Whatever happened to Max Payne?

News Ryan Lambie 30 Mar 2011 - 19:01

As two new images trickle forth for Max Payne 3, we ask, just when will the game be released, and will it bear any resemblance to the first two?

Remember when Max Payne was lithe and fit, and could gun down ten men while flying through the air in slow motion? I do, and the first two Max Payne games were among my favourites of the last console generation.

Its gun-crazy action scenes may have been straight out of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, but its visual stylings and revenge plot were straight out of Hollywood film noir. Better yet, Max Payne was a fantastic - if somewhat one-dimensional - central character, an embittered, murmuring ex-cop on a seemingly suicidal rampage.

After the slower selling Fall Of Max Payne in 2003, the character just disappeared from the gaming landscape. A rather dismal movie adaptation showed up in 2008, in which Mark Wahlberg skulked about with a facial expression that suggested he had a migraine, but a third videogame was nowhere to be seen.

That was until March 2009, when news arrived of a belated sequel, courtesy of Grand Theft Auto purveyors, Rockstar. Accompanying the announcement was a picture of the new-look Max Payne, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

With the third game’s events set 12 years after those of the second, Payne’s now noticeably older and paunchier. The movie star hair had fallen out, and the once athletic Payne now looked more like a Die Hard 4-era John McClane after a few weeks in a beer tent.

Originally scheduled for release in Winter 2009 (an appropriate enough launch window, given the snowy New York landscape of the first game), Max Payne 3 has been repeatedly delayed. Rescheduled for a Summer 2010 release, the game was pushed back once again to an unspecified point in 2011.

The last we heard of Max Payne 3, its third-person shooting had been relocated from New York to the sunnier climes of Sao Paulo. Rockstar confirmed in 2009 that the bullet time, pain killers and gloomy monologues that marked out the original games would be making a return, and that the Rage engine, which powered GTA IV, would also underpin Max Payne 3.

After months of eerie silence, Rockstar posted a message on Twitter, which simply said, “He’s coming”, along with a pair of images. One showed what we assume is the new-look, bald Max Payne (you can’t see his face properly) posing in an awful floral shirt.

The second showed another man discharging a firearm. This man had more hair and a beard. Is this character a younger Max Payne shown in flashback? We can only speculate.

Looking a little more closely at these images, we wonder if it’s possible that Rockstar has had a bit of a rethink. There’s a very different, more noirish air to these (admittedly sparse) shots that’s markedly different from the far sunnier ones that surfaced in 2009.

Payne himself looks a little slimmer, too, than he did two years ago, with less weight beneath that ugly shirt. This is a good sign, perhaps, since that earlier batch of shots hinted at a slower, tank-like shooter more akin to Gears Of War than the twinkle-toed Max of old.

The latest images beg numerous questions, most unanswerable. Will Max Payne 3 bear any resemblance to the first two games, given that the character himself has changed so much? Can the series still hold its own in a post-Gears world, where online shooting’s now as important a feature as an offline campaign?

Most importantly, will the ageing Max Payne still be able to gun down ten men while diving gracefully through a doorway? Rockstar’s Payne may be thickening round the middle, but we hope that, when he finally returns, he still has a spring in his step, as well as lead in his guns.

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