For Neo, moving faster than bullets was a matter of realizing the Matrix's rules could be bent. For most of our video game heroes, bullet time is a popular mechanic that has appeared on titles like Max Payne, Red Dead Redemption, Vanquish and more.
It's not possible to slow down time and perform amazing feats—not yet, anyway. Still, most of us have probably experienced that feeling of time slowing down. We know it as the result of a severe adrenaline rush. It's the closest we have to approaching bullet time in real life, and arguably what bullet time is based on. And there's a reason it happens.
Our adrenaline starts pumping when we're in danger, or when we're scared. What follows is that more information is committed to memory by the brain (the amygdala to be specific) in an effort to help us keep safe. This memory overload makes our recollections seem richer and denser than they actually were.
It's an illusion that tricks your brain into thinking that the more memory it has of an event, the longer it took to pan out. Time slows down for you, only it doesn't in reality.
When we get older, time seems to fly. This is based on a similar phenomenon to the one drawn above. We store more memories from childhood because every experience is fresh, and there's more information to soak up. Experiences we have when we're older are at risk of being lost in the fray, because we've racked up so many similar-looking ones already. This is why childhood seems to take forever and adulthood seems to zip by.
Giving us false memories, deceiving us into thinking time moves slower (or faster!) than it actually does: the brain is pretty
crazy amazing, eh?
Max Payne's life might be full of misery, but at least the special effects are pretty awesome.
Max Payne: Bloodbath [YouTube]
I've seen it far too many times. A video game character leaps from the top of a staircase, flying through the air, guns blazing. One enemy drops to the ground, then two, then three! Behind him, a grenade explodes, laying waste to the spot where he was just standing.
Bullets whizz through the air, metal-jacketed death buzzing past like so many hornets. By the time he hits the ground, everyone in the room is dead. He stands up, dusts himself off, and without a word... just keeps on truckin'.
Dude. Not even a word about the fucking amazing stunt you just pulled off?
Sometimes I want to grab video game characters and shake them.
Video game characters rarely seem like they're having a good time. They never seem overly impressed by the incredible odds they're overcoming, the amazing battles they're singlehandedly winning, the ridiculously difficult acrobatics they perform so regularly.
Max Payne, Marcus Fenix, Lara Croft, Rico Rodriguez, the GTA heroes… they rarely if ever seem all that stoked about the incredible moves they execute on a regular, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. Would it kill them to seem at least a little bit impressed by their own badassery?
The scene I described up top was more or less a scene from Max Payne 3, a game in which constant, insane action sequences are always followed by Max brooding to himself about how much of a fuckup he is.
A friend and I were having a laugh the other day over a scene that happens near the middle of the game. Max is sneaking up on some goons in a parking garage, at which point his voice-over sarcastically mocks his "trademark grace" as he knocks over a barrel and gets noticed. Immediately after doing that, he proceeds to do the most hilariously graceful and amazing thing I've ever seen, shooting a valve, grabbing a chain that then HAPPENS to start pulling him up to the ceiling because he shot the random valve, and then mowing down like eight dudes in slow-mo on two separate levels of the garage before landing... and going about his grumpy, hungover day.
If he had ended that sequence with the voiceover, "Okay, maybe I'm not so graceless," I would have been on the floor laughing. Instead, it was just gritty business as usual.
I'm not asking for a constant string of meta-commentary or anything. But would it kill video game characters to just occasionally mention how completely rad the thing they just did was? One of the most fun things in a video game, particularly a cinematic action game, is that sense of "Oh holy eff, I just DID THAT." And yet the characters never share that with us, they grimace and frown, they smell the fart and go on with their lives.
When a character in a game does respond to what just happened, it feels disproportionately refreshing, like a sip of water in a desert. At the end of the amazing collapsing building segment of Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake laughs and says, "We were almost in that!" More recently, in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, there's an early scene when an insanely powerful airdrop wipes out a horde of advancing soldiers, and the soldier I was controlling wryly muttered, "Well… that worked."
The fact that I laughed at that (pretty dumb) line indicates how much I want someone to acknowledge what's happening on screen. Why don't more games do this kind of thing? Is it simply that the events of a game are so outlandish that writers fear that acknowledging their awesomeness would serve to make them seem silly? I don't think it would. These kinds of video games are supposed to be awesome. It's okay to have some fun with it.
Look, I know. "Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions." In movies, on TV - this kind of stuff happens all the time. A cool badass character does something badass, and by definition he has to act all cool about it. It's what we expect of our cool badasses!
But there are moments, great moments, when that cool veneer cracks—think Neo saying "Woah" or "I know Kung Fu" in The Matrix. In the (fantastic) Disney film Tangled, there is a hysterical scene in which the character Flynn winds up in a sword-fight with Maximus, who is... a horse.
