Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Don’t replay Max Payne. 2001’s coolest game in the known universe is all a bit Tommy Wiseau in 2017.
The first Max Payne always straddled/stumbled wildly back and forth across the line between tongue-in-cheek and actually ridiculous, of course. An argument could convincingly be made that the dialogue and voicework was satirical of hard boiled tropes, or just as convincingly that it was that pot-boiler nonsense.
The game was so state-of-the-art back then, with its photo-real faces and bullet time combat, that I forgave a multitude of sins and endorsed any claim that Max Payne knew exactly what it was doing. The absurd writing and Just 17 photo diary cutscenes were obviously deliberately silly, as a purposeful counter-point to all that technical slickness. “The sun set with practiced bravado,” we echoed fondly down the pub as evening fell. “The pills would numb the pain,” we growled as we swigged our Heineken. Then we clustered around 14″ monitors to watch others play it, because it looked so cool
That was then and this now. Some games age well, but I tend to find that those which pursue photo-reality (or what our minds tell us looks so close to real at the time, even if later years’ games prove us entirely wrong) don’t stand the test of time as well as those which are more stylised. Quake, for example, just looks better and better as the years go by.
Max Payne, sadly, is now a game in which a blockheaded, puppety man with locked elbows helplessly knocks over anything he moves close to, occasionally throws himself to the ground in the manner of a shop dummy being knocked over, and appears in static cutscenes that look like they were made in a free DIY comics app. Even the menu and loading screens look like someone spent five minutes applying every filter in Photoshop.
There’s nothing wrong with games ageing. There’s nothing wrong with yesterday’s amazing being today’s haggard old mess. But we shouldn’t always romanticise the past. Max Payne was a game of its time: it did its job and we have moved far beyond it now. I salute it, but I never, ever want to play it again.