"I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was all right."
Those words have haunted me over the years. The final bittersweet farewell by Max Payne at the end of his long journey into the night, and my personal favourite ending of all time.
It was the pitch perfect conclusion to Max's deeply troubled story. Potent. Not a happy ending, but not quite sad either. Real
is the word I'd use. For all the bullets, bodies, and betrayals, Max's final reward isn't getting the girl, or the thrill of revenge, but what he needs the most – closure.
He gets to move on with his life and come to grips as best as he can with his past.
Even when the credits rolled and Remedy promised further adventures for Max, I was ok with just letting the series rest. Make no mistake, I'm a huge fan of Max Payne
. I love the gameplay, the characters, and the noir inspired atmosphere - but I thought the end of Max Payne 2
was the perfect place to leave it. Anything else would just be gilding the lily.
So it's with some degree of nervousness that I await the release of Max Payne 3
The game looks great. Any doubts I had before that Rockstar would dilute the "death-ballet" style of gunplay that made the games so unique have long been dispelled by the series of slick gameplay demos
Rockstar is so good at making. From everything I've heard, Max has never been in finer form when it comes to killing scores of thugs and gangsters.
But it isn't the gameplay that has me worried, it's the story.
One of the things I always enjoyed about the Max Payne
series is that they never pull any punches. Every time you think Max's life can't get any worse, he finds a new and exciting rock-bottom to hit.
Whether he's spiked with drugs and forced to play out a twisted re-imagining of his families murder, or the one person who can prove his innocence turns out to have been working against him all along, or his new girlfriend is shot in the head – things just go sour for Max.
If Max Payne wasn't such a irresistibly clever moniker to name the series after, it could have just as easily been called "It Got Worse: The Game
It's an age-old writing technique, and one that is absolutely appropriate for a series that cleaves to a noir aesthetic. As hard as they may be to read or watch, I never can resist a good dour story that delights in dashing the hopes of characters I like and desperately want to succeed. I might cringe with each new devastation or bad decision, but I can't stop myself from wanting to see how it all ends.
From everything we've seen, MP3
looks to continue the trend. This certainly won't be a feel-good-sunshine story. Max's life has descended into rampant alcoholism, a morally ambiguous employment situation, and eventually falls straight into a pit of head-shaving self-loathing for all his many failures and flaws.
But even I wonder if we need to see Max suffer more. As much as I enjoyed the often heartbreaking ride through MP1&2
, I was satisfied with where it ended. Max has been through so much, his lessons so thoroughly learned that it almost seems cruel to put him through more.
I think one of the things that will either make or break this game for me is how they bridge the gap between these titles. How do we get from the resigned, melancholy-but-healing Max of the end MP2
, to the drunken self-hating wreck we see in MP3
This is also the first entry to lack Sam Lake's writing talents, being replaced with long time Rockstar pen-monkey Dan Houser. While Houser is a great storyteller in his own right with heavy hitters like GTA4
and Red Dead Redemption
under his belt, I'm worried that that MP3
is going to miss that Sam Lake magic.
Sam Lake has this way with meta-fiction that gives his work a unique tone. From the show-within-a-show fun of the Twin Peaks
clone Address Unknown
in the first MP
game to the total protagonist/author/audience melt-down of Alan Wake
, he's always known how nod at the camera and play with genre-tropes in a way that gives the story more depth.
Rockstar loves to play with shows-within-a-show too, but for them it's usually in the vein of scathing satire. You could sit on Niko Belic's sofa and watch hours of fictional entertainment in GTA4
squarely aimed at mocking the vapidness of mainstream pop culture. Not to mention the hundreds of not thousands of radio ads, billboards, and random street dialogue clips all designed to take the piss out of modern culture.
While I love that social commentary edge in the GTA
series, I'm worried that flavour is going to creep into MP3
and smother one of the most unique aspects of the series.
The clips of TV shows and scraps of comics you found in the MP
games could be funny. It was hard not to laugh at the outrageousness of Address Unknown
or the overly hard-boiled action of Dick Justice
. But as fun as they were, they were meant to provide insight into Max's situation – not just provide comic relief.
My fears may be unfounded, but I'd hate to see MP3
stuffed with GTA4
-style satire and bereft of the meta-fictional play Sam Lake lent to the originals. To me that self-awareness is one of the staples of the series and it would be a shame to watch Rockstar mess it up.
I don't know if Rockstar can top what Remedy did in the final moments of MP2
. I'm sure the gameplay will be great, the graphics spectacular, and heck, even the multiplayer looks interesting. But when it comes to an emotional pay-off, it will be a tall order to even compare with that legendary ending.
I hope Houser and Rockstar pull it off. It would be nice to have a new perfectly crafted line to haunt me into the next decade.