Max Payne 4: The Genesis of the Tragic Hero and “Happily Ever After”
Max Payne will have to be a comparatively different sort of killer on his next massacre.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Max. Max Payne was his full name and it sounded corny enough but he wasn’t one to let it get to his head. Max had enough problems as is – the very definition of tragic hero in any lexicon is incomplete without his name. Max has displayed traits of heroism as well as getting things done the only way he knows how: killing. The problem is that Max’s penchant for killing only really began when his wife and child were murdered more than a decade ago. While his thirst for vengeance had been sated, it also opened up a literal Pandora’s Box that engulfed him whole.
In Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, we got a glimpse of a hero who was did anything necessary to combat evil. His penchant for killing meant he had to give up ever loving again, as reflected with the death of Mona Sax. Maybe the demons were always with Max and they were just waiting to take shape. Maybe he only began to look at the world in a metaphorical fashion, describing everything in pulp fiction-esque hues of ever dirtying greys lest even the details die around him.
"It would make sense to take Max out of the confines of the linear third person shooter into something more open world."
It would seem that Max Payne found redemption in Max Payne 3. If nothing else, he found that his ability to effectively kill didn’t have to be a curse or a sorrow to drown in drink. It could be a weapon to affect real change. Instead of selfishly pursuing his own interests and vendettas, he could simply put his life on the line for nothing and walk away all the richer. The ending to Max Payne 3 was perhaps the ultimate satisfaction to a man for whom nothing could go right. It was the anti-Spec Ops: The Line – you could kill indiscriminately or you could focus all that courage on a real purpose.
Max Payne 4 is a slightly more difficult puzzle to crack. Max has moved on but the genre he helped pioneer – the stylish, third person action shoot ‘em up – has evolved. Its narrative urgencies are tested in games like Spec Ops: The Line; it’s implemented in open world sandbox settings like Grand Theft Auto V. The fifth of the GTAs is perhaps most interesting, since Rockstar Games had a hand in Max Payne 3 and the shooting mechanics directly influenced the wacky and family-friendly adventures of Michael, Trevor and Franklin. It would make sense to take Max out of the confines of the linear third person shooter into something more open world. It worked with Sleeping Dogs, which had a healthy dose of action to go with open world activities.
But it’s Max himself which is the puzzle. How do you tell the story of a tragic hero when his resolution has already been delivered? It’s the story and its presentation that defines Max. So what will be his target this time?
The most obvious story choice would be to deliver a son unto Max. Call it a long-last reunion from one of his many flings – perhaps proof that not every encounter has ends in the death of those he loves. Fresh from his resolution – and maybe having this son of his be an adult already, one involved in law enforcement – Max takes it upon himself to do well by his son. It’s also possible to have Max simply join a small outfit somewhere where he thinks he can lay low and live the rest of his days in peace – only to be called back to violence in order to protect the ideals of justice.
"Max Payne 4 could also use a Karma system. Previous games had you taking actions that didn’t do much to influence the eventual outcome."
Regardless, Max is no longer the tragic hero we knew. The very basis of bullet-time was that it allowed an unhinged man the power to fight evil – the trade-off being that his personal evils could never truly be killed. It would be odd to sacrifice the bullet time but there are many other possible mechanics Max could utilize. Max Payne 4 could have our hero using a mix of GTA 5’s assisted aiming and Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Free Flow fighting system to eliminate several foes at once with some quick button presses. This could be built up like bullet time but now requires Max to use his years of experience and knowhow to fuel it.
Take down enemies in a particularly skilled manner, be creative with your kills and before you know, the meter will be full and you’ll be able to disable several enemies in quick fashion. There could also be multiple forms of this technique depending on the situation. There could be concern of it being abused but there’s still some inherent skill required in aiming quickly and taking out foes in the blink of an eye.
Max Payne 4 could also use a Karma system. Previous games had you taking actions that didn’t do much to influence the eventual outcome. The fourth game could have Max choosing lethal and non-lethal ways to dispose of enemies, while also taking side-quests and handling them in the same fashion. Max is never far from the scummier elements of society – there may be moments where the player will never feel merciful, even if it’s the “right” thing to do.
"Max Payne may have begun as a linear, graphic novel caricature intended to stylize the genre as much as innovate it but the times have changed."
Making the final result of those actions too clear-cut is also boring – have the majority of missions and side-quest be directly capable of affecting the story in some way. And no, not in the “his friends will doubt him and kick him out way” (though if this is implemented, it should in no way be a game ender – have Max fight his way to earn their trust or be a renegade and affect change in his own way).
Each mission should also feel unique in its own right – as for the effects on the open world, it could be that the result of Max’s actions would make the public more or less distrustful of the law. It’s always been about the grey areas for Max and the fourth game will demonstrate his dilemmas on having to take a stand, whether for justice or for vigilantism.
Max Payne may have begun as a linear, graphic novel caricature intended to stylize the genre as much as innovate it but the times have changed. Max Payne 4 doesn’t have to become a new Grand Theft Auto or inFamous, but when Max has finally made the transition to being a human, his next game should reflect the trials and tribulations that real humans go through while still remaining fun and action packed.