Your game is the only one that accompanied me since I was a kid, reflecting whatever mental or psychological state I was in at a given time, paralleling the emotions and the mazes I've had in my head throughout the years, always showing me yet another side of its multi-layered brilliance with every playthrough, causing me to cherish it even more once and once again.
I don't know if it's possible to write a blog that delivers and manages to capture the inside-jokes, inter-related references and brilliant level design, story writing and inner dialogues of the two games and their connections to MP3, but hey, I can try.
Enjoy this Payneful journey!
OriginsI remember the day I was visiting my best friend at the time, long years ago on a sunny Friday morning, the person who introduced me to things that later defined my life such as high caliber gaming, metal music, torrents and foreign novels. His brother had just bought this new game called Call of Duty, a shooter we spent the hours of the morning all through the afternoon playing and wowing in fascination.
Then he pulled out this disc with "Payne" scribbled on the front.
I didn't want to play this game. I wanted to continue playing Call of Duty because we had finally reached the last phase where you play as a British soldier.
He shoves the disc in and installs the thing as I expressed my dissatisfaction by downing two cups of Coca Cola, a few minutes later Max Payne was launched and all I had in mind was keeping my eyes on that fat monitor of his. From the very beginning, from the moment that intense intro video played to the sound of restless heartbeats, I was hooked.
>>> In those days I was young , my English wasn't too advanced, and I didn't understand love, betrayal and friendship, so my entire impression of Max Payne was.. a grim vibe that sent shivers down my spine, a protagonist that felt very human and very real and very flawed, a harsh, cold and dark American city, and a lot of fan-fucking-tasticly satisfying and cool-looking shootdodging and explosions.
He also used to love The Matrix and tried to get me into it but I found it too alien and confusing. The fact that he used the Kung Fu mod for Max Payne which turned it into a Matrix game was all the more hard-hitting and compelling.
A month ago I got hyped by the Max Payne 3 trailers, so I proceeded to play Max Payne 1 & 2, back to back, in the span of five days and a total of 14 gameplay hours. While installing the first game, I tried to remember some of its key characters, events and moments from the several times I've played it over the years. I hadn't touched a Max Payne game since.. 2009 I think, so the whole franchise was a blur in my mind.
>>> Then it all started coming back . The playthrough with my cousin on his then-new PC around 2005 when the game was all about clearing a room of enemies without getting hit. The playthrough of both games a couple of years after that when I was a growing teenager infatuated with sex where the highlight of the adventure was Max's scorching relationship with Mona Sax , and the one from 2009 or 2010 when my English was good enough to realize that Max's inner monologues while moving in the shadows, the dialogue with other characters and the comical narrative cutscenes were heavily rich with thought-provoking and emotionally-manipulative speech, so good to read and listen to that the gameplay and sexual themes took a back seat to them.
Looking back at those years with my eyes chasing the installation bar made me realize why I love Max Payne. It's the fact that it has been thee single piece of entertainment to connect to my mind as a child, a growing teenager and an older adult, always providing an aspect that caught my attention.
Max Payne (2001)The links below consist of pictures and comic strips from the game. Click on the yellow words to enlarge a picture on screen.
After fixing a few known PC issues with the Steam Max Payne, the adventure once again began. This time around I was a 21 year old dedicated gamer with a lot of memories, nostalgia, gaming experience and a mind that can tie the game's entire aspects together in one experience rather than focusing on one of its many layers as I did in the past.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ACT 1/3 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The game begins with a bloody, stitched up young man in a black coat, holding a sniper rifle, standing on the edge of a helipad atop an enormous skyscraper, looking down at the wreckage of a destroyed helicopter, his voice swaying with the sound of far-away police sirens as he says " They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point. I released my finger from the trigger, and then it was over. "
In a slow, gravelly-voiced flashback, this young NYPD cop takes us back three years to when he went home one day to find his wife and baby daughter dead. Murdered by the hands of hallucinating junkies who painted the letter V on the walls of his house and spoke of "The flesh of fallen angels."
