Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

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The first Max Payne has long been considered a cult game that has been loved by many gamers. It is often cited as one of the most important and influential shooters of its time, and made many of the genre’s modern games what they are.

Not without reason, even Remedy, the creator of Max Payne, is working on a remake of the first part of the series. It is unlikely that Finnish developers would spend resources on a project forgotten by everyone. An attempt to revive the title in a new shell only confirms the warm attitude of the community to the game.

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But why exactly is the first Max Payne loved? I decided to delve into this in detail, looking at every aspect of the game in detail.

Dark and serious plot

The first part of Max Payne was released in 2001. It should be noted that at that moment there were enough shooters on the market. However, few of them had a truly developed storyline. As a rule, the stories in such games were uncomplicated and received little attention. The emphasis was mainly on the gameplay.

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However, when we talk about the first Max Payne, we understand that here the approach to the plot is different. They really tried to make history serious. It is built around a police officer from New York, caught in the middle of fast-paced events with tragic consequences, and refers to film noir, borrowing their cold and gloomy atmosphere.

For a second, it is worth noting that the developers have achieved a competent combination of storytelling with gameplay. The game is balanced, that is, it does not overload the players with something specific and often alternates between one and the other. In other words, there is time for respite between violent skirmishes, but Max Payne does not slip into the “kinzo” either.

But the plot itself is impossible to realize without the characters. And here Remedy also worked hard. On a small budget, they were able to make many of the playable characters memorable. This is especially true of the main character, whose face was given by the screenwriter Max Payne, Sam Lake.

Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

All this is seasoned with a memorable main soundtrack. The game has a rather meager set of tracks, most of the gameplay time there is no music at all. However, in the main menu, comics and significant cut-scenes, the main composition sounds in different arrangements. It is she who has eaten into the heads of the players.

Level design

When the game has a well-developed plot and interesting gameplay (more on that later in the article), what remains to be done? That’s right, tie them together.

A prime example of a bonding layer is the level design in the first Max Payne. Locations not only play a role in building gameplay, but tell a story in and of themselves.

For example, even in the initial levels, you can see bloody footprints and scattered furniture that attract the player’s attention and keep him until the next piece of the plot. Sometimes objects on locations do not remain without comments or actions of the protagonist, that is, there is a connection between the environment and the plot.

Visual cues in Max Payne not only help to learn new plot details, but also lead players in the right direction.

To enhance the effect of a serious story, the developers have made detailed locations. The use of realistic environmental objects (furniture, decor) and proportions played into the hands of the 2001 game. By the way, real photos were used to create textures in the game, which only added credibility, although the rough geometry paired with low resolution is now striking.

Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

Separately, I would like to mention advanced interaction with the environment: fire extinguishers on the walls release foam, gas cylinders explode, water flows in coolers. Not all interactive items affect the gameplay, but the ability to use them clearly contributes to the immersion of the players.

Unusual game mechanics

The most recognizable element of Max Payne’s gameplay is in the gameplay. The game is focused on active firefights, so it fit perfectly into the ability that almost no one else had. We are talking about the mechanics of time dilation, which is also called bullet time.

How it works: when slow motion is activated, the time for the hero and opponents slows down. This does not give the player any advantage over the enemy in movement. But it makes aiming easier and just looks spectacular. In addition, time dilation is combined with evasion, which only adds to the entertainment. The slow time bar is limited and replenishes only when killing enemies.

Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

Remedy’s game wasn’t the first to offer the ability to manipulate time. The pioneer is Requiem: Avenging Angel. However, it stops time completely. Therefore, the implementation of mechanics in Max Payne is still unique. In addition, at the time of the release of the project, such a technique was not very popular, so he singled out the Remedy product from other games.

Combined with the shootout design and dark noir atmosphere, Max Payne achieved the effect of a Hong Kong action movie. The last thing I mentioned here is not accidental – the developers are hinting at a source of inspiration right inside the game. In one of the locations, you can hear the dialogue of the characters, in which one of them mentions John Woo, a fairly well-known director of the Hong Kong action movie.

Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

Interestingly, initially they wanted to use time dilation only in cut scenes when killing enemies. But later this idea was developed into a full-fledged in-game mechanics. This is how Max Payne got its own unique dodge element, combined with simultaneous shooting.

Otherwise, Max Payne does not overload players with a ton of mechanics, and those that are are simple. Rolls have been added to the normal movement, and damage can be treated with the help of painkillers scattered throughout the level. But the shooter part still deserves a couple of sentences about it.

The game tries its best to be cinematic. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the arsenal of weapons there are double pistols or SMGs – one for each hand. Each weapon has its own recoil animation with weapon stabilization, muzzle flash and a characteristic sound. Bullets leave traces on the walls, and shells bounce loudly to the floor, remaining in the form of physical objects. This set provides the game with really exciting shootouts. And although Max Payne will get really juicy and realistic shooting only by the third part, the mechanics of the pilot project feel nice and believable.

Extraordinary presentation of the plot

A little earlier, I talked about a serious approach to the plot. The uniqueness of Max Payne does not end there: the game is also remembered for the way the story is presented.

Another important detail that the first Max Payne is associated with is storytelling through comics. In fact, the developers chose this pitch because of the low budget of the studio. Creating full-fledged cut-scenes to represent the story would be too long and costly.

Remembering Max Payne: how Hong Kong action and bold ideas made the game a cult

But, despite the obvious simplification of the pitch, the players remembered the final result. Hand-drawn images with a unique aesthetic have become a memorable feature of the game. The solution turned out to be so successful that it found a place in the sequel, Max Payne 2.


There were quite a few games released in the early 2000s, but only a few of them are remembered and had the same impact as the first Max Payne game.

The product from Remedy gained popularity not without reason. The developers have combined several successful solutions in one bottle at once: an interactive and realistic environment, a serious noir story with memorable characters, innovative time dilation mechanics, believable and enjoyable shooting, storytelling in the form of comics.

Max Payne turned out to be not just an interesting project – it laid the foundation for modern cinematic shooters, while providing interesting and realistic gameplay by the standards of its time.

Source: Trash Box

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