THE FIRST TIME IN ENCOUNTERED MAX PAYNE I WAS IN A YOGA STUDIO. I’d gone in there because my friend, who worked in the offices above said studio, told me that sometimes they had art shows there. And it was there, there were a bunch of paintings and drawings up, surrounding the scantily-clad, stretching students.
After the class, we talked about possibly renting the studio out for a group show I was organizing. But what really caught my eye was what was on his computer screen. He was playing a video game.
I hadn’t played a video game in years. But this intrigued me.
“What is this?” I asked the guy, gesturing at the screen.
“That’s Max Payne.”
“Is that a video game?”
“Here,” he said. I sat at his desk and he clicked for a new game. Suddenly, I was in it. Stirring cello music emanated from the two speakers flanking his monitor.
MAX PAYNE 1
“Do you play this while people are doing yoga?” I asked.
“Well, I use headphones. But yeah.”
“How do I move him?” I asked, my right hand swivelling the camera around with the mouse.
The man placed his hands on the WASD keys and showed me, jumping Max with the spacebar.
I spent about an hour there, moving through the first level into the subways, getting a feel for the game. Max Payne reignited my love for video games, which had lain dormant for about a decade. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was pulled in by Max’s story, hackneyed as it was, of his gunned-down wife and child, and charmed by the quirky in-game TV shows, the photorealistic textures.
I was amazed by the fact that each bullet was modelled individually and that you could follow their trajectories when Max went into Bullet Time.
I was in love with this stylish, funny, brutal game.
My art show was a success. And afterwards, I somehow got my hands on a second-hand PC, and a friend of mine brought over a copy of Max Payne. So I continued Max’s journey into the night. Slowly, I shot my way through the slums, gunned my way through various nightclubs, and blew mobsters away in the highest skyscrapers of the city, all the while untangling the mystery of why Max’s wife was targeted for execution.
And when I was finished, I did it again, and again. Only stopping when the same friend brought over a copy of Grand Theft Auto III.
Two years later, when Max Payne 2 came out, I bought it immediately, but had problems. My PC, which had done a pretty good job with the first game, stuttered when encountering the second. This was heartbreaking, but not entirely unexpected. In the interim since Max Payne 1, I’d thrown myself back deep into gaming. I tried to play everything. I discovered that I didn’t like real-time strategy games or puzzlers. I was a fan of twitch shooters and action adventures. So I knew that in the arms-race of PC gaming, my “rig” was sub-par. There was nothing else to be done – I got a new computer.
Max Payne 2 was even better than the first. The older, more mature Max brought a realism to the convoluted pot-boiler of a story. And while the crosses and double-crosses seemed forced, you forgave them so much because the sheer spectacle of the game was so generous. I remember running through this apartment elevator lobby repeatedly, shooting enemies through glass display cases, waiting for elevator doors to finally open and offer me an escape.
MAX PAYNE 2
And throughout both games, evidence of a dark sense of humor revealed itself in little ways — sometimes in what was scrawled on a wall. One scene has these two enemies playing around on a piano and chatting while you hid on a staircase. You felt like such a predator as you listened in with the option of interrupting their conversations anytime with a fusillade of bullets.
It’s hard for me to talk about Max Payne and its sequel dispassionately. It’s like a first love. It will haunt you in some shape or form for the rest of your life, even as you experience other loves, and other games.
So as I approach playing Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 for the first time, it’s with a lot of trepidation.
He’s grown older and so have I.
MAX PAYNE 3
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.