Script: Max Payne

Hello, people visiting Playthroughline! My name is Craig and I'm an author of abridged scripts on The Editing Room, where Joannes’ movie parodies are published. Joannes has kindly allowed me to contribute a Short Script to his site, and I have chosen the classic third-person shooter Max Payne. I was originally going to use this space here to go through one of my recurring video game rants, to be specific, a defence of linear gameplay. After all, games don't come much more linear than Max Payne. But the thrust of that particular rant is the idea of tight narrative focus, and in abridging Max Payne, one thing I realised was that "tight narrative focus" is not a term you'd use to describe it at all. If it were to focus on its story, it'd probably last about half an hour. Instead it rambles, inventing an endless series of feeble justifications for action set pieces which have nothing whatsoever to do with the central story. The restaurant fire, the robbery of the Charon, the parking garage showdown, the hotel drug deal, all of these things and more could be lifted right out and you'd hardly notice the difference.

And the more I thought about it, the more this little diatribe changed its topic to the bewildering question: why in the world do I like this game so much?

It’s not just that the story is a mess. The tone is all over the place, with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that clashes awkwardly with its otherwise painful sincerity. The comic-book cutscenes are an amateurish celebration of Sam Lake's inability to act. The gameplay consists of two mechanics, shooting people and bullet time (a.k.a. shooting people, only slower). And it's really, really pretentious (although another personal rant that I won't go into now is that "pretentious" isn't such a bad thing to be really).

So on the face of it, academically, Max Payne is a bit of a trainwreck. But I've played it about five or six times and I imagine I'll play it a dozen times more. What is it about this thing that draws me in? I don't enjoy it "ironically" or for "camp value", I legitimately like playing it. Why?

I, uhh, actually have no idea.

This is not as valueless a conclusion as it seems on the face of it. Personally, I think it's one thing people need to own up to about the things they enjoy. We as a species like to justify ourselves. If we like something (or dislike something), it makes us feel better to be able to intellectually reason out why it's good (or bad). More perversely, if somebody likes something we don't, or doesn't like something we do, we like to ascribe them motivations unrelated to the work's actual quality (they like The Decemberists because they're hipsters trying to look smart; they don't like Braid because they're too dumb to appreciate it).

But if we're honest with ourselves, no matter how valid our praises or criticisms, they're just a smokescreen for the fact that we like video games and movies and whatnot for the same reason we like ice cream or the colour blue: because they push the unique set of invisible buttons in our heads. And nothing illustrates that point like a thoroughly enjoyable piece of utter garbage like Max Payne.

See, Sam Lake? I can do pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo too!
See, Sam Lake? I can do pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo too!

Note: if you'd like to reach out to Craig to shower praise upon his work or call him out for being facetious or whatever, you can contact him at craig.nhi at gmail dot com.




Great review. I have been playing this for 10 years now and each time I've went through it, I've noticed more and more that the story is a mess. All the Norse mythology pieces really came out once I started reading into it and then I recognized the names. The entire story basis is straight up from there. With the filler thrown in (the drug deal, the Charon ship robbery, car park level) I don't know why I love this game so much. When I was younger I thought it had the coolest story ever, then when I got older and continued to play, I found myself laughing at the dialogue. (The weird piece of paper looked dangerous/colder than a walking fridge, cold as a gun).

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