The Rise and Fall of Max Payne

Few features are as ingrained in the fabric of modern shooters as bullet time. Whether included as a mechanic that one can use at the press of a button, or an occurrence that only happens in scripted moments, bullet time is the punctuation mark of every game it graces; an awesome, yet functional tool that gamers and developers alike can’t get enough of. And it wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is today were it not for Max Payne.

Released in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment, a video game developer based in Espoo, Finland, Max Payne put players in control of its titular protagonist on a slow-motion massacre through New York’s underground. It was dark, it was intense, and – most importantly – it was much more than just a series of reality-defying firefights, with its story spinning an intoxicating, noir-inspired yarn about Max’s descent into madness as he attempts to avenge his family’s death.

Players lapped it up in droves, leading the industry at large to try and integrate its mechanics into their own products, and Remedy to produce a follow-up: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The latter offered an even slicker rendition of Max’s twisted world and mechanics, as well as an earnest attempt to try and portray a love story at a time when the medium, let alone shooters, rarely featured them. Unfortunately, while its reception was even more impressive, its sales struggled to pass muster, and for a period of time after its release, it seemed as if the series had nothing more to offer – barring a mediocre film adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis.

Yet like Max himself, its spirit refused to rest until it ended things on its own terms – and in 2012, Rockstar Games released Max Payne 3. Featuring a cruelly aged version of the series’ protagonist, and a setting more reminiscent of Man on Fire than The Big Sleep, the threequel offered long-time fans a rather different experience that what had come before it; one that thoroughly used the mechanics, systems, and characters Remedy had cultivated during the series’ heyday, but still felt distinctly Rockstar in its execution. Not all were pleased with this change in direction, and its sales, while better than its predecessor’s, underwhelmed once more. But even its most ardent critics agreed that as far as shooters went, it was still duly impressive.

Like any video game series no longer being worked on, Max Payne’s absence from the current realm of triple-A games is sad. But when one evaluates what the series managed to accomplish while it was alive, it’s hard not to be appreciative of how it went out.

This is the rise and fall of Max Payne.