"Bring the Payne!" - a MAX PAYNE Retrospective

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Max Payne Retrospective

Dreams Have a Nasty Habit of Going Bad When You’re Not Looking

The computer’s dim purr evaporates into nothingness as the final button press turns the last of my enemies into a bloodstain on the wall. How did I reach this point? It all started eleven years ago. I was young, naïve, innocent. My world was about to be turned upside down by a nightmare that built into a crescendo of carnage.

The machine whizzes like an impatient drug fiend looking to score, noisy and brimming with nervous energy as I provide it with its fix. Max Payne. I had heard the name in hushed circles. It crept through the school walls, invading my every waking thought. I was consumed by bloodlust and gave in to the urge. A cesspit of corruption, crime and carnal lust awaited me. My finger was restless on the trigger as I levelled my pistol.

I was in a world not quite my own, consuming itself with the appetite of a voracious vulture feeding on violence. Not too long before I’d had a wife and kid. They had been swallowed up with everything else that was sacred in this city. A new designer drug, Valkyr, was running rampant on the weak and the desperate, preying on their desires and exposing the truth behind their facade.

I had a front row seat to hell and a loaded pistol was my date. I drifted along streets paved with sin and lust, curing the wicked of their disease with a bullet injection. Time stood still for what felt like hours. It must have been seconds but the adrenaline coursing through my veins like a river of fire had a way of making me see things differently. I shot a path to hell, carrying the lament of the innocent and weary with me as I painted the road red with the blood of the corrupt.

I worked my way through the minions and the acolytes, finding respite in every reload before returning to rain fury onto the mob’s rank and file. I was searching for the big fish, the shark amongst the shrimp. Lupino lured me further into his lair. I gunned him down in 10 seconds and forgot about him in 5.

Then I met her. Mona Sax. An acid trip on legs. She put me to sleep while my eyes took her to bed. I awoke from a crimson coated nightmare surrounded by a hovel of corruption. Secret experiments and corporate conspiracies race by like a cheetah on crack. I kill my way to the Inner Circle, my mind awash in a sea of destruction, my body guided by a Russian named Lem. Things were about to go from bad to worse.

The Circle sent me to assassinate a ruthless suit named Horne, but hired goons flew through the door like an unwanted surprise instead. I escaped with my life and wandered, lost, into an elevator right into her sights. Mona Sax. Our reunion didn’t last long. A bullet to the head brought me crashing back down to Earth. All that was left was to finish what I had started.

I stopped Horne’s escape by destroying that which she had built, her empire literally collapsing around her like a mountain turned to dust. My nightmare was over, my story finished and my safety guaranteed by a society hidden in shadows even as the police led me from the scene of my crimes.

You Can’t Run From Your Past. You’ll End Up Running in Circles

It was two years later. I was sat in front of a black box with a control pad in my hand. A different vehicle leading to a new dread. The screen lit up like the eyes of a serial killer as he lunges at his victim. Max Payne 2. It had been a long time coming. For a while I even believed that I was free to live my life with only the torment of my memories to remind me of my last bullet-riddled fantasy.

But here I was, lying in a hospital bed and wondering just how in the hell I had gotten here. My mind wandered and I was snapped back to my life as an NYPD detective. I had quit the DEA after the events of two years ago, but I could never truly escape the grip of organised crime. I wasn’t chasing somebody else’s high anymore. Instead I was hunting down men who killed for a living. The other side of my coin. The sinful Yin to my “heroic” Yang.

They called themselves the Cleaners. I had tracked them down to a warehouse deep in the heart of a city I had long thought heartless. Instead I found one as black as night and these were the men who kept it ticking. I shot a path through the facility, just another day on the job. Then she appeared. A spectre from a blood-soaked story, back from the dead and hitting me like a punch to the gut. Mona.

We took her to the station. She had a rap sheet as long as my arm and the attitude that said she would do it all again if we pushed her. We didn’t have to. The Cleaners came back and Mona slipped into the night. I couldn’t resist. I was drawn to her, my ship long since crashed on her jagged rocks. When I found her, they found us. The Cleaners again. We slaughtered our way out and decided to investigate the attacks ourselves.

Our search led us to a construction site. A smokescreen of progress in a city that was crumbling under the weight of corruption. The Cleaners ran as we rained down on them like the horsemen of the apocalypse, but we hadn’t counted on Detective Winterson. A gun pointed at the head of Mona brought a bullet to the chest from my 9mm. Mona escaped as Winterson took her final revenge. A blast for my betrayal put me on my back and I woke up in a sterile daze.

My old associate Lem made his return. He had provided aid and ammunition in my war against Lupino, but now we were on different sides of the fight. I discovered that the Cleaners worked for Lem and he was less than impressed that I had been clearing out their ranks. To make matters worse, Winterson was his mistress. When it rains it pours and this rain pierced my skull in the form of a bullet to the head from the barrel of Lem’s gun.

I wasn’t finished yet. Mona rescued me from a towering inferno that was to be my ticket to Hades and took me to save Alfred Woden from the Cossack’s coup. Like a flash Mona put me on my back. She had me exactly where she wanted me, staring down the barrel of her gun courtesy of Woden himself. Her hesitation heralded my saviour, but Lem had other ideas. His first shot hit Mona and his second killed Woden. His third was saved for me but the girl had bought me some time. The fire fight built to a horrifying crescendo and, in the end, Lem was dead and I was the knight in shining armour for the dying princess in my arms. Finally it was all over.

I Don’t Believe in Heaven. I Believe in Pain. I Believe in Fear. I Believe in Death

I walked into the cinema and found seat after seat filled with the wretched children of the damned. Excitable chatter filled the air and my feet were sticking to the floor as I made my way to my chair. I sat down to be faced with a blank screen. Soon it would be filled with my worst fears. A fresh horror.

The screen lights up and, for nearly two hours, I’m absorbed back into the world of Max Payne. Only things aren’t as they were. I wake up in a river with an icy chill doing a tap dance on my spine. How did I get here? Suddenly I’m back at the NYPD, trying to avenge my wife and son’s death. What is this? I had already killed that drug-peddling scum Lupino. I had betrayed the NYPD. How could I be back here?

I was reliving what had come before, only now things were different. My family were still dead. The more things change the more they stay the same. But things were not as they had been. I saw Mona for the first time since she had died in my arms, only now she had a sister. Natasha Sax. Every bit as seductive as her sister and twice as confident about it. I resisted her advances and she wound up dead and discarded on the streets of New York. Another death I couldn’t stop.

Instead of investigating the deaths of my family I was thrust into the story of Natasha. My friend Alex was back by my side, investigating the case. He dies again. A different course leading to the same hell. During the search my path crosses Mona’s again. She’s coiled up like a spring and ready to fire in my direction. It takes me some time to convince her that Natasha didn’t die at my hands, but it makes me feel no less guilty. We join forces again in a never-ending fight against the cesspool of crime in the city. We have to find out who is behind this.

From here it’s a familiar story. Lupino, Aesir Pharmaceuticals, Nicole Horne, Valkyr. I’m living a lie based on a kernel of my previous truth. Lupino dies at the hands of my mentor B.B as he tries to drug me, leaving me free to wage my personal war with Aesir for introducing this filth to the scum of the streets.

Treachery follows on my heels like a rabid bloodhound. No sooner has B.B saved my life than he reveals himself as the true force behind the drug. My future is like looking into a black hole. A bleak, obsidian void from which there is no escape. Icy water feels my lungs. It feels like a dagger cutting a swathe through my body. But they don’t finish the job. I’m left to die but the Valkyr that damned my family was to be my saviour. The rush from the drug helps me to escape my icy tomb and I set my sights on B.B.

My chase continues and the story reaches its climax. My life is a tormented tragedy but my rage pulls me through. With the help of Mona I finally confront B.B. His bullets ravage my body but, when all is said and done, he becomes just another victim of Valkyr. For a single, brief moment I see my family. But my time has not come yet. There is still Aesir and Nicole Horne to deal with…

The trance is over, ended faster than the crack of a whip. I leave this coven of the ruined and emerge to be greeted by the inky night sky. I’m not sure what I’ve just experienced but I’m glad it’s over. It’s all, finally over…

It Wasn’t Pretty, But I Guess None of What Was About to Happen Was Gonna Be

It all started with social media. The burden of our era and the means for the sort of people who need to know everything to communicate with the sort of people who don’t have secrets to hide. All I knew was that Max Payne’s story had not yet ended.

It all starts with bodyguard work in Sao Brazil. From there I’m to be sent into a downward spiral as my work provides the catalyst for the retelling of the eight years that have passed since I brought the Inner Circle to their knees. I’m not quite sure what awaits me. I just know that I’ll be ready to greet it with a smile and a shotgun when it arrives. Come May 2012 the book of Max Payne reopens for another bloodstained chapter...

MAX PAYNE 3 is out now on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, from Rockstar Games.

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