It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. It always does. The developers had made me talk like Philip Marlowe after a heavy night on the tiles. It was a pain I had to live with every day of my life. One that the painkillers couldn't ease.
Payne To The Max
The plot was a gaping hole in the heart of the game, plugged with every worn out cliché and crackpot conspiracy theory in the book. The only thing I could take seriously was the thought of the developers taking it seriously. I was a hard-boiled New York cop, working deep undercover inside the mafia for the DEA, and only my boss knew I was on the side of the angels. If he watched Hong Kong movies he would've known this was a bad idea. Sure enough, in a New York minute my cover was blown, my boss was dead, and Max Payne was a wanted man in a world of hurt.
My script was written by a room full of monkeys hopped up on Valkyr. The DEA had hired me to find the bastards who made the drug. Now it was personal. It looked like an open and shut case. The mob was flooding the streets with a cancer that was eating at the rotten core of the big apple. But there was more to it than that. I could see that when the bad guys pumped me full of Valkyr. My dead wife was talking to me. Suddenly it all made sense, the suits, the secret military projects, the black helicopters. I was in a computer game.
Did You Make That Up Yourselves?
It wasn't the most original approach. It wasn't as if it hadn't been done before, the endless repetition of the act of shooting, time slowing down to show off my moves. The punks standing around waiting for me, ready to explode into random acts of violence. And behind them all the succession of cardboard cut-out bad guys.
But just when you thought you had reached the deepest depths of horror it suddenly got worse. A maze of rusty containers, a factory where molten metal boiled and bubbled, a secret underground lab full of dead scientists and trigger happy marines, the laser trip mines. The feeling hit me like a point-blank shot in the face. I've seen this before. I've seen it all before. The game was a patchwork of other people's ideas, tied together with yellow tape.
My options soon decreased to a singular course, a linear progresssion through twenty levels of hell. I walked straight in, playing it Bogart, like I'd done a hundred times before. I died. I hit the quick load key. A grenade trickled down the stairs, blew me to pieces before I could even move. This is the way the world works. It isn't about how smart or how good you are. It's chaos and luck, and anyone who thinks different is a fool. Death was cheap today.
Does The Rolling Help?
My memory was stacatto, like the rattling of a machine gun on a cold winter's night. It was like being inside a graphic novel, the words suspended above my head in little balloons as the plot unravelled around me. My face belonged to another man. The developers had photographed themselves and run the pictures through a cheap Photoshop plug-in. They looked like I felt, violated, their expressions frozen in an uneasy mix of anguish and ectasy.
The action was stacatto too. At a flick of a switch I was Neo, dancing with the bullets to their own beat. I could leap through the air sideways, making like Chow Yun Fat, an Ingrams firing from each block-like fist, shell casings tumbling to the ground in slow motion. And then there were the guns. Lots of guns, each with its own subwoofer-shaking rhythm. Shotguns, handguns, machineguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles. There were hand grenades and molotov cocktails, baseball bats and crowbars.
The more men I killed with them, the longer I could stay in Bullet Time™. It was my lucky day. There were punks around every corner, just waiting for some Payne. What they lacked in brains, they made up for in guts. I could see it on the walls, the floors. Guts everywhere, enough to go round. And when I ran out, a new group of mobsters would appear in a room that had been empty just seconds earlier. As if by magic. I needed some painkillers, fast...
The Drugs Don't Work
The drugs kicked in and the world was crystal sharp. It looked real enough, from the grimy texturing of the walls to the swirling snow in the Manhattan night, like little ice pitchforks tumbling from the ashen sky. New York, a world of subway stations, seedy mafia flophouses and corporate skyscrapers with metal detectors that flashed red as I walked through, gun in hand. All lovingly rendered in 32 bit colour with the latest bells and whistles.
It was a triumph of style over substance. You could almost forgive them the lousy plot, the diabolical dialogue and the strange looks on the faces of the goons in the cutscenes. The action was fast and furious like an overamped energizer bunny, punctuated by the ultra slow-mo of Bullet Time™ as I glided through the air, the shots lazy enough to dodge. It looked good. It felt even better.
The final shot was an exclamation mark to everything that had gone before. Just ten hours had passed, but it felt like a lifetime. Now I had the chance to go back and do it all again, Hard Boiled this time. Or battle against the clock in the New York Minute mode, every dead enemy giving me a few seconds longer to reach the exit. Only problem was, you couldn't skip the in-game cinematics the second time through. Somebody hadn't learnt from Black & White. Was it worth going through the pain again? Maybe. Just maybe.