The Needles

The Needles
Ahead of its Time: The Fall of Max Payne 2

Andy Chalk | 1 Jul 2008 21:00
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Its failure is made interesting by the ongoing talk of "convergence" between the movie and videogame industries, and also because of the number of industry figures who claim that gamers are increasingly after shorter, more intense experiences when they play. No less a figure than Warren Spector himself is getting behind the "less is more" philosophy, recently saying that "100 hour games are on the way out," and suggesting that many developers and publishers are moving inexorably toward more compact presentations so players don't have to work too hard to experience a game in its entirety.

So what went wrong? Max Payne 2 hit all the notes: Great characters, tight plotting and intense action, all wrapped up in a movie-like package short enough for even the most television-addled attention span. It did everything right, and nobody cared. There's no doubt it was ahead of its time. Five years ago, videogaming was still just dipping its toe into the waters of mainstream acceptance; a game like Max Payne 2 may have been seen as a kind of aberration, an honestly mature title that demanded too much from an audience that wasn't ready to take the genre that seriously.

And therein lies what may have been the game's biggest stumbling block. Moreso than virtually any other shooter on the market before or since, Max Payne 2 is a legitimately adult game. It's packed with copious amounts of violence, plenty of salty language and even a little bit of skin, but more important is the material it tackles and the way it does so. Questions of loss, vengeance and redemption are a staple of the movie industry, but virtually unheard of as anything more than a thin excuse for wholesale slaughter in videogames. Max Payne 2 crossed that line, making it an integral part of the experience, and despite doing so with aplomb, suffered for it.

Which doesn't necessarily suggest the experts are wrong, only that a wholehearted embrace of the Hollywood formula and videogames-as-movies isn't inherently right. Videogaming has almost unlimited potential as a form of entertainment, but without recognition and acceptance of the fact that it's a constantly evolving and maturing format, games that dare to push the envelope of our expectations will almost inevitably fare poorly.

Max Payne 2 was a groundbreaking title and an outstanding early example of the potential of videogames, and it certainly deserved better than it got. Fortunately for action fans who missed out the first time around, the game is still widely available as a jewel case release, and it's well worth the price of admission. Buy it, play it, revel in its wanton massacre; but do yourself a favor and pay attention to the game beyond the guns. You'll be impressed with what you see.

Andy Chalk is thankful that none of the bad things in his life have ever started with the death of a woman.

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