Agent Max Payne hit the zeitgeist square in the forehead at the turn of the Millennium. I was only sixteen when Remedy’s monologuing undercover DEA operative dropped into my life like a… well, a man diving sideways in slow motion with twin pistols blazing. It was that kind of time. The Wachowskis had, not too long before, left an indelible mark on cinema, and pop culture at large, with their stylish countercultural smash hit The Matrix. Dressing in a leather jacket while falling over and openly wielding automatic weaponry was legitimately cool, and not at all creepy. Why are you frowning like that, it’s almost like you don’t believe me.

Max Payne so desperately wanted to be a blockbuster action movie.

While it’s dubious that the game portrays gunning down legions of people as debonaire, you can’t really beat Max Payne’s eminently quick-loadable shootouts. There’s more of a puzzle game within each level than you’d twig at first glance. To realize that Max is essentially clearing rooms of mobster mooks in a form of gunfire-based Minesweeper only occurs when bullet time becomes second nature. It’s in the moments between the bullets whizzing at you that pathways and solutions take shape, in an almost Zen-like manner. If you clear a room with only two shotgun blasts instead of three, does that make you more Max?

The secret to Max Payne is its way of making extreme violence seem like an answer that can be perfected. I don’t like it, not as a parent, nor as a compassionate human being in an increasingly hostile world. Yet as a sullen teen with too much time on their hands, and a Hollywood-conditioned urge to lap up Campbellian axioms of self-inserting heroism, Max Payne was bloody awesome. It’s still a shame about those weird drug-induced platforming bits, though. You can pick up the original game from Steam for £6/$10/€10, but Remedy are remaking it and its sequel.

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