The joining of the appalling tragedy, the mystery surrounding it, and the jaw-dropping bullet-time action you jump (ha!) right into from the get go, makes for one of the best most memorable starting levels I've ever experienced.
---[CHAPTER 1, 2]---
Moving on, you start working for your colleague Alex Balder as an undercover cop, a job you refused when you had a family to care for. "Outside, the mercury was falling fast. It was colder than the devil's heart, raining ice pitchforks as if the heavens were ready to fall."
On your way to meet him in the Subway, you stumble upon a massive gunman attack on the station, a lot of dead bodies and a gang of thugs who blew their way into the nearby bank safe, leaving the gold untouchedas they snoop around the inside vault looking for documents. They were after the Aesir Corporation files, a company whose recent successes have been getting a lot of attention.
Needless to say, you go motherfucking Neo on these thugs' asses. This is the first level you get to freely run, shootdodge and watch cool as hell, erm, killcams and physics in motion. Feelsgoodman. Also, rat brutality.
After you blow a fucking door open by detonating the explosive on it, you're met by your buddy Alex, whom, before your eyes but out of your reach, is murdered in cold blood. You were seen escaping the station. You are wanted for the murder of Alex Balder. " Alex had kept me relatively sane for the past three years. Now I didn't know how I felt."
A set-up fugitive with a dead family, a dead old friend, a storm of mysteries twisting your mind and the cravings of revenge taking over you, you have nothing to lose. It's time to go after the thugs who did this.
---[CHAPTER 3, 4]---
Max drops by Jack Lupino's hotel, the thug boss whom Alex accused of being behind this. His very last words before taking a bullet to the head. " Lupino thought he could get us by taking Alex out, and leaving me to take the fall for it. All he had gotten was my attention." You enter the hotel, run into the Finito Brothers who work for Lupino's right hand man, Vinnie Gognitti.
Long story short, you finitto the Finitos, and look for Rico Muerte, the man they're closing a drug deal with. All the while kicking ass sideways. Awesome stuff during this level was blowing wooden doors open with your shotgun, listening to the mad Valkyre junkies talk doomsday, causing real-time destruction, shootdodging some moar, getting a glimpse of the prostitution going onand more.
You kill Muerte and escape the hotel. Muerte had connections to head mobster Angelo Punchinello. Something big and fishy was going down.
" Collecting evidence had gotten old a few hundred bullets back. I was already so far past the point-of-no-return I couldn't even remember what it had looked like when I had passed it."
One thing that occasionally entertained you as you ran across these dark hallways and living rooms silently was the TV series. The universe of Max Payne had two programs on the TVs you occasionally run across: Lords & Ladies and Address Unknown.
The first time I came across Lords & Ladies in the hotel I was blown away.
Here's a funny example for you:
---[CHAPTER 5, 6, 7]---
Next up, you go to Jack Lupino's house, only to find Vladimir Lem, a Russian gang head with VODKA as the license plate of his car, blow up Lupino's place. You run through the half-collapsed building killing more dudes and bashing more junkies until you reach Gognitti and his goons hiding in an office there.
And then the epic Gognitti chase begins. One of the most exciting levels in the game.
" I don't know about angels, but it's fear that gives men wings."
YOU JUMP ON A MOVING FUCKING TRAIN IN SNOWY MIDNIGHT NEW YORK CITAY. WEEEEEEWWW.
" New York sped by on fast-forward, dark rooftop water towers and a dead forest of antennas and chimneys, all a blur."
In the end you catch Gognitti, interrogating his breathless, bleeding soul with a sad inner monologue that straight-up set the mood and made things clear: Max is no hero, there was no glory in chasing down scumbags for him and he didn't ask for this, it was just him, his gun and the crook on the other end of it, the ghost of his dead wife on his mind driving him to push forward.
