The Empty Heart of Max Payne

Upon loading Max Payne 3, the violins of the ominous menu music sent a chill down my spine. My mood was dragged down with each note as I began to speculate where this story could go. I was lost in the music, enamoured by imagination, by all the possible manners in which this foreboding score may complement the narrative. Max lost his wife, his child and years later when he opened his heart again, his newfound romance was quickly added to his list of tribulations. Broken and vulnerable; Max had nothing to live for.

Which is exactly what coated my thoughts: where could this story go? Max Payne is dead. He’s lost everything he cared about, and is left as the shell of a man, in every sense the cliché entails. The ex-detective’s an alcoholic and a drug addict, living life as a slug about his apartment. Which is sad, of course, but this state of depression culls the game’s most glaring issue: it goes absolutely nowhere.

You’d think a man who’s had so much taken away from him — a man who harbours his own lethal take on justice, may hold some character beyond the stereotype. Well, that’s not the case. Max is the same hackneyed character you’d expect. Where the narrative abandoned Max in the second game was flawless. It was bleak, depressing, and perfectly conveyed Max’s ironclad fate: he was destined to live an unhappy life.

The self destructive state of Max Payne.

As sad as his situation may be, nothing interesting comes of it.

Spoilers follow.

Max Payne 3 beats a dead horse. Our protagonist has nothing to live for, no one to protect and no one to avenge. The game’s largest plot twist merely relies on his existence, as it establishes how Max’s addiction landed him in his current predicament: fighting another man’s war. The initial instalment in the series had him seeking revenge for the death of his family. In the second, he fought for his life, and the protection of his new love interest. The latest title strings Max as a fly who was too drunk to notice the web he landed in. Skin the narrative even further, and it’s simply the story of a middle aged man attaining sobriety in the most arduous way imaginable.

Without drive, without direction, Max Payne literally and merely serves as a means for the player to witness the story. The entire narrative has little to do with Max, besides the antagonist’s plot to use him as patsy for his crimes. Fabiana’s kidnapping is what carried half the plot, but only because it’s Max’s job to take care of her, and the rest of her affluent family. After her execution Max continues his rampage, seeking revenge for machinations he’s completely dislodged from.

Sad to say, but Max Payne becomes very similar to the infamously one-dimensional Kratos, from God of War. Both series began as tragedies, giving concrete reason and goals to their protagonists. However, by the third instalment they’re both angry bald men with nothing to live for, apart from their lust for violence and self-caused/justified desire for revenge.

Max's drinking problem proves to be the most important part of his character.

It’s unfortunate to see a character with so much depth have his history almost entirely neglected.

Stylistically the story is well told, but needless to say, it’s hindered by its impersonality. I assumed that this third piece would interlock with the original, that it may show an older Max Payne, trying to redeem himself by helping a family in need — a kind of karmic compensation for not being able to save his own. Instead, he’s left protecting a rich family with little to no compelling qualities beyond the inherent shock value of how self obsessed one can be. Furthermore, the plot quickly accents his own ineptitudes and inadequacies, straying away from any subplot that may symbolize or allude to his prior futility in saving his loved ones. We could have seen Max Payne in his own personal hell; reliving all the misery he endured, and trying to escape the cyclicality of his misfortunes. But while the score paints a menacing backdrop, the story fails to complement the atmosphere.

The whole Tony Scott vibe coupled with Rockstar’s finest shooting mechanics serve for an entertaining experience, only it puts little emphasis on Max Payne’s character. It doesn’t feel like it was a game written with him in mind, but rather the gameplay mechanics of previous titles in the series. Hopefully the next game will make appropriate use of this once-compelling character, instead of casting his husk into a dissolute and depraved setting.

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