The gameplay of Max Payne revolves around bullet time, a form of slow motion — when triggered, the passage of time is slowed down to such extent that the movements of bullets can be seen by the naked eye and enables Max to perform special moves. Although Payne's movement is also slowed, the player is still able to position the aiming reticle and react in real time, providing an advantage over enemies. Occasionally, when the last character of an enemy group is killed, the viewpoint switches to a third-person view circling a falling body. Likewise, the camera may follow the path of a bullet fired from a sniper rifle.

The "Dead on Arrival" game mode limits the player to only seven saves per chapter, and the "New York Minute" mode forces the player to complete each chapter before the allotted time — replenished by killing enemies — is exhausted. Upon completing the game on "Dead on Arrival", the player unlocks "The Last Challenge" ("End Combat" or "Final Battle" in the different versions), featuring a fight in perpetual bullet time against the "Killer Suit" hitmen.


Graphic novel panels are used in place of cutscenes as narration, an element common to neo-noir

In December 2001, as the worst blizzard in New York City's history nears its end, police sirens wail towards Aesir Plaza. Max Payne, a renegade DEA agent and former NYPD detective, is standing at the top of a skyscraper, waiting for the police. His story is then told via flashbacks.

Three years earlier, Max was working as a regular NYPD detective in Hell's Kitchen. Alex Balder, his longtime friend and DEA agent, invites him to transfer into the DEA. Max declines the offer, wishing to focus on his new family. His wife Michelle works part-time in the District Attorney's office, and their newborn daughter Rose. When Max returns to his house, he finds three junkies had broken in, high on a brand new designer drug Valkyr. Max receives a call from a mysterious woman who seems pleased at the trouble in the house and refuses to call for help. Max kills the junkies, but they had already murdered his wife and daughter. After his family's funeral, Max transfers to the DEA to at his own request, to stop the spread of Valkyr.

In the present day, three years later, with little to no leads on the production or distribution of the drug, the team finally receives a lead that Jack Lupino, an underboss in the Punchinello crime family, is trafficking the drug. Max goes undercover as an operative inside the Punchinello Mafia crime family, under the ruthless Don Angelo Punchinello. Alex and DEA Administration agent B.B. are the only contacts who are aware of Max's undercover position.

B.B. asks Max to meet Alex at the Roscoe Street subway station. At the station, Max finds Lupino's henchmen breaking into a bank. After dealing with the thugs, Max finds, amongst the valuables in the bank vault, corporate bonds for the Aesir Corporation, a mysterious conglomerate corporation and New York's wealthiest company. The police arrive at the scene, and Max flees the scene. Returning to the meeting point, Max meets Alex, who is killed by and unseen assassin before he can reveal information about Lupino. Believing his cover has been blown, Max assumes that Jack Lupino ordered the hit on Alex and framed him for it.

Playing it Bogart, Max proceeds to a hotel owned by Lupino. He meets the Finito Brothers, subordinates of Vinnie Gognitti, a high-ranked Capo and Lupino's right-hand man. The brothers confirm that Max's cover is blown, and a firefight ensues. Max kills the brothers and finds evidence for the Valkyr drug deal within the hotel. He discovers that Rico Muerte, a ruthless professional hitman from Chicago, is overseeing the deal. While fighting his way out of the hotel, Max realizes it is also a brothel. He finds the diary of a prostitute named Candy Dawn, which details how she has been selling explicit tapes of her with a man nicknamed "one-eyed Alfred" to an anonymous female buyer intended for blackmail. Down at the bar, Max finds Muerte and Candy, who open fire on him. After Max kills them, a bomb destroys parts of the nearest slum block of tenements. Max sees a black Mercedes-Benz and recognizes the passenger as Vladimir Lem, head of the local Russian Mafia and a bitter rival to Punchinello's business. He realizes that there is a mob war raging between Lem and Punchinello.

Max head to the block of tenements to search for Lupino. He receives a phone call from a man introducing himself as Alfred Woden. Alfred warns him that the police know of his location. Shortly after, the police arrive and Deputy Chief Jim Bravura calls for Max to surrender himself. Max continues his rampage against the mob within the local buildings, and eventually finds Gognitti, who runs off while his bodyguards holds Max off. After killing them, Max learns that Lupino has become increasingly unstable, killing his men for fun and scaring off business. Max continues to chase Gognitti, eventually cornering him in a dead-end alley. A wounded Gognitti reveals that Lupino is in his private nightclub Ragna Rock (named after Ragnarök). Max, believing that Gognitti's injuries are fatal, leaves without killing him.

