Max Payne 3 Scares MeBy Miodrag Kovačević | September 17, 2011 | Editorials | 6 comments | Share
I am afraid of how Max Payne 3 will turn out. There are plenty of reasons for this, many red flags raised. I won’t claim the fear is in any way objective, as I hold the original games very close to my heart, but it is certainly not without merit.
A lot of folks seem to focus on one thing: the change in setting. This is also a major concern of mine, but likely not for the same reasons as that of the majority. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Brazil or daytime settings not being noir enough. Many people seem to think that noir has to be a gritty urban setting where the sun never shines.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Film noir is a very problematic topic even among men more qualified than you or me to speak about cinematography. There is no real agreement on what exactly makes a movie fall into the category. The genre was genuinely alive until the moment it became self-aware. After that, people would pin-point certain recurring elements and talk about them jokingly, or attempt to emulate them in works. Noir more or less died in the 1950s, while the term gained wider usage in the 1970s, rather than continuing to have those movies called melodramas. Using the broadest possible categorization, one could include newer, neo-noir movies like American Beauty and Sin City. Maybe it’s because of the popularity of Sin City that many think that such an urban and dark settings are real representatives.
However, many good movies like White Heat make frequent usage of rural and daytime environment, while my personal favorite, the Set-Up, takes place in a boxing locker room for most of its run time. Rather than having to use specific settings, these movies have always relied on mood more than anything. The most frequent theme was closer to “duality” and “struggle” more than anything else (to put it in the most basic way possible).
What is the problem with Brazil, then? I won’t deny that Max Payne 3 will have a noir mood or setting, that’s not the issue. The real issue lies in the actual change of location and all its implications.
Anyone who has played the first two games (and if you haven’t, stop reading now and do so), is familiar with the character of Max. He is a fighter, a determinator. It is the basic question everyone around him asks: “You’re miserable. You have nothing left. Why don’t you just give up?” He was hardly a force of nature, or a human superior in many ways to normal men. He was just determined. Why would he leave New York? Why would he walk away? The fallout and exposition after the first game is no different from the one after the second game. In the first game, Max gets his revenge. The antagonists are dead and the chapter done with. In the second game, Max makes peace with himself. The antagonists are dead, many key characters as well. It did indeed leave fewer hooks than the first title, but the main plot was self-contained. The theme of Max realizing that his revenge didn’t fix anything was definitely tied to the first game, but the Cleaners and Vlad’s role? Those were all new plot hooks that just as easily could have been something else.
And Max never walked away. After all the events in both games, he still fought on and faced Vlad, who also couldn’t understand the determination and driving force behind someone so miserable.
And now he’s in Brazil.
I can understand the reasoning of the new developers, though. They are handling an IP that wasn’t originally made by them. They are introducing the game to an audience who may not be familiar with the originals. The decision makes sense from that standpoint and we are promised flashbacks that will explain Max’s “fall from grace,” but I feel a lot of what made the original character will be lost for previous fans. Someone who has had no contact with the franchise and plays the new game will unlikely have any problems about the protagonist being faithful to the original character, but those who aren’t new? Max getting addicted to painkillers and alcohol is nothing new; we saw how low he had fallen in the second game. Until we had passed the exposition act of the dramatic structure, he had no driving force, but then Mona appeared. It gave him a new reason to go on. Regardless on which ending you got, Mona surviving or dying (the latter now being canon), Max made peace with himself. I could get behind the idea of events in the first game not making anything better; heck, it only ended with confirmation that Alfred Woden would keep our hero out of jail, but after the second game, what is one left to believe? That Max just ran away? I don’t think I am able to sympathize with such a character.
Of course, I could be wrong; maybe whatever Rockstar has planned will blow my mind away. I would be happy if it did, but I doubt it will. When a sequel doesn’t have the original team, writer, setting, character design and even introduces multi-player for no reason, there are too many red flags raised. I have no doubt about the game being a good piece of interactive noir fiction; my only fear is that it won’t be a Max Payne.
And having orange-blue cover art isn’t helping one bit.