26 April 2010

Max Payne - Xbox

This game had me at "Rain Dogs."
"Rain Dogs" is one of the better albums by Tom Waits. People who don't know Tom Waits should look him up; but most people who are going to appreciate him already know his stuff.
In a scene near the middle of the game one of the thugs I was about to murder sings a lyric from the title track of that album. The scene in the game takes place in an alley and it's raining at the time.
I had to pause the game to make sure I heard it correctly. Tom Waits isn't obscure, but he is on the fringe. To hear a lyric from one of his songs in a video game was a shock, even for someone such as myself who had been preaching about the artistic leanings of video games for years. This was likely a throwaway piece of dialogue stitched into the script by a Waits fan on the development team, but it spoke to the kind of people who make video games. People who appreciate art. (Or, to be fair, people who appreciate the art that I appreciate.)
Max Payne continued to wade into unfamiliar territory. My oldest niece, a Manhattan dweller, found it interesting to see how the game interpreted the big city. Friends of mine who aren't into gaming but love film noir were taken in by the over-the-top storyline.
I liked the voice acting and the graphic novel presentation, but what I liked best was unapologetic violence and how it was milked for every drop of cinematic impact possible. The game looks goofy now - Max looks like a paper character pasted onto the background - but it's still a tight shooter with excellent "wow" moments. I remember playing through it when it came out and feeling like I was being let in on something nasty. Rockstar games catch a lot of heat for their violence and anti-social sensibilities, but the one thing nearly every Rockstar game does that almost none other can is allow the player to feel like they're being let in in a secret. Remember how you felt when you first saw Pulp Fiction? Remember that feeling of watching something different, something cool and something a little bit dangerous? No one does that like the people at Rockstar. GTA gets all the press, but Max Payne wrote the book.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

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