---[CHAPTER 8, 9]---
We finally found out where Lupino's hiding after our little chat with the coward Gognitti. He's in his nightclub Ragna Rock surrounded by even more dozens of goons for you to exercise your slo-mo moves on.
You run through the joint popping dudes and reading books, discovering the fact that Lupino is a mad gothic-ish man with crazy books on the end of the world.
His shit reads:
" After Y2K the end of the world had become a cliche. But who was I to talk, a brooding underdog avenger alone against an empire of evil, out to right a grave injustice." As you approach his lair on the second floor of the club, his wails, weeps and screams send shivers down Max's virtual spine. "THE FLESH, OF FALLEN ANGELS!"
You open an electric gate at the end of a dark hallway, step into a big hall with a fountain in the middle and a stage, grab some ammo and the curtains open. The man himself is standing before you, with one of the game's hardest boss battles awaiting.
You kill the bastard and, oh, what's this, a female? You're met by Mona Sax, Lisa Punchinello's evil twin, the woman going after the same man as you.
She slips you a mickey.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ACT 2/3 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [PROLOGUE] ---
In the three years since his wife and infant were murdered, this was Max Payne's first chance to actually rest. A powerful hellish drug dropped in his drink was all he needed to let his mind completely take over.
But this is Max Payne we're talking about... His rest is non-existent. He let his guard down and the nightmares finally consumed him.
In this morbid level you run aimlessly across hallway mazes resembling your dead child's bedroom and creep along the trails of your family's blood,all going on in your raging mind.
Saddest fucking thing I've ever seen in a game.
---[CHAPTERS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]---
Punchinello's guys find you next to Lupino's corpse, shivering like a creature exhaling its last breath, and they take you back to Lupino's hotel basement where you're tortured by Frankie "The Bat" Niagara who beats you up with, wait for it.............. A bat. He leaves and you break loose.
" They had dragged me back to the basement of Lupino's hotel. I was beaten, bruised and blue. I felt like the chair I had broken to get free." That oven room ...I love it!
You make your way through the hotel once again, killing brosefs. This double-use of the hotel location is my favorite progress mindfuck from this game.. I always get confused trying to remember what I was doing in that hotel and who I was there to kill. How I got there, even.
You get out and bang,the coolest motherfucker in the game is here. Vladimir Lem, dearest of all our friends. (MP2 reference).
Vlad asks us to go eliminate his Russian competition, mobster Boris Dime, with the reward of looting the latter's ship filled with guns.This is the docking area levelwhere you get that super sniper rifle and start sniping dudes and watching the bullet fly into their skulls.
" Rust had crept over the sides of the cargo steamer a long time ago. Boris Dime would be on board. I'd have to smoke half of his crew to even get near the gangplank."
Wam bam thank you Dime, Angelo Punchinello calls for a truce,invites Max to his restaurant,and proceeds to barricade the doors and set the entire joint on fire.
IT'S A TRAP! You escape through the sewers,go to Punchinello's own Manorand kill his three right hand men called The Trio, alongside a hundred of his henchmen. The fucker kills his wife Lisa,Mona's twin sister. A sad day indeed.
Break into his office and you as soon as you realize that he's nothing but a puppet, the killer suits (Agent Smith?!) come in after you and kill him.
" He was trying to buy more sand for his hourglass. I wasn't selling any ."
The suits are lead by an old evil looking womanwho injects you with Valkyre,the very same drug that caused your family's brutal death and the rabbid infection of half of the city's population.
Time to sleep again... Time to let the drug take over. Will Max ever taste peace of mind again? Oh well, at least he got a hot bath in a very kinky bathroom.
Overall this Act turned the heat up a few licks and focused more on the plot and the diversity in locations, enemies and the general action than the sad story and the deep inner monologues. It consisted more of observations than emotions and thoughts, because Max was too caught up in this hot mess to think or feel.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ACT 3/3 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [PROLOGUE]---
Injected with Valkyre, once again a new act is started with a morbid nightmare level. At this point you begin to feel Max's despair-painted pain like it was your own. At least I did.
