It’s hard to believe but Max Payne, the neo-noir shooter that gave us bullet time, madly over-the-top dialog, and one of the most enduringly famous scowls in all of videogames, is now 20 years old. To celebrate the big birthday, Remedy creative director Sam Lake and Max Payne voice actor James McCaffrey got together to prove that the tragic, grizzled detective has still got it.
Lake was the writer on Max Payne, but he’s also famous for providing the character’s pasted-on grimace, a visage that was likely aiming for rage but ended up somewhere closer to finding something unpleasant on the bottom of your shoe. The look was changed for the bigger-budget Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, but Lake’s mug has persisted as a sort of immediately recognizable “Max Classic.” McCaffrey’s voice is equally identified with the character, although—fun bit of trivia here—he was originally not going to be included in Max Payne 3 because Rockstar wanted someone who sounded older and more damaged for its take on a more broken-down Max. Luckily, that decision was eventually (and rightly) overturned.
And from that wonderful partnership of writer and actor, we got gems like these:
▪️ After Y2K, the end of the world had become a cliché. But who was I to talk, a brooding underdog avenger alone against an empire of evil, out to right a grave injustice? Everything was subjective. There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is a cliché when it’s happening to you.
▪️ There was no glory in this. I hadn’t asked for this crap. Trouble had come to me, in big dark swarms. The good and the just, they were like gold dust in this city. I had no illusions. I was not one of them. I was no hero. Just me and the gun and the crook. My options had decreased to a singular course.
▪️ It wasn’t about how smart or how good you were. It was chaos and luck, and anyone who thought different was a fool.
▪️ Gognitti ran out of steam in a dead end valley. with steam boiling out of the sewer grates like all the fires of hell were burning high beneath us. It was shakedown time.
▪️ Collecting evidence had gotten old a few hundred bullets back.
▪️ No minotaur lurked in this labyrinth, but somewhere out there, on the clanking deck of his cargo freighter, the skipper of the Charon was waiting, like the ferryman of the River Styx.
▪️ I had a bullet with Nicole Horne’s name on it. I had ten thousand bullets with the hag’s name on them. She had ultra high-tech security systems, enough mercenaries and weaponry to start World War III. There was no fear.
▪️ Your rights will be read at your funeral.
Man, I love Max Payne.
I’ve said before (just recently, in fact) that despite not living up to expectations, Max Payne 3 is a worthy addition to the series (and source of great quotes in its own right: “I’d killed more cops than cholesterol and still no sign of Becker. It wasn’t the first time it dawned on me I should probably have gone over the plan in more detail, but it was too late for that now.“) and for anyone looking for a place to jump in, that’s probably the entry point these days.
But as Andy Kelly put it in his 20-year retrospective, the original remains an action masterpiece: “Time has not dulled the game’s sense of humour, attention to detail, and gloriously cinematic combat.”
Happy birthday, Max!