|Publisher(s)||Gathering of Developers[b]|
|Release date(s)||Microsoft Windows
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. There were plans for a Dreamcast version of Max Payne, but they were canceled due to the discontinuation of the console. The game was re-released on April 27, 2009 as a downloadable game in the Xbox Originals program for the Xbox 360. 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, 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, including the BAFTA Award. As of 2011[update], the Max Payne series has sold over 7.5 million copies. 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.
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.
The story is told in medias res and consists of three volumes: "The American Dream", "A Cold Day in Hell", and "A Bit Closer to Heaven". The game begins in January 2001, as New York City finishes experiencing the worst blizzard in the history of the city. The intro sequence shows Max Payne, a renegade DEA agent and former NYPD officer, standing at the top of a skyscraper building as police units arrive. He then experiences a flashback from three years ago. Back in 1998, Max returned home to find that a trio of apparent junkies had broken into his house while high on a new designer drug called Valkyr. Max rushed to the aid his family, but was too late and his wife and their newborn daughter had already been brutally murdered. After his family's funeral, Payne transferred to the DEA.
Three years later, Max Payne is employed as an undercover operative inside the Punchinello Mafia family responsible for the trafficking of Valkyr. His DEA colleague B.B. gives Max a message asking him to meet another DEA agent, who is also Max's best friend, Alex Balder, in the NYC Subway station. Max's arrival at the subway results in a shoot-out after he encounters mobsters working for Jack Lupino, a Mafia underboss in the Punchinello crime family, attempting a bank robbery by breaking through from the station. Working his way back to the surface, Max encounters Alex, who is then killed by an unknown assassin and Payne becomes the prime suspect in the murder because he is still under cover to the media and the fact that he fled the crime scene. Additionally, the Mafia find out that he is a cop and now want him dead.
While searching for Lupino in "businesses" owned by him, Max busts a Valkyr drug deal and discovers that the Russian mobster Vladimir Lem is engaged in a fierce turf war against Punchinello's men. Max eventually finds Vinnie Gognitti, Lupino's right-hand man; he wounds and chases Gognitti through the city and finally learns the location of Lupino's hideout, a nightclub named Ragna Rock. After gunning down the insane Lupino, Payne meets Mona Sax, a female contract assassin, who pours him a drink which turns out to be laced with a sedative. In this state Max is found by the Mafia and is dragged away to be tortured.
Max manages to escape from the Mafia-owned slaughterhouse and enters a brief alliance with Vladimir Lem. He agrees to kill one of Vladimir's traitors, Boris Dime, and his men aboard the cargo ship Charon at the Brooklyn riverfront, which contains a shipment of high-powered firearms belonging to the Russian mob, which Max keeps in exchange for the favor. After surviving a bomb ambush at the Mafia restaurant Casa di Angelo, Max uses the new-found Russian mob's weapons to storm the residence of Don Angelo Punchinello. There he finds the body of Lisa Punchinello, Mona's sister, and discovers that the Don is only a puppet in the Valkyr market when the mafioso is killed in front of Payne by agents of Nicole Horne, a ruthless CEO of the Aesir Corporation. Horne then injects Max with an overdose of Valkyr and leaves him for dead, as he experiences a drug-induced nightmare and suffers his internal torment and guilt for not being able to save his family (as well as strange letters allegedly written by his deceased wife telling him that he is a character in a video game).
After surviving the overdose and awakening, Payne pursues his only lead to a steel foundry located over a hidden underground military research complex. Inside he discovers that Valkyr is the result of Valhalla Project, an early 1990s U.S. military attempt to improve soldiers’ stamina and morale following earlier The Ladder experiments; the project that was sharply halted due to poor results, but was later restarted by Horne and Aesir. He also discovers that his wife accidentally found out about the project, and Horne let loose the crazed Valkyr test subjects into his house. Aesir initiates "Operation Dead Eyes" to get rid of evidence and witnesses, including their own scientists. Max escapes the bunker at the last moment just as it self-destructs.
Max then gets a call from B.B., who arranges a meeting at an underground parking lot. At this point, Payne has already figured out that it was B.B. who shot Alex and framed Max for his murder. The meeting turns out to be an ambush, and a running gun-fight commences as Max chases B.B. through the garage. After killing the traitor, Max gets a phone call from a man named Alfred Woden asking him to come to the Asgard Building. Alfred reveals himself to be part of a powerful secret society called the Inner Circle, which has strong ties to the U.S. government. The Inner Circle members inform Max about Nicole Horne's identity but cannot pursue her themselves because "their hands are tied". They ask Max to kill Horne in exchange for dropping any criminal charges against him. Suddenly, Asgard is overrun by Aesir gunmen who kill everyone in the meeting room except for Max, who escapes, and Woden, who pretends to be shot. Max has to fight his way out of the building.
Max arrives at the main office of Aesir Corporation and makes his way through this high-tech security building while avoiding strafing runs by a minigun-armed helicopter. Along the way he runs into Mona Sax again in an elevator, but she is shot in the head by Horne's men after she refuses to shoot Max; her body vanishes when Max goes back to the elevator. At the top Max finally confronts Nicole, who escapes to the roof and boards the helicopter. Max shoots the guy wires of the building's antenna, which snaps off and crashes into the helicopter, killing Horne. The game's storyline arrives at the very point where it first started. The NYPD ESU arrives at the scene, arresting Max and leading him out of the Aesir building, where he sees Alfred Woden. Knowing that Woden will ensure his safe passage through the judicial system, Max smiles genuinely.
Norse mythology references
Most of the elements in the game are named for figures from Norse mythology.