You revisit your old home from the game's very prologue, this time around it's soaking in yellow-lit fog, like it's one of the other Silent Hill dimensions.
This is where Max Payne goes all Inception on you. Hardcore. One of the most memorable bits of the game where it goes so self-aware meta it makes you think you're tripping balls. Max's mind jumps from his foggy empty house, to being in a graphic novel, to being a video game character, to being trapped in Punchinello's burning office, to another grim sequence of hallway & bloodtrail running, ending up on the side of the road as the green haze slowly lifted and faded away.
Here's a collection of pictures from that mind trip:
---[CHAPTER 1, 2, 3]---
Before completely losing your shit you heard that old hag utter the words "Cold Steel." That's the name of an factory in New York. Let's go there.
" The bad trip had put me in a crazy mood, adrenaline pumping through my aching veins." You climb a back ladder and enter a small warehouse room.
" Out in the night, snow fell like confetti over the devil's parade. The storm was anything but over." Going forward through the factory's rooms and halls you come across some very cool machinery in the various corners of this factory, with the newly-added laser protection system thwarting your progress every now and then.
You kill a lot of commando dudes carrying M4's, a brand new weapon in the game, until you find an elevator marked D-6. You take that lift down to the bowels of this hell hole.
" I had taken on the role of the mythic detective, Bogart as Marlowe, or as Sam Spade going after the Maltese Falcon -- To unravel all the mysteries."
You find this little gem,then continue moving forward, discovering a huge laboratoriesfacility with all kinds of test chambers. lol.
After a lot of commando killing and jumping from one chamber to another trying to avoid the high flames and the laser beams, you run into a scientist who gives you the passcode to the most important room in the facility, the one with the main computer.
The passcode is 665. "The neighbor of the devil."
You enter the room, search through the computer, and.. The mystery is uncovered. At large. This is the revelation Max has been pursuing all these years, and he finally has his finger on the pulse. It's only up from here, no downward spiral.
You get the hell out of there as the lab is set to self-destruct.
---[CHAPTER 4, 5, 6]---
You go to an all-night diner, trying to catch your breath and to absorb the massive conspiracy you've just uncovered. The one that cost you your wife and child.
You're contacted by B.B., a colleague, who tells you to meet in a big parking lot building.
a public phone rings. Alfred Woden is contacting you because he wants to help. You visit him in his mansion.
In this level you pick up the Jackhammer, a quick-firing shotgun. Just when you thought the game couldn't provide more cool kill animations, the jackhammer hits you in the face with its awesome effect.
The killer suits swarm the place as usual, you escape for your life in a very, VERY impressive level. All kinds of complex staircases and floors and hallways and libraries, seriously it's such a confusing rush, it's amazing.
"I had dreamed of revenge. Those dreams were always nightmares, of coming close and then failing."
********[CHAPTER 7, 8, EPILOGUE]*********
It's time to go after Nicole Horne. "Mine wasn't the most original approach to the problem. It wasn't as if it hadn't all been done before. An eye for an eye, the first principle of revenge, old as dirt, still going strong. "
You enter the huge building, the reception hall is strikingly reminiscent of the one from The Matrix, and according to Sam Lake the movie did slightly influence the design of that room.
The action goes crazy here, brutal shootouts, dozens of snipers, shotgunners, M4's, grenades flying your way, grenade launchers aiming for your head.
You can hear the bitch's voice. She's drawing near.
"Valkyre had been meant to be a white-winged maiden that would lift you to a warriors' heaven, but it had turned out to be a one-way demon ride to hell. The devil was in the drug. I knew, I had met him."
"And now I was going to kill her. The queen of the underworld who had tried to lift herself a bit closer to heaven with her drug money."
You go up to the helipad, and your task is to shoot the four wires keeping the huge antenna tied to the rooftop, so it would fall and crash into the helicopter, taking Horne a bit further from heaven and closer to hell.
" They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point."
I'll leave you with this heartwarming video: