Happy 20th birthday to original bullet time superstar Max Payne
Remedy’s first Max Payne game turns 20 today, which, especially for this article, means I can’t make a joke that it’s now old enough to do X or Y. 20 is an age for garbage for milestones. But I just looked up and found out that in America you only need to be 18 to buy a shotgun (what?!). This means that the game’s Max Payne is already old enough to, in slow motion, jump sideways as he shoots a shell directly into the face of a Mafia agent. I think that’s sort of what Max himself would have wanted. Good day bullet time to you!
Ball time is what Max Payne (a pun) is most famous for, of course. Other games had done slow-mo business before, but this insanely over-the-top neo-noir gunstravaganza was the first where you’d say, “Horn, I’m like Neo out of The Matrix!” while you did it. Although really, the influence can be traced back to the absolutely fantastic John Woo action flicks, which you should all be watching right now.
In an interview with IGN in 2003, Petri Järvilehto, then chief game designer for Remedy, said, “Even in the early prototypes of the game, we thought slow motion should be a part of full gameplay since it was just plain gameplay. so cool to run in a hallway with two berettas shooting in slow motion. ”
He is! And its influence was such that if you go back and play the original Max Payne today, you can basically draw a line between Max Payne’s bullet time in 2001 and the Dead Eye in Red Dead Redemption 2 decades ago. later.
There are other reasons to go back and play Max Payne, obviously, and I would recommend it if you’ve never done so (it’s currently, like, £ 2 on Steam as part of a sale, but is normally just over five). Max is a New York City cop who comes home one day to find his wife and granddaughter were murdered by tinkerers, and Jones the DEA to go after bad drug dealers. His life doesn’t make sense, and it shows because he stops wearing costumes and starts wearing a shitty necklace. Eventually, Max infiltrates the Punchinello crime family (another pun) and, due to a hilarious incident at a subway station, finds himself on the run both from the Mafia and the police.
Overall, it’s the best mix of wacky and ridiculous. The cutscenes are done as comic book panels, which were clearly a lot of fun to photograph (Max’s face is provided by Sam Lake, now Remedy’s creative director, and is constantly crumpled up in an “I DIDN’T ASK FOR. THIS! “Grimaces the lake recreated today). The writing also contains lines like “The sun sets with bravado practiced” which is absolutely amazing. And you can listen to the idle groans of your enemies before you pass around the corner and they notice you, at which point someone will shout, “IT’S PAYNE!” right before you slow down and watch the balls slowly slip past you.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about revisiting her now is that bullet time in Max Payne isn’t really a special special power in the same way it is now. You can’t do this indefinitely, and there’s a cooldown, but it’s pretty generous. In practice, you can do this whenever you want, with the click of a button. It’s just something you do. It’s like Max just has an innate ability to be really cool.
You can avoid the bullets because they leave small traces where they pass through the air. Your enemies crumble, also in slow motion, like puppets whose strings are cut. Along with the bullet time comes not only the slowing down of every sound into comedic moans, but also the steady slow beating of a heartbeat. I can’t lie: it rocks, even 20 years later.
Compare that to your Red Dead Redemption 2 Dead Eye, where you can target baddies in slow motion before pulling the trigger to fire them all one at a time. It’s very satisfying, but it’s not that intimate, you know? And to fill your Dead Eye, you have to take tobacco as normal colored teeth go out of fashion, so there is a more economical limit to your own divine fashion. Cowboy games love bullet time, by the way; a version of it appears in the Call Of Juarez and Gun series, the latter being a nostalgic favorite of mine.
The more you think about it, the more examples you can think of. There’s the TVA system, notable for using super slow motion instead of a time freeze in Fallout 4. This is governed by your character’s action points – how many things you can do in one turn – where you can use computer targeting to aim, in green – tinted slow motion, at specific parts of the body. Probably the best version of it, however, is in Fear, or FEAR or FEAR, depending on your preference. It’s in first person, has a great intro and ending sound – that kind of sci-fi byoooooo-ooooop! – and feels as immediate as Max Payne. And, arguably, Superhot is the only game where bullet time is the entire game, even more so than the Max Payne series.
Because that’s kind of what it is in Max Payne. It’s not just cool, it’s essential for playing the game. Max is pretty squishy compared to your average current action protagonist, so if you don’t use and master bullet time you’ll die enough. quickly. He’s just a Noo Yoik cop, who knows how to shoot two berettas at the same time! He’s not a Superman! In 2018, Lake told ScreenRant that Remedy won’t be making another Max Payne game, which is fair enough. They’re busy doing other cool stuff like Control, after all. Remedy made Max Payne 2, where bullet time had a few layers added, before the series was definitely handed over to Rockstar, who made Max Payne 3 in 2012.
But I don’t think anyone will ever forget the original. The game that started it all. The first to make us feel like a cool hero, down with his lucky hero who was nonetheless supernaturally good at killing people. IT’S PAYNE!