In Max Payne, the Valkyr drug is a fictional 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.
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.
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).
Max Payne (voiced by James McCaffrey) is a fugitive DEA agent and former NYPD detective whose wife Michelle and newborn daughter were killed in connection with Valkyr drug case. Max then goes undercover in the mob, and eventually becomes a one-man-army vigilante waging a personal war on the crime, in a manner reminiscent of the Marvel Comics character Frank Castle (the Punisher). Max ends up killing hundreds of gangsters and conspiracy enforcers while on the run from the police determined on stopping his vendetta against all those responsible for his family's death. He uses metaphors and wordplay to describe the world around him within his inner monologues, which often contradict his external responses to characters he speaks with. The first game presents the story as retold by Max from his point of view.
- Mona Sax (voiced by Julia Murney): The twin sister of Lisa Punchinello and a contract killer, Mona is the femme fatale of the game. She has a grudge against her sister Lisa's abusive husband, Mafia boss Angelo Punchinello, whom she desires to kill. After Puchinello is killed, she sides with Nicole Horne who hires her to kill Max. Finding herself unable to do so, she is shot in the head by Horne's henchman and collapses into an elevator. She reappears in the sequel as a playable character.
- Nicole Horne (voiced by Jane Gennaro): The game's main antagonist who led a secret military program code-named Valhalla. She had Michelle Payne killed after she viewed a document that shows that Horne is still producing the Valkyr drug despite the fact that the project was suspended. Horne commands a well-armed private army of mercenaries. She is killed by Max at the end of the game.
- Alfred Woden (voiced by John Randolph Jones): For most of the game he remains a mysterious unseen character, only interacting with Max through phone calls where he either warns him of a coming threat or provides information. Towards the end of the game he meets Max face-to-face and introduces him to an Illuminati-like society known as the Inner Circle. Woden tells Payne that Horne is his real enemy and expresses his wishes for Payne to get rid of her. He is seemingly gunned down by Horne's men while in a meeting with Max, but is later seen on a security terminal getting up off the ground and leaving his dead comrades. He reappears in the sequel as a U.S. senator.
- Don Angelo Punchinello (voiced by Joe Ragno): An Italian mob boss who distributes Valkyr and become involved in a gang war against the Russians. He remains the main villain throughout most of the game until it was discovered that he was being controlled by Horne. He is later killed by her before he can give Max too much information.
- Vinnie Gognitti (voiced by Joe Dallo): A high-strung mobster working for Lupino who is terrified that his boss will kill him due to Lupino's Valkyr-induced psychosis. Max confronts him to discover where he can find Lupino, but this encounter results in Payne shooting Gognitti in the gut and then pursuing him through the city's buildings and rooftops. When Max catches up with him he forces the information out of Gognitti and leaves him bleeding in an alley (in the 1998 trailer Vinnie was shown being summarily executed by Payne in a cut scene, but this was changed later along with other tweaks to the story). He reappears in the sequel as a Mafia underboss.
- Vladimir Lem (voiced by Dominic Hawksley): A Russian mob boss and prominent gunrunner currently in a war against Angelo Punchinello. He teams up with Max providing him with weapons in one part of the game and occasionally chauffering him around to key locations. He reappears in the sequel as a charismatic restauranteer who maintains his shady connections in organized crime. He is portrayed by Marko Saaresto of Poets of the Fall (a friend of the game's writer Sam Lake). The band also wrote the main theme, "Late Goodbye", for Max Payne 2.
- Jack Lupino (voiced by Jeff Gurner): A Mafia underboss and an occultist, who oversees Valkyr distribution for the Punchinello crime syndicate. He has been driven crazy by his Valkyr addiction and has become a Satanist, obsessed with making a Faustian pact with the Devil (he also owns Necronomicon, a fictional book from the Cthulhu Mythos and Cthulhu is one of the deities he worships). When Max confronts him he is the middle of a Satanic prayer; a gun fight ensues and Lupino is killed by Payne.
- B.B. Hensley (voiced by Adam Grupper): A corrupt DEA agent and a supposed friend of Max. Receiving payouts from Horne, he radios Max telling him to meet agent Alex Balder at the train station and then shoots Balder dead, framing Max for his murder. Towards the end of the game he meets Max and is revealed as a traitor working for Horne. Payne kills him in a gun fight.
- Deputy Chief Jim Bravura (voiced by Peter Appel): A high-ranking NYPD officer who is pursuing Max for most of the game and is not deterred in arresting him, even though the TV commentators don't see the violence as a bad thing because mobsters are the only victims. At the end he finally arrests Max, but in the game's sequel he becomes Max's boss.
- Michelle Payne (voiced by Haviland Morris): Working for the district attorney’s office, Michelle came across a file that incriminated Horne, which later led to her murder and the killing of her child by Valkyr junkies sent to her home. She repeatedly appears through the game in flashback and nightmare sequences.
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"). 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. 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. 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.
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," and also found it easier to reorganize the comic panels if the plot needed to be changed while developing the game. 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 (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.
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. 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.
Game Boy Advance version
The GBA version of the game was developed in 2003 by Mobius Entertainment Ltd (later Rockstar Leeds). 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
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. 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. A new version 1.3 was released in March 18, 2013 that fixes a bug that prevents users to access their cloud saves.
Reception and awards
Max Payne was released to very positive reviews. 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 Amazon.com; 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. 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." 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.
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. 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").
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".
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. In 2007, bit-tech included the game and its sequel on the list of the top five most moddable games. It received two awards from Eurogamer, Best Game Cinematography Award and Best Game Character Award of 2001.
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.
Sequel and film
A sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, was released in 2003. 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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