Time + New Developer = Change?

If you’ve seen the Max Payne 3 screenshots and various other tidbits of information this week, you’re probably wondering what exactly happened to the dark, angry man with a bit of stubble and the ability to slow down time, and who this fat bearded man staggering around Brazil is. I don’t know about you, but that looks like design blasphemy to me, and to those who followed the cop down the dark path in the first two titles it may seem like Link suddenly changing gender and using an Uzi to take out Ganondorf from a Harley Davidson.

Duke Nukem Forever had a thirteen-year gap between the last title and the now-cancelled one. But, by taking a close look at the demo reel that finally showed up only weeks before the game was completely cancelled showed a Duke that, by and large, hadn’t really changed at all. This return to form was the main reason the Duke community seem so up in arms about the fact the game has been cancelled; they saw a teasing glimpse of a character who had remained unchanged while a decade of change in the videogames industry had gone past, and they clung onto him for dear life.

It’s not a fear of change, as such, it’s simply a gamer becoming attached to a character who means something to them, as they take this character through ten, twenty, a hundred hours of gameplay, buying them new items and showing them new places. When you’ve helped Mario save Princess Peach a hundred times, and all of a sudden he turns up with a water gun strapped to his back, you’ve got every right to feel confused. It’s not Mario, to you, because his strength lay in the fact he never needed equipment to match the physical capabilities of his various antagonists. Personally, I loved Super Mario Sunshine, but I’ll be the first to admit that it was a relief to see him without a backpack in Super Mario Galaxy.

So what’s going on with Max, then? According to the details we have so far, it could be various things, but I’ll give you the biggest clue: it’s being developed by Rockstar in-house, and not by Remedy, this time around. Change developer and you change staff, more often than not, and you risk losing the vital cogs in the machine that make games what they are, and their characters who they are. Mario games would be horrendous if Miyamoto had no input whatsoever, and for all their immature female costume disasters, Ninja Gaiden may see significant changes after the departure of Itagaki.

His relocation to Brazil is questionable at best, the shanty towns we can see in screenshots both official and scanned from Game Informer seem to indicate that the developers are taking more cues from Resident Evil 4 than the previous games in the series they’re supposed to be propelling forward into the future. To quote Rockstar’s VP of Development, Jeronimo Barrera; "some people say ‘Max is a noir game and has to be black and white in new York,’ but noir is not necessarily saxophones and big dark shadows. It’s looking at the world in a bleak way. That’s what we’re doing."

Let’s take a moment to analyse that statement, because honestly I find many faults in his argument. Noir, as an aesthetical tradition, involves several things. Even Wikipedia will tell you that, first and foremost, lighting plays a HUGE part in noir film and the style in general, and I’m at a loss as to why Rockstar felt this needed to change. To me, they seem to be taking their design cues more from games like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in terms of lighting, setting and visual style than noir. Noir IS dark, moody lighting, shadows and saxophones. I’m sorry Barrera, but both seventy-plus years of cinema and myself are strongly disagreeing with your suspiciously "new and improved" definition of the visual style that made Max Payne such a refreshing experience.


The change of voice actor is puzzling as well, as Max is only actually twelve years older at this point, and speaking of a voice actor who was already audibly (and factually) into his forties, portraying a man in his fifties isn’t the biggest stretch of acting. Considering the man is now pushing fifty, would it really have hurt to have kept him on? The worrying theme becoming so apparent with new titles is that developers are of the mind that only through refreshing and rebuilding a franchise from scratch, can it be brought into contemporary gaming society. This is ridiculous; Space Invaders Extreme was a refreshing spin on an old concept, but we still embrace the original for its brilliance. So why not Max?

It’s easy to call bullshit on titles like Max Payne 3, to rant and talk about how we’d do it better. I’m no developer, but I’d simply never have changed any of the stylistic landmarks the first two titles set down. Max Payne, the original, was art. It was so much more than a simple gaming experience, and it needs care and attention to survive. Barrera’s claim that Max Payne needs to "evolve" is an interesting one at that: the thought that a game needs to "evolve" its ideas in order to survive.

Is it the fact almost every game uses the "bullet-time" mechanic now? Arguably, the game now has no tricks to show us that haven’t already been shown by a hundred other games, albeit at far lower quality and smacking of plagiarism. But I just can’t shake the feeling that Max Payne wouldn’t have changed had it not been taken over and brought in-house by Rockstar. It’s like watching It’s a Wonderful Life, shaking with anger as the quaint, wonderful downtown bank gets taken over by the corporate machine, ruining lives, and Christmas. The machine is moving again, but unfortunately I think by the time they realise the cogs don’t fit, there’ll be black fanboy smoke everywhere.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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