The Needles

Max Payne 3: No Payne, No Gain


So, Max Payne 3. Apologies if I give the impression that I have a “thing” for Max Payne, although quite clearly I do. I know it’s not fair to inflict it upon you, the dear reader, just because I happen to believe in my heart of hearts that everything good and interesting about our hobby can somehow be tied, however tangentially, into Remedy’s shooter noir. But a recent Game Informer preview of the soon-to-be-new game based on everyone’s favorite cop on the edge put the series back in my mind and soon had me ruminating on one particular aspect of the videogame industry as whole: the drive to sequelize.

I was thrilled when I first heard that a new Max Payne game was on the way, slightly less so when I found out that Remedy was no longer on the job and less again when it turned out the game would take place in Brazil. It went downhill from there and by the time I got my first eyeful of the new Max, a bald, bearded slob in a wifebeater, my enthusiasm for the game had cooled considerably.

This preview renewed my interest, however, but for all the wrong reasons. The new game is being developed by Rockstar Vancouver and art director Rob Nelson admitted that taking over the franchise for the third installment is a “tricky” proposition. “You have to maintain the elements of it that are special and that people remember, but you also have to evolve,” he said. “We’re definitely looking back and trying to maintain every element that clicked with people eight or nine years ago and make it have the same impact now.”

It’s a laudable sentiment. Too bad there doesn’t appear to be a shred of truth to it. That may sound harsher than I mean it to; I certainly don’t want to imply that Nelson is a liar and I suppose in the end we could just be differing on our ideas of what “clicked.” But aside from a couple of the most basic mechanical aspects of the first two games, I can’t for the life of me imagine what it is he’s talking about.

Bullet-time remains, of course, as do the between-chapters comics through which the story unfolds. But New York City is out, as is the incredibly strong cast of supporting characters. (Although in all fairness, most of them were dead by the end of Max Payne 2 anyway.) Max himself is no longer an everyday cop struggling to find meaning and redemption in a world that has left him broken, but is instead a huge, muscled slab of meathead working as some kind of private security goon in Brazil. The game will even feature a new voice actor in the title role, a huge change and big risk for a franchise that’s famous for its near-iconic narration.


So how exactly is this a new Max Payne game, and even more to the point, why? Maybe I’m being premature but I can’t stop thinking that Rockstar got it backwards: It’s ripped out everything that made the games unique and memorable and left behind only those parts that have, in the six years and counting since the last release, become thoroughly generic. And if that really is the case, then why tack the Max Payne name onto it rather than starting fresh with an all-new character?

It can hardly be a cash-in on the name; saying Max Payne is famous for its narration should in no way be construed as meaning that the games are actually famous. The original was a success but the follow-up, despite being superior in virtually every way, all but killed the franchise. Nor was there a lineup of publishers desperately jockeying for the right to publish a new MP title, a fact attested to by the “creative freedom” afforded Rockstar in this new chapter.

I think the truth is much simpler and also a little sadder: It’s a sequel simply because sequels are easier. That may sound flippant but I think that in the final analysis, it’s more or less true. The Max Payne license was sitting idle and Rockstar wanted to make a super-violent third-person shooter about a washed-up tough guy living in one of the most violent cities in the world. If you think about it, you can almost hear the “ding!” and see the light bulb going off as some bright fellow decided that this was the perfect opportunity to get two birds stoned at once. Max Payne 3: The “Because We Said So” Sequel.

For the record, I’m not some kind of knee-jerk sequel hater; I’m as hot to trot for Mass Effect 2 as anyone and despite my professed pessimism, I’ll probably pick up the new BioShock on release day too. But it seems to me that if we’ve reached the point at which sequels are being made for no better reason than because it’s easier than trying to convince people to throw their money at a new and unknown IP, then we have a rather serious creativity crisis on our hands.

For all I know, Max Payne 3 may be the greatest thing to happen to videogames since Pong, but that’s not particularly relevant. What is relevant is that by all appearances, this is a Max Payne game only because the convenient familiarity of the name might help sell a few more copies. In the end, I don’t know what’s worse: The assumption that gamers will fall for such a transparent ploy or the sad fact that in the end, we probably will.

Andy Chalk isn’t sure whether “sequelize” is actually a word, but his spell checker sure doesn’t like it.

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