Max Payne: Anatomy of a Character

Max Payne probably isn’t one of the best known characters in Gaming. Compared to the giant figures like Master Chief, Ezio Auditore and Cloud Strife, which leak over into other forms of media like an immigrant through a badly-maintained Border Patrol, (Take THAT America!), the unluckiest man in video games is barely a blip on the influence the industry has had on a global scale.

‘I was a dumb American in a place where dumb Americans are less popular than the clap.’
‘I was a dumb American in a place where dumb Americans are less popular than the clap.’

Despite his depressing monologues, his bitter disposition and desire to solve all his problems with a bottle of Jack, a tub of any kind of pills he can get a hold off, and a pair of badass pistols, he remains one of my favourite characters. He is well written and, though hardly what one could call ‘rounded’, he is amazing at one two types of expression, sheer, unadulterated misery, and a self-depreciating kind of rage that turns into some badass one-liners.. Perhaps the most depressing character I have ever enjoyed to play as, possibly for the fact he is so over the top with it. Sure, other characters have had periods of misery, but when it becomes a character’s entire personality it starts to become either annoying or hilarious.

‘Hey, are you Max Payne?’  ‘Something told me he wasn’t about to tell me I’d won the lottery’.
‘Hey, are you Max Payne?’
‘Something told me, he wasn’t about to tell me I’d won the lottery’.

For example, in Max Payne 3, one villain has been shot in the leg and arrested, then says ‘You know I’ll walk.’ In typical Payne style, the man, the myth, the legend himself, turns to him and says, ‘Yeah, you’ll walk… With a Limp!’ And then stamps down on his injured leg. It’s pretty standard action hero fare, but coming from the wasted figure of Max Payne, who originally looked almost like an American James Bond, it starts to become funny again. Or, at least for me.

‘I had a hole in my second favourite drinking arm’.
‘I had a hole in my second favourite drinking arm’.

Max Payne’s trilogy is a story of tragedy, with every relatively happy ending being slowly dissolved, ever half-victory taken from him, until he’s just an old bald man, with a bad beard, walking away from a mangled corpse on an air-strip. And I love Rockstar for it.

4 thoughts on “Max Payne: Anatomy of a Character

  1. Max Payne 3 sorta screwed the pooch for me and made me stop liking the character. with one and two he could admit that things could be worse and might be getting better for him, especially at the end of the second game, but with the third he’s overly miserable and becomes a caricature of what he once was. Also the line about South America being “Baghdad with bikinis” has to be among the worst lines in gaming history.

    1. Really? I thought it was so over the top that it just became hilarious! I still really love the character, even if he does become somewhat of a parody. At least he’s different enough from the completely generic protagonist, even if it is just because he’s as miserable as that donkey from Winnie The Pooh.
      Plus, I thought every other one-liner was solid gold, especially when said in that deadpan voice of his.

  2. Max Payne is one of my favorite protagonist. I don’t think the character is genuine. I found him similar to Frank Castle aka the Punisher. Their family were murdered then they took revenge. Both of them bear their own tragedy. What I feel weird in Max Payne 3 is his bald head. Why American bad-ass must cut his hair or at least shortened? Okay, some might say it is for camouflage for finding Fabiana in favela since he was the target of raid in Rodrigo building.

    1. Well, it’s that whole idea of some kind of alteration in the character’s appearance showing the change in his character. I thought it might have meant he was going to sober up, at least for the duration of the search, but within minutes of shaving his head he was sitting in a shady bar in the Favela. It kind of threw me a bit, but at least he isn’t a character who looks exactly the same throughout the entire title. You can tell, by the changing of his appearance, that the narrative is actually having an effect on the character. I’ll admit he looked better before he shaved his head, but I still like that his appearance was altered.

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