Max Payne: our special at the turn of the 20 years since the release of the first chapter

Max Payne: our special at the turn of the 20 years since the release of the first chapter

Max Payne

Max Payne's twentieth birthday is the perfect opportunity to return to talk about the origins and possible futures of a series still alive in the hearts of players, despite two decades being a geological era for the world of video games. Polygons and textures are those of the GeForce 3 era, but with that first chapter Remedy did a great job despite a limited budget, a small team and a couple of changes of direction of those that often bring even the most promising projects to their knees. .

Max has survived all this, as well as his wife and daughter whose disappearance is the trigger of an explosive noir in plot and action that has not lost its enamel, despite the weight of the years being felt . Over the years, the perception of the importance of that title created by a handful of Finnish developers at the turn of the millennium and the next has been lost. After 20 years, in a world that has seen an avalanche of slow-motion action games come out, there are those who consider it a simple third-person action now dated, but from that title, at the time revolutionary, Remedy was born that we know today and which we retrace the first steps in our special for the 20 years of Max Payne.

The first steps of Remedy

Max Payne was released in North America in July 2001, when the power of the GPU was still measured in GFLOP, Xbox was not yet available and on PC, where Max Payne first came out, the lucky ones had a powerful GeForce 3, the first card marketed by NVIDIA after the acquisition of 3DFX. Though resources were limited and development teams smaller, it was an era of turmoil. In those years the video game was transforming itself into the sign of three dimensions, whose advent led to the transformation of historical sagas and the birth of new series destined to remain in history. Among these is Remedy, the daughter of a turbulent but fortunate genesis.

The story of the Finnish development team, now known for its constant commitment and its merits in the world of third-person action with high narrative impact, began in the mid-90s with the publication of Death Rally . Based on clashes between cars with an overhead view, the first Remedy title was released in September 1996 for MS-DOS and while not upsetting the market, it achieved a good success, not to be taken for granted given that we are talking about a year that has seen an avalanche of masterpieces come out on PC.

The original Remedy Entertainment team But Death Rally played a crucial role in Remedy's story. On the other hand, it convinced Apogee to invest in a small software house, but full of ambitions, so much so that it embarked on the simultaneous development of three different projects. Too bad for the lack of sufficient funds, yet it is likely that this factor played a fundamental role in the evolution of Max Payne's development. Suffice it to say that initially it should have been called Dark Justice, be a top-down shooter and somehow be inspired by Duke Nukem, a title published by Apogee, albeit under the 3D Realms brand, with the hope of replicating its success. >

Max Payne: the genesis

Sam Lake, writer and original face of Max Payne All of a sudden Remedy realized that she didn't have a suitable title for her ambitious project. So she decided to change her name, spending a whopping $ 20,000 to register the Max Heat brand, at the suggestion of producer Scott Miller. Someone, however, must have thought it was more suitable for a porn star. Not surprisingly, after being set aside, he reappeared in Max Payne 2 to give an identity to the protagonist of the film Max Heat 7, projected from time to time on the television screens, which the Finnish team so much like, scattered throughout the levels of the game .

As anticipated, however, that of the name was not the only change. Thinking about the title, Remedy also thought about the game itself, transforming it according to the tastes of the team and the successful titles of the moment. And this is how the sources of inspiration, along with Reloaded and Duke Nukem 3D, were joined by Lara Croft, the hugely successful heroine of Tomb Raider who also played a role in transforming Max Payne into a hybrid between shooter and acrobatic action in third person. No climbing or pirouettes, but plenty of bullets and a well-recognizable protagonist. The original idea of ​​an obscure justice to act as the naked nerve of a bloodied hero, restless and ready to make massacres, hasn't changed.

Interlude scenes in graphic novel style, dictated by the budget. but damn effective And it is here that we find ourselves in front of the protagonist's face and bullet time, the two main peculiarities of the game, excluding the plot halfway between truculent noir and hard boiled oriental. The features of the hero, there was so much talk about it at the time, are those of Sam Lake, a Finnish writer who, working with Remedy, created Max Payne and Alan Wake, giving a face to the protagonist of the first chapter of the series. Frozen in his sardonic expression, Lake's face was used more for budgetary reasons than for stylistic choice, as well as the faces of family members and members of the software house, but the writer's ironic expression is one of the reasons for the success of a title that not only has the noir soul of Remedy, but also a very particular irony that is part of the team's genome.

The strengths of a disruptive action

The bullet time, secret weapon of the title that propelled Remedy towards success Max Payne is a title that plays on the combination of noir and hard boiled to give both depth and strength to a classic story of revenge, pushed to extremes. But it also plays on overturning the clichés of action fiction, alternating the deeper drama with quotes, grotesque humor and stereotypes that move on the border between credible and excessive. The success, however, is also due to the skill of a team that, although small and with limited finances, showed off uncommon technical skills, evident in the excellent use of an excellent engine developed internally and capable of enhancing the mechanics. of bullet time.

The so-called Matrix-style slow motion, patented in video games as bullet time, has been part of Max Payne's DNA from its origins, ever since it was conceived as a three-quarter view shooter in Reloaded style. And it was vital for the success of the title, not only for the obvious reference to the exhilarating film with Keanu Reeves, released only a few years earlier, but for the ability to enhance the action in combination using debris, the so-called blaze of the mouth. , smoke and realistic environments. All of these elements have been vastly improved with Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, but the rendition in the first chapter was enough to ensure an avalanche of changes inspired by the Matrix.

Debris and flames play a fundamental role in the spectacularization of slow motion sequences. The other fixed point of Max Payne is undoubtedly the audio sector, starting from the samples and satisfying sound feedback to get to the soundtrack. Unforgettable the main theme that, all piano and noir atmosphere, opens the curtain on a series of songs composed by the duo Kärtsy Hatakka and Kimmo Kajasto that include Nordic metal, electronic and ambient. A glove for a snowy story of blood entirely set in New York, the perfect backdrop for a story of chiaroscuro which, we stress again, was developed without a big budget and with a small team.

