Today's is Max Payne, the second game I purchased for my Xbox (the first being Dead or Alive 3 - don't judge me!). This is a game I originally saw Papafred playing on his computer in the dorms. It's odd, but with some games, watching another person play them eliminates any interest I have in playing them. The Punisher, from a few years back being an example. After I watched him play that, I had no drive to get it myself. For some reason Max Payne was different.
The graphics, especially compared to what's out there today, are nothing special. The plot is fairly standard: hard-working, family man cop loses family, goes undercover, watches DEA contact die, decides to go after the ones responsible, partially for revenge, mostly because they framed him for his friend's death, and he's ready to bring them down. Permanently. It is the first game I ever saw the now standard "bullet time", which was pretty cool, even though I almost never use it when I play.
I think it's the style of the game, with the cut scenes set up like pages of a comic book (or graphic novel if you prefer). The dialogue is sometimes humorous, sometimes beautifully descriptivem but always interesting. Two quick examples:
'Gognitti ran out of steam in a dead end alley, with steam boiling out of the sewer grates like all the fires of Hell were burning high beneath us.'
'He had a baseball bat and I was tied to a chair. Pissing him off was the smart thing to do.'
I've never read much noir, or even watched all that many noir films, but that fits the perception I have of that genre, and I like it, seeing as the one skill I feel I have when it comes to writing is the ability to turn a phrase (well, that and getting to the point quickly), and so I have an appreciation for what I consider fine examples of the craft.
The way the story is presented draws me in, and in most games that's what I'm looking for, to be interested, so that I give a care. Make me care about Max, so that if he gets blown up because I stupidly had him charge into a room full of machine gun-toting goons, I'm bummed by it enough to not want to repeat the failure. Max is undoubtedly in over his head, which he shows by making the mistake of starting on the bottom rungs of the Punchinello crime family ladder, instead of aiming high. That tips his enemies off to the threat he represents, which is only making his job harder. That he's getting used to deal with traitors by a rival Russian mob, and keeps crossing paths with a revenge driven twin sister of the don's wife, people he keeps trusting despite their questionable allegiances, throws a few more torches of insight into the angry darkness Payne's soul has become. (Do you think that phrase was too much?)
The high points of the game may well be the scenes when Max is in drug-induced hallucinations, at least from a cinematic aspect. You're in a twisted facsimile of the home you and your family lived in. You can hear your wife pleading, but the hallways are a twisted maze, until you reach a nearly-empty black void. To get through it, you must follow your daughter's cries, as you run through the void on narrow trails of blood. Plus, all around you, what appear to be red snowflakes are falling, and sometimes you have to leap across the void to reach another trail. While that can be annoying, it's worth it for the atmosphere of the scene alone.
And I'm still learning things about the game, including Norse mythologic undertones I'd only recognized hints of. Your buddy in the DEA's last name was Balder, the Norse god whose death signals the coming of Ragnarok, which leaves Midgard frozen by a nightmarish winter. In the game, you've got a dead Balder, and the 'worst winter storm in New York history'. There's the Aesir Corporation, a club called Ragna Rock, and the designer drug Valkyr (I'll let you draw any connections you may wish there, rather than give everything away) added to the mix, and there's a ship called the Charon, but that's Greek, so it's a little out of place, but it is related to the underworld, so "ship of the dead" I suppose. I'm not quite sure what all this makes Max, Thor perhaps, except there was no battle with a giant serpent. The kicker is, I was able to recognize all this from having read Simonson's Thor run. Truly a wonderful collection, one that continues to enrich my life in many ways.
I think this game being so good, is what made the second one so disappointing (that and too many "keep this person alive or you fail" levels, I hate escort missions!) I remember watching Papafred play Max Payne 2, and feeling no desire to run out and buy it. It looked a little nicer, but it was lacking. . . something. Maybe they shouldn't have pushed the romantic angle so hard, I don't know. What I do know is, I thoroughly enjoy the first Max Payne, just running around, blasting criminals, interspersed with Max's wry, poetic reflections on the current situation.