I keep saying I’m a fan of over-the-top 90s stuff. That is mostly true, but in analyzing the things that make me tick I have realized something I wasn’t aware of before. Namely, that the piece of media that had the biggest effect on me came a bit later.
Max Payne. Back when it came out, this game had it all. The graphics. The gameplay. The incredible music. But what made it stand out most were its hopeless, gritty atmosphere, and highly verbose and cynical main character.
It was basically Film Noir: The Game. You had your hard-boiled main character with nothing to lose. Your set-up. Your revenge plot. But then a hallucinogenic drug got introduced, and things got seriously messed up. Basically, between the parts where he shot people and dodged bullets (Matrix style), Max had these moments of insanity where he would hallucinate the worst parts of his past (His wife and baby getting killed, mostly). And you got to play through them. Lovely.
Contrary to the idea of keeping the protagonist vague so the player would fill out holes themselves, Max Payne did the exact opposite: it reveled in how much character it had. Basically, each scene was an exercise in style. Max and the gangsters fought for their lives as well as verbal dominance. The one-liners flew with machine gun speed, and they mostly hit the mark. It was magnificent.
This seems like an exaggeration, and it probably is. In fact, a lot of characters appear, spout their lines, then get gunned down by Max. One can’t really call them three dimensional. Thing is, this is okay. They did what they came there to do, and they did it in style. Their screen time was used to the greatest effect it could possibly be used for, without derailing the plot or more important themes. We are then free to proceed further into the night, as Max would say.
In today’s world, the word “edgy” is mostly used as an insult or joke. I used it myself in such context in a recent post. People generally don’t like their media to be grim or grotesque, even when it is lined with humor. So it took me by surprise that this parade of unpleasantness was a huge hit. People seemed to love it just as much as I did. I hoped it would open the door for similar products, but they never came. Or at least arrived too late.
Max Payne got two sequels. The first one (pictured above for its awesome cover art) was pretty much more of the same, with an added focus on Mona, the resident femme fatale. The third one was made by Rockstar, the guys behind GTA, and (to most everyone’s annoyance) turned Max into Walter White. Overall both games were very good, but none reached the brilliance of the original.
So why do I like this stuff so much? I can’t say for certain, but I think it might be association. Basically, I had so much fun playing and getting immersed into the first game that I want to re-live it. Not just replay it, but experience the same intensity again. And to me, this intensity goes hand in hand with grimness and witty banter. I wasn’t aware of it for a long time, but this is the effect I was going for with my writing.
I think I actually know myself a tiny bit better now. Funny.