"You should know that this is the strangest thing I've ever done!" Flynn enthusiastically shouts as he parries the attacks of a sword-wielding horse. Ha! That gag and the lines from The Matrix are so great because for a few brief moments, we the audience are let in on the joke. The writers take a moment to tell us that it's okay to be super jazzed about all the awesome stuff happening on screen. I'd love to see more games do that.
I mean, if I single-handedly wiped out an entire platoon of alien soldiers, then hopped onto the side of one of their tanks, fought my way to the cockpit and piloted the thing off a cliff before leaping in slow-mo to safety at the last possible second, I think I'd do what any rational, red-blooded human would do: Look around frantically and shout, "TELL me someone saw that shit!"
Then I'd probably call my mom.
"Mom, you will not believe what I just did. Okay wait, let me back up. There's something you should know about me: Turns out, I AM AWESOME."
And yet it is. This video by Michael Shanks (the same man behind that great Box-Art Brawl video from last week) depicts the high's and lows, mostly lows, of Mr. Max Payne's day-to-day life.
Yes, it's a joke that's been done before. Perhaps too many times. And yet the execution here is pretty damned funny.
(See what I did there, with the "Execution?" Oh, yeah.)
Be sure to check in on Amazon today for their gold box deal—Max Payne 3 for $39.99—as well as lightning deals available throughout the day. [Amazon]
Released: June 19.
Critic: JabbaTheSlush (Metacritic)
• "[T]his is a solid one out of ten."
Score: 1 (out of 10).
Critic: Kadeemluvmusic (Metacritic)
• "... [a] bad flavor of a chocolate Call of Duty mud cake."
Critic: somebody worried (Amazon)
• "This review is based off of 4 youtube reviews, and about 8 magazine reviews as I do not own a Kinect."
Score: 1 star.
Released: June 1.
Critic: diesbildnis (Metacritic)
• "[E]ssentially Duck Hunt 2012 with swearing and long cut scenes."
Released: June 12
Critic: ilikeeverything (Metacritic)
• "I really like this game because it feels French and I kinda like French things every now and then like French fries. "
Alex Moullé-Berteaux, the head of marketing at Rockstar Games, is out after five years at the company. While some may tie this to the perception that the well-reviewed Max Payne 3 has not proven to be the blockbuster of a Grand Theft Auto or a Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar says the split was amicable and not tied to sales. "After five years with Rockstar Games, Alex Moullé-Berteaux has resigned in order to pursue his own personal projects," a spokesperson said. "Alex was a highly valued member of the Rockstar family, and we wish him all the best in future endeavors."
Rockstar continues to promote Max Payne 3 and expand it with downloadable content that's supposed to run through the fall. Next for them seems to be Grand Theft Auto V which will be promoted to gamers with a new Rockstar marketing man or woman at the helm.
In addition to my job here at Kotaku, I work very hard on a bestselling, fictional series of video game novelizations. Last year, I published a gripping, lusty novel based on The Witcher 2. This year, I've been hard at work putting the finishing touches on my next novel based on Max Payne 3, tentatively titled Max Payne 3: The Flesh of Fallen Angels: The Novel.
Would you like to read an excerpt? You would? Okay! Here you go, an excerpt from chapter 9 of the book, in which one New Jersey mob boss hatches an insanely ambitious plan to kill Max. I hope you enjoy it.
"They killed my son! They killed my boy!"
Boss Anthony DeMarco was furious, inconsolable. His son Tony was dead at the hands of some ex-cop deadbeat named Payne. In one instant, the DeMarco family line had been snuffed out, and Anthony had lost a son. Payback was going to be a bitch.
"We are gonna get this guy, this... Payne," DeMarco fumed. "We are going to make him pay, Tommy!"
Tommy Marcotti looked his boss. In his fifteen years serving as the DeMarco's top lieutenant, he'd never seen the old man like this. Boss DeMarco was so furious he was drooling on himself, so mad his hands were shaking.
"Okay, boss," Marcotti said. "We'll put all our boys on it. Let's come up with a battle plan. We've got some intelligence that Payne is visiting his dead wife's grave at a graveyard in Jersey." Marcotti pulled out a overhead map of the vast Jersey graveyard that the DeMarcos kept on hand.
"There may be another guy with him, some guy named Passos. So, two of them. We'll send out Bobby and those two boneheads he hangs out with to take Payne out at his wife's grave."
"What about if he gets past them?" DeMarco asked, his voice still edging into a scream. "Then what?"
"Take it easy, boss," Marcotti said. "We've got all kinds of contingency plans." He pointed to a spot on the map. "We'll have five guys backing up Bobby's three guys, so there'll be eight guys at the first part of the cemetery. Then we'll have five more guys backing them up, and Tony B. will be on triple-backup in a car, in case they get through those first guys."
"Okay," DeMarco said, "but what if they get by all of those guys?"