Ragna Rock is a den of drugs built into an old theater. Max discovers that Lupino has gone insane, possibly from Valkyr, and now believes he is the Antichrist. After gunning down Lupino and his men, he encounters Mona Sax, a female contract killer and twin sister of Lisa Punchinello, the Don's wife. Mona informs Max that Lupino is not the one who frame Max with Alex's murder. She reveals that she plans to kill the Don, possibly for her sister's sake, and Mona suggests they work together. Max agrees and Mona pours him a drink, which almost instantly makes him lose consciousness. Before he passes out, he hears Mona explains that she does not want Max to go after the Don gun blazing, as it might endanger her sister Lisa.

In his nightmare, Max relives the day when his family was killed, with the house warped and twisted into a frightful maze. Upon waking up, Max finds himself tied to a chair and tortured by Frankie "The Bat" Niagara, a soldato of the Punchinello crime family. After brutally beating up Max, Niagara leaves to get a drink. Max frees himself and learns that he is being held in the basement of Lupino's hotel, and that Mona had been captured after failing to assassinate Punchinello. The Don's elite assassins are torturing her at his mansion. Returning to the hotel bar, Max kills Niagra and his men.

Leaving the hotel, Max is is greeted by Vladimir Lem. He tells Max of a shipment of military grade weapon aboard the cargo ship Charon. The ship is under control of Boris Dime, Vladimir's former subordinate, who now works for the Punchinello family. Vladimir offer to supply Max with weapons to continue his rampage, in return for securing the ship. Max agrees with the deal. He shoots his way through the port and the ship, and eventually kills Dime. He collects as many weapons he can carry and leaves. At a payphone, Max calls Punchinello, offering to arrange a deal for the shipment, and the Don suggests they meet at his restaurant (Casa di Angelo).

At Punchinello's restaurant, Max finds out that the building has been rigged with explosives. Max manages to escape through the sewer. Vladimir contacts Max and offers to take him to Punchinello's mansion. Max knows the mansion would be guarded by Punchinello's elite assassins, the Trio: Pilate Providence (AKA "Big Brother"), Joe "Deadpan" Salem, and Vince Mugnaio. He sneaks in and finds evidence of Mona's escape. He kills Providence and Salem. In Lisa's bedroom, Max finds her dead body, though he is not sure if it might be her sister Mona. Alfred calls the room's phone and informs Max that an armed helicopter has landed in the mansion grounds. Max then kills Mugnaio and heads for Punchinello. The Don confesses that he has been taking orders from a woman, supposedly in a higher-up government position. At that moment, Punchinello is killed by elite agents led by the mysterious woman. As a large group of agents surround Max, the woman injects Max with a large dose of Valkyr. As they leave, Max overhears her say "take me to Cold Steel."

Insignia for the Valhalla Project, featured on a computer screen

Max is once again in a drug-induced nightmare. Within the dream, Max receives strange letters and phone calls, both allegedly from his deceased wife telling him that he is a character in a video game. She also mentions receiving a strange memo about vikings and the military, believing it to be some mistake with the courier. The overdose of Valkyr does not kill Max - instead, he feels stronger from it. Max pursues his only lead to the Cold Steel Foundry, located outside the city, and finds it swarming with armed guards.

As Max makes his way deeper into the facility, and finds an elevator leading underground. At the bottom, Max discovers an old army bunker, and recognizes the military plaque which reads Project Valhalla. The base begins to count down to self-destruct, but Max keeps moving forward. He discovers that Valkyr is the military's attempt to improve soldiers stamina and morale. The project was halted in 1995, due to unsatisfactory results along with the test subjects becoming mentally unstable. Later, a data leak compromised the project. In response, a field test was authorized. The remaining test-subjects were set loose in an urban setting to be observed. The drop-off point was Max's New Jersey address.

Max narrowly escapes self-destructing the bunker. Just when all his leads are gone, Max is contacted by B.B., who sets up a meeting at a parking garage. Thinking about Alex's death, Max realizes that B.B. is a double agent. At the meeting, Max confronts B.B. with his accusations. After killing his associates, Max chases B.B. through the garage and eventually kills him. He receives another call from Alfred, who claims to know who his enemy is, and asks him to come to the Asgard Building.

