This year marks the 20th anniversary of Rockstar and Remedy’s noir classic, Max Payne. My late mother’s favorite genre of film was always FIlm Noir. Growing up, our cheap tube TV stayed locked to Turner Classic movies and my mom’s favorite movie was Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray. This was my first taste of film noir and I was deeply captivated. Double Indemnity was a story about a claims adjuster whose job was to sniff out fraudulent insurance claims. He proceeds to fall in love with a married woman and together, they plan to murder her husband and collect the insurace money; but things go wrong. That’s what I loved about film noir, the stories were never wholesome, never inspiring and there’s rarely a happy ending. There’s closure, but no happy endings. These aren’t stories about good guys and bad guys, but rather bad guys and worse guys. These were dark, foreboding, unpredictable and gritty stories. Deep narration and feeling of hopelessness. I loved every bit of it! My mother got me hooked on the genre and anything labeled “film noir” was on my watch list. I was nine years old watching The Maltese Falcon, Dark Passage, In a Lonely Place, The Postman Always Rings Twice and so many more. I thank my mom for introducing me to film noir.
Now take all the elements of a film noir movie and add them to a video game, and you have Max Payne. I remember back in 2001 when my mom was granted a membership to Hollywood Video (they were a lot harder to get back then), and we were able to rent video games. My twelve year mind was blown, a literal kid in a candy store. The first game I rented was Max Payne. I remember getting chills the first time I heard that dark threatening violin during the startup menu. Max Payne is about a police detective that turns into a murderous vigilante, following the brutal murder of his wife and daughter. Instead of cutscenes, the game has comic book style panels with voice overs, walking you through the story like a graphic novel come to life. This was a very graphic and adult game, and I had never played a game with such a rich narrative and storyline. This was before Grand Theft Auto 3, and I was used to playing Crash Bandicoot. I always considered myself to be more adult, and more mature than my peers, but there was a stark difference between Crash Bandicoot and Max Payne. For me it was the feel of Max Payne. Everything just seemed so mysterious, so gothic and so eerie. The entire game takes place over one night and as the night goes on, the snowfall gets more intense, the enemies get more aggressive and the story gets deeper.
I remember being so obsessed with the game that during computer lab at school, I would scour the internet looking for message boards, or discussions about the game. Unfortunately this was in the early days of the internet so it was slim pickings. I’ve beaten and played through this game more times than I can count, and own it on just about every console I have. The writing in Max Payne was so good that it inspired me to become a writer. I also loved the sequels, but the first one will always be legendary.