In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Hey Ho! It's a bit weird to start off a first blog post with a topic about the end of a game...but hey, 'you only get to play one time' as Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) once sung. You'll probably see a couple of these themed blogs in the future because...well...I like spoiling things. I'm the guy who ruined Life On Mars' finale (the UK one) for a few friends of mine after all. Listen, if they didn't watch it...it's not my fault.
I guess with all the talk about Max Payne 3 and how 'IT'S NOT NOIR!' by people who've probably only ever watched Sin City and not stuff like Brick or Memento, I thought it would be a nice idea to go back and talk about what must be one of my favourite endings in a game - Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.
I loved the original (especially the 'jumping off an elevator and onto another' moment), but for all its 'wailing cresendos' of violence, the story was just a simularcrum of maverick cop thrillers...which eventually had its own simulacrum of a movie.
Let Domo sum this up for me:
Anyway, for me at least, the core story wasn't all that memorable other than the minor character details and Max's narration. I expected pretty much the same thing in the sequel. I was wrong.
It probably starts off with what must be the most confusing opener ever. A stuttering narrative as a reflective Max tries to find a decent jump off point. Just as you're slipping back into all things bullet-time, Remedy/Sam Lake pull the rug and you're forced back into another, clearer, opening sequence. It was obvious from the scattershot approach that they didn't care so much for the action this time around. Lake and co. were more interested in showing a mature story about moving on. Within the first 15 minutes, your perceptions are forcefully filtered and you're as lost as Payne himself. If you weren't onboard by this point, you were probably not going to enjoy the rest.
Max Payne 2 is a crime drama, but ultimately Max's attempts to stop a conspiracy is a secondary plot to his his story of survivor's guilt. Despite his short term goals of revenge, he's fearful of letting the memory of his dead family go. What kind of man would he be if, after all he's achieved, he just left them as distant memories? Especially for a woman like Mona Sax (the complete opposite of Michelle Payne). Most of the game focuses on Max's attempts at keeping what's left of his old life; a wedding ring and a photo are all he's got (the rest being in Payne's head)...Satre would have had a field day with this guy. Throughout the game, Max can only concentrate on thoughts of Mona, his dead family and his past glory instead of the set-up he's about to take the wrap for. One of my favourite scenes is when Vlad is giving Payne a lift. Vlad talks about motives that will reveal him as the antagonist, while Max ignorantly twists the speech into his own inability to move on.
Vlad: You have to do what you have to do.
Max: It's never that easy.
Cliched, but effective.
Ultimately, the guilt of choosing Mona over Michelle is abruptly destroyed as when Max takes a bullet in the head. It's a cathartic change for Max. Metaphorically, the man we've been watching has died. In the end, Max realises that no matter what you do, no matter how many possibilties, you'll end up still being you. It all leads up to a great ending.
Max get his revenge, his TRUE revenge, in the end. But that's all secondary over the fact that Max is able to move on. He's allowed himself to let Michelle by loving another woman. When Mona dies, Michelle has been buried by memories of Mona. With the loss of Mona he's gained enough psychological distance to look back and reflect. I'm sure it's not lost on Remedy or anyone else who loved the game that the story plays out as twisted relationship break-up. When people leave though...they leave in a body bag. It is a 'noir love story' after all.
I can't think of many videogames that attempts this sort of pondering with their characters. Silent Hill 2 had a similar idea theme too, but in just about every ending except 'Leave', James pays the price for not interpreting his demons sooner. Personally, I think a lot of this subtext went over certain gamers' heads. People who just came for the non-stop action and got cold feet when they encountered long bouts of Max wandering the halls of a funhouse while he came out with non-diagetic self-analysis. I guess we don't see this kind of subject matter being tackled in games much, so its hard to find it so familiar or acceptable (never mind touching upon the relation between player and protagonist). Also, how many sequels do you know where the main protagonist is complete haunted by his actions in the original? It took Resident Evil about 5 games before they tried the same thing with Chris Redfield! I'm sure there are more out there, but they either reside in the adventure game genre or horror genre. Its too few and far between really.
"I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was alright."
Nihlistic, bittersweet and utterly hard-boiled. Chandler would have been proud.