Max meets Alfred Woden, who introduces him to his colleagues, known as the Inner Circle, who were involved in the Valhalla Project since its early stages. Woden then reveals the identity of the mysterious woman, Nicole Horne, the key figure in Project Valhalla. When the funding was discontinued, she has been secretly selling the Valkyr, and formed Aesir Corporation as a front. As they cannot make a direct move against Horne, the Inner Circle asks Max to kill her and expose the conspiracy. In exchange, they will take care of his charges.

Suddenly, suited gunmen assault the Asgard building and kill all the Inner Circle members, and Max fights his way out. Watching the CCTV, he sees Alfred, still alive, urging him to proceed. He finds a video tape of Woden and Candy in Lupino's hotel, sent to Alfred to blackmail him. Max takes the tape to make sure Alfred will keep his end of the bargain. He also discovers structural plans for the Aesir Corporation Skyscraper, which outline critical areas, such as the president's office at the top floor and its sole access point - a secured elevator. Leaving the Asgard building, Max makes his way to the Skyscraper.

At the main office of Aesir Corporation, Max fights through the high-tech security building filled with elite armed guards. Arriving at the elevator, he encounters Mona, who was ordered by Horne to kill Max. She refuses to, and gunmen shoot at the two, hitting Mona in the head. Once the gunmen are dealt with, Max returns to find that Mona's body has mysteriously vanished. He rides the elevator to the top, but is forced back down where he is attacked by an attack helicopter. Max escapes and unlocks access to Horne's office. He briefly confronts Horne, who heads to the roof and boards the helicopter. Max pursues Horne to the roof. Without a clear shot at the helicopter, Max shoots at the guy wires holding the large broadcast antenna on the building's roof. The antenna snaps off, smashing into the helicopter. It crashes into the lobby with Horne on board, killing her.

At this point Max's three-night rampage is over and the flashback is complete. Bravura and the NYPD ESU arrive at the scene, arresting Max and leading him out of the Aesir building. Woden is standing on the street; with the knowledge that Woden will ensure his safe passage through the judicial system, Max smiles, genuinely satisfied with avenging his family. Woden himself smiles, satisfied that Horne has been stopped. The snow storm is over and the sky opens up to bright stars shining in the night.


Most of the elements in the game are named for figures from Norse mythology. In Max Payne, the Valkyr drug is a military performance enhancer that turns its users into adrenaline-charged killers who experience hallucinatory images of death. The valkyries of Norse mythology were warrior-women who watched over battlefields, the "choosers of the slain" who took those who died with valor. In the game, Project Valhalla is the government conspiracy that developed Valkyr to enhance the combat effectiveness of U.S. soldiers and secretly tested it during the Gulf War of 1991. In Norse mythology, Valhalla was the afterlife of those selected by the valkyries: those who populated Valhalla would fight for the Norse gods in their wars. The computer network in the Valhalla base is named Yggdrasil, referring to the tree that connected the nine worlds in Norse cosmology.[14]

The Aesir Corporation, mentioned frequently in the game and the primary source of the Valkyr drug, is named for the primary pantheon of Norse gods, the Æsir. The head of the Aesir Corporation is named Nicole Horne; in the myths, the Gjallarhorn was sounded to announce the start of Ragnarök, the Norse apocalypse, a battle between the Æsir and the giants that results in the death of many deities and the rebirth of the world (Jack Lupino's gothic nightclub named Ragna Rock is a play on the word "Ragnarök"). The great snowstorm that takes place during the events of the game is a reference to the Fimbulvetr, an epic winter that precedes Ragnarök.[8]

Alfred Woden's surname refers to Wōden, the Anglo-Saxon version of Odin, a major god of the Norse pantheon (his eyepatch also references Odin, who sacrificed his eye for wisdom and knowledge). Max meets him and the Inner Circle in the Asgard Building: Asgard is the Norse realm in which the gods live. In the game, DEA agent Alex Balder was shot by his partner B.B. In Norse mythology, Balder was killed when a sprig or arrow of mistletoe was shot or thrown into his chest, and his death was set up by Loki, god of chaos and deception, just as B.B. deceived Alex and Max. Max's own bullet time abilities seem to mirror these of the berserkers, Norse Viking warriors who drove themselves into such a frenzy when they entered battle that they seemed superhuman-strong, fast, untiring, and unable to feel pain (theme of Payne's necklace is a Viking longship).


Remedy Entertainment developed an idea of a "3rd person action game" in late 1996, after completing Death Rally (their first game), inspired first by Loaded and then by the success of Tomb Raider (although determined to avoid its "horrid camera system").[15] According to the game's story and script writer Sam Lake, for him "the starting point was this archetype of the private eye, the hard-boiled cop" that would be used in a game with a "deeper, more psychological" story.[8] A game prototype and design document of the project, with the working titles Dark Justice and Max Heat (a wordplay on this is a TV show called Dick Justice and a porn film Max Heat, both featured in Max Payne 2), were soon created and shown to 3D Realms, who signed a development deal and production began.[16] In 1999 the designers traveled from Finland to New York to research the city, accompanied by two ex-NYPD bodyguards, to get ideas for environments and take thousands of photographs for mapping.[17]

Clothes for the character Max Payne on display at Game On exhibition in Science Museum (London)

For cutscenes, the developers found comic panels (with voice-overs) to be more effective and less costly to use in the than fully animated cinematics, noting that comic panels forced the player to interpret each panel for themselves and "the nuances are there in the head of the reader [...] it would be much harder to reach that level with in-game or even pre-rendered cinematics,"[8] and also found it easier to reorganize the comic panels if the plot needed to be changed while developing the game.[8] The in-game engine is used for some cutscenes involving action sequences. The music for the game was composed by Kärtsy Hatakka.

Remedy used their own game engine, which they dubbed MaxFX[18] (or MAX-FX, in development since early 1997). The only games that used this engine were Max Payne and its sequel, while a MaxFX level editor was also included in the release. MAX-FX was licensed to Futuremark who used it for their 3DMark benchmark series with the last one being 3DMark2001 Second Edition.[19][20]

The first trailer showcasing an early version of the game's story and gameplay was shown at 1998 E3, gaining great interest due to its innovative content and effects (especially the MaxFX's 3D particle-based system for smoke and muzzle flashes), although 3D Realms producers later claimed they deliberately avoided overhyping the game.[21] Max Payne was originally scheduled to be released in the summer of 1999; however, it was repeatedly delayed and got heavily revamped in 2000 (in particular the game's graphics were improved to feature much more realistic textures and lighting, while the multiplayer mode was dropped). The game was eventually released for Windows on July 23, 2001.

Max Payne was actually in development before the release of the The Matrix (1999), and slow-motion was a major gameplay element from the beginning. Nonetheless, the game has been perceived to have been greatly influenced by film as it adopted the bullet time effect for that gameplay mechanic. As a result of the inevitable comparisons to The Matrix, the designers have included several homages to the film in order to capitalize on the hype (for instance, the detonation of the subway tunnel door to gain access to the bank vault is similar to the cartwheeling elevator door in the movie, while the introduction "Nothing to Lose" level is similar to the lobby shootout scene in the film). Futuremark, which licensed the MAX-FX graphics for their 3DMark benchmark series, included a Matrix-like lobby shootout as a game test in the 2001 edition.[19]

Game Boy Advance version[edit]

The GBA version of the game was developed in 2003 by Mobius Entertainment Ltd (later Rockstar Leeds).[22] Since it was developed on a far less powerful platform, this version differs greatly from the PC versions and its Xbox and PlayStation 2 ports: instead of a 3D shooter, the game is based on sprite graphics and is shown from an isometric perspective. However, the gameplay features have remained very similar to the original, aside of the perspective change, including the use of polygonal graphics for the characters. The story also remained the same as in PC and console versions, though some levels from the original are omitted, and the game still features quite a large part of the original's graphic novel sections, complete with some of the voice-overs.