Budget always dictated the right use of comic interlude scenes, suitable for the formula and very comfortable in terms of economy. On the other hand, they have not only reduced basic costs but also reduced the impact of the changes made on the story on the budget. That said, the choice also depended on Sam Lake's passion for graphic novels which, not surprisingly, led to keeping the same formula with the second chapter, an enhancement of the original from every point of view.

The evolution of Max Payne: between sequels and films

The new Max Payne, with the face of actor Timothy Gibbs Max Payne 2: The fall of Max Payne, released in 2003 under the Rockstar Games label, did not have the disruptive effect of the first chapter, thanks to a clear technological leap, but not overwhelming. Just to be clear, colossal titles such as DOOM 3 and Half Life 2, much more advanced titles, would be released shortly thereafter. But the technical sector of the Max Payne sequel, with a second character that can be used thanks to the evolution of the fascinating Mona Sax, was designed to enhance a bullet time made even more spectacular thanks to more refined effects, Havok engine for physics, textures. of clearly superior quality, much more complex models and undoubtedly more realistic environments. The amazing original dubbing of actor James McCaffrey has not changed, in this case committed to giving a voice to a protagonist with the face of Timothy Gibbs.

At this point, the success of the Remedy series has reached such levels as to merit the attention of 20th Century Fox which, at the end of 2003, acquired the cinematic exploitation rights of the license. And here in 2008 we came to the long-awaited Maxy Payne film, but like so many other tie-ins before him rather disappointing. The problem did not concern so much the choice as main actor of Mark Wahlberg, who already appeared in great form in a film of the level of The Departed, when of a Mila Kunis not fully at ease in the role of Mona Sax and a representation of the action bordering on the superhero. Nonetheless, the film grossed nearly $ 110 million, managing to gross more than expected on a budget of $ 35 million.

The fascinating and lethal Mona Sax, playable character in Max Payne 2 The film, in a nutshell, confirmed the media power of Max's character who deserved a third chapter. But this time it wasn't Remedy that took care of it. The ball went to Rockstar Games, publisher of the second chapter, who took advantage of the opportunity to change the series by bringing it to Brazil. The story is not lacking in references to New York, complete with flashbacks that add details to the original story, but for much of the narrative it changes completely in terms of backgrounds and colors.

Max Payne 3: controversy and numbers

A new Max Payne, bearded, disillusioned and with the face of James McCaffrey, the voice actor who gave him a voice throughout the series In the third installment of the series we were faced with a Max Payne who lost everything, including work. After being sent into retirement police chief Jim Bravura, the only other character present in all three titles of the saga, he is left alone with his feelings of guilt, including that of having cheated on his wife, albeit dead, with the late Mona Sax, equally defunct. He is therefore not surprising that he indulged in alcohol and painkillers, in search of a fictitious and, among other things, short-lasting peace. In fact, it doesn't take long for an accident to upset his plans, forcing him to leave his Hoboken lair.

Five years later, in Sao Paulo, we find a shaved-headed, bearded and more hard-boiled Max Payne that never. More and more cynical and disillusioned, but operational again thanks to a job in private security, our hero moves against a more colorful background, but does not depart from the typical stylistic features of noir amid rampant corruption, a late twentieth-century police narrative voice century and a bitter finish. But the change of setting has still sparked controversy, risking to overshadow a gameplay capable of mixing the effective action of the series with decidedly relevant additions such as the cover system and dynamic intermission scenes, linked to the action without uploads. in the middle.

A Max Payne partially transformed in look, but still noir and even more action Despite the controversy, which at least partially overshadowed the star of the third chapter of the series, critics and most of the public have greatly appreciated voice the evolution of the action, the courage to change the setting and the addition of a multiplayer mode, always wanted by Remedy, but never implemented before for budget reasons. Max Payne 3, among other things, has the merit of further exploring the psychology of the protagonist, here struggling with the gap between poor and rich in one of the most divisive environments on the planet, in addition to having finally allowed the good voice actor James McCaffrey to finally give his face to the character he played, with voice, for 11 years.

All this has made Max Payne 3 a successful title, capable of selling 3 million copies in the first week of marketing, taking the series above the 10 million units sold. All this despite the controversy in part related to the setting and in part to the disappearance of Max's charming sarcasm. The criticisms, however, may have played a role in the disappearance of the franchise, absent from the scene for 9 years.

In the meantime Rockstar has returned to work in time on its challenging open world colossal and Remedy, deprived of rights, has focused on the universe of Alan Wake, Quantum Break and Control which could even merge into one great crossover in the near future. But Max's story may not be over.

Max Payne's future

Is there a future for Max Payne? In 2016 Take Two, of which Rockstar is a subsidiary, registered the JUDAS trademark which, according to a deep throat, could match Max Payne 4. The trademark does not reveal specific details and Take Two does not usually use fictitious names for its patents. but it could be a remake, a reboot or a title unrelated to the main series even if set in the same universe.

It might be mere speculation, but we're talking about a brand that has almost never disappointed, even in the isometric version on the Game Boy Advance and in mobile conversions, and that it would be a shame to let it die.

There is also talk of an exclusive launch on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S, with 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, which would be consistent with the rest of the rumors that speak of pre-production started in 2017, production in 2020 and exit expected after Gran Theft Auto VI. It is therefore useless to talk too much about a project that could be everything and could be nothing. But the idea of ​​a new high-budget Max Payne, made by a Rockstar now capable of pulling off cinematic impact titles, teases us without a doubt.

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