Max Payne Mobile[edit]

On April 6, 2012, Max Payne was announced for Android and iOS titled as Max Payne Mobile which is a port of the PC version of the original Max Payne.[23] The game was released for iOS on April 13, 2012, while the Android version was delayed until June 14, 2012. No major changes were made to the game apart from the HD overhaul.[24] A new version 1.3 was released in March 18, 2013 that fixes a bug that prevents users to access their cloud saves.[25]

Reception and awards[edit]

Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings (PC) 89.26%[26]
(Xbox) 85.95%[27]
(PS2) 79.81%[28]
(GBA) 79.68%[29]
Metacritic (PC) 89/100[30]
(Xbox) 89/100[31]
(PS2) 80/100[32]
(GBA) 78/100[33]
Review scores
Publication Score
GamePro 4.5/5 stars[34]
GameSpot 9.2/10[35]
GameZone 9.2/10[36]
IGN 9.5/10[37]
Publication Award
BAFTA Best PC Game of 2001[11]
IGN Readers Choice Action Game of the Year,[38] 2001 Readers' Choice Best Story,[39] Best Graphics,[40] Best Sound[41]
GameSpot Best of E3 2000,[42] The Top Games of E3 2001,[43] Readers' Choice Game of 2001,[44] Readers' Choice Single-Player Action Game of 2001,[45] two 2001 Game of the Year nominations [46][47]

Max Payne was released to critical acclaim. The game won many annual awards for the year 2001, including Best PC Game by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts; Golden Joystick Award by Dennis Publishing; Visitors Award Best PC Game at the European Computer Trade Show; Best Game of 2001, Best Graphics in a PC Game, and Best PC Action Game by The Electric Playground; Readers Choice Best Game and Best PC Game by Pelit; Computer Game of the Year by The Augusta Chronicle; Best PC Game of 2001 by; PC Game of the Year by Shacknews and by GameZone; The Best of 2001 - PC and Editor's Choice by Game Revolution; Reader's Choice Game, Best Single Player Action Game, and Best Xbox Game by GameSpot; Readers' Choice Game of the Year, Best Storyline, Best Graphics and Best of Use of Sound, and Best Adventure Game (Xbox) and Editor's Choice by IGN; Gamers Choice Award (Xbox) by Games Domain; Best Gimmick by GameSpy (runner-up in the Best Ingame Cinematics and Best Movie Trailer categories); and Editor's Choice and Best Innovation Destined for Overuse by Computer Gaming World.[10] The staff of IGN wrote: "This game garnered so many votes from the readers that we almost decided to create a new Best Max Payne Game of 2001 category."[38] The site also called it the 96th best PlayStation 2 game. They claimed that gamers thought of Max Payne instead of The Matrix when they thought of bullet time.[48]

Common criticism usually centered on Max Payne's lack of replay value, as there is no multiplayer, and the linear story mode due to the level design and pre-scripted enemy behavior that provides 10–15 hours of gameplay.[13] While the graphics were generally praised for high-resolution textures, the character models lacked animated facial expressions (IGN criticized the titular character's "grimace on his face that makes him look constipated").[49]

The PlayStation 2 version suffered from reduced detail and occasional slowdowns, as the game stressed the limits of the console's power. In addition, the levels were broken up into smaller parts so it would not tax the PlayStation 2's 32 MB of RAM, which according to IGN caused "heavy disruption to the flow and tension of the story". Otherwise it was a faithful port that retained all of the content from the PC original. GameSpot awarded it an 8.0/10.0, compared to the 9.2 ratings awarded to the PC and Xbox versions), saying "If you can't play this intense, original action game on any platform except the PS2, then that's where you should play it--but only by default".[50][51]

An early version of Max Payne was also a runner-up for the Best of Show award at the E3 in 1998. The finished game received several Game of the Month-type awards in various video game outlets (and a Seal of Excellence at Adrenaline Vault), and was included in the 2005 list of 50 best games of all time, as well as in the 2011 list of 100 top PC games of all time.[52] In 2007, bit-tech included the game and its sequel on the list of the top five most moddable games.[53] It received two awards from Eurogamer, Best Game Cinematography Award and Best Game Character Award of 2001.[54]

Max Payne Mobile received mixed to positive reviews. Some praised the HD graphics overhaul, although pointed out the game's age and the issues with the touchscreen controls.[55]

Sequel and film[edit]

Main article: Max Payne (series)

A sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, was released in 2003.[56] The third game, Max Payne 3 developed by Rockstar Games, was released in 2012. Max Payne, a film loosely based on the video game, was released in 2008, starring Mark Wahlberg as Max and Mila Kunis as Mona.


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