"Past the grave is a rotunda," Marcotti explained, tapping a circular shape on the graveyard map. "So, we'll stack up Benny and his boys near stairs leading up to it. Benny's got a huge grenade launcher, and he's got six guys with him with four more for backup. So in addition to the fourteen guys we first sent after Payne, we'll have eleven guys with Benny at the rotunda."
"Twenty-five guys.," DeMarco said, his shoulders loosening a bit. "Keep going."
"We'll have ten more guys pull up behind the rotunda and fan out from there, with five more guys behind them."
"So, a total of forty guys so far?"
"Yeah, give or take."
"I don't want you to underestimate this fucker," said DeMarco, standing up. "He's pretty dangerous."
"We ain't gonna underestimate him," said Marcotti, reassuringly.
"I do have one question," said DeMarco, who seemed reassured. "What's to stop Payne from just running out of the graveyard in a different direction?"
"That won't happen," said Marcotti.
"Okay," said DeMarco, lost in thought. "You've convinced me. Go on."
"There's another rotunda after the first one," Marcotti explained, "So we'll send Junior and his boys there. He's got eight guys, all armed to the teeth, so between the nine of them they can probably hold the rotunda. We'll have a backup team of five in place, though, in case something goes wrong."
"After that," he continued, pointing to a building on the map, "there's an approach to a mausoleum. I'm gonna plant Frankie up top with a high-powered sniper rifle, so he can take Payne out if he gets past the fourteen guys at the second rotunda. But just in case, we'll put eight of his boys down in the building below."
"But what if Payne gets past them?" asked DeMarco.
"Well, we'll have three more guys hiding inside the building in case Payne and his friend go inside. Which brings me to the next part of the plan. We'll catch 'em at the Mausoleum and bring them to you, just like you wanted. Piece of cake."
"Good," said DeMarco, his eyes widening. "This is the good part. I wanna watch those fuckers beg."
"So," continued Marcotti, "while all our guys were fighting at the grave, and the first rotunda, and the parking lot, and the second rotunda, and the mausoleum, you and me set up the gravesite like you wanted. It'll be real dramatic. Once the boys at the mausoleum capture them, they'll bring them to us there, and you can make them dig their own graves."
Marcotti laughed. "It's gonna be some poetic justice, boss." DeMarco looked pleased.
"Just in case you leave them alone and they somehow escape," Marcotti continued, "we've got another contingency plan." He drew his finger down the map towards the southern end. "We'll have five guys stationed in the parking lot outside of the main building, which is where they'll come if they escape the gravesite. Then, we'll plant some guys in the Morgue beneath the main graveyard building. Seems fittin', no?"
"What seems fittin'?" asked DeMarco.
"The morgue. It's fittin' because if they go to the morgue, they'll die there. Geddit?"
"Wait," said DeMarco. "Why would they go into the morgue? Why wouldn't they just run for it?"
"Stop overthinking this, boss," said Marcotti.
"Once they're in the morgue," Marcotti said, "we'll have three guys try to head them off in the operating room. If they make it past those three, they'll probably head into the chapel to make a phone call. That's when we hit 'em with the big guns—we'll send in about fifteen to twenty more guys to take them out."
"So, ninety-four wiseguys to take down these assholes, then," concluded DeMarco, counting on his fingers.
"Yeah, boss," said Marcotti. "It seems like a solid plan to me."
"Maybe," said DeMarco, standing up. "Maybe. Don't forget: This is Max Payne we're talkin' about. He's one tough sonovabitch."
"We pull this off," Marcotti said, allowing a smile onto his face, "and there'll be nothing standing between us and the Punchinellos."
"Easy now," said DeMarco. "We're just one family. We ain't the goddam National Guard."
Will the DeMarcos emerge victorious? Will Max and Passos somehow survive the attack and live to fight (and fight, and fight) another day? Will Max Payne's enemies ever run out of dudes for him to shoot? Fine out in the next chapter of Max Payne 3: The Flesh of Fallen Angels: The Novel. Maybe. Or maybe not.
Comics based on video games can be really, really bad. Sure, they might be able to replicate the look or expand on the worlds seen in titles like Gears of War, Mass Effect But it's a hard proposition to recapture the appeal of those games in a static medium.
It's great, then, that the art by Fernando Blanco manages to make Max's shoot-dodge look like it does in that games, but slightly more toned down. Blanco also recreates the gritty, smoky noir-inflected feel of the games, but pays special attention to the emotions on these game characters' faces.
These comics actually serve as pretty good primers for Max Payne 3, if you're coming in cold. Readers who haven't played the first two Remedy-developed Max titles get the basics: Max was a tough-guy cop who busted sellers of a drug called Valkyr but lost loved ones along the way. But, the best possible reading experience here comes after finishing the story mode of Max Payne 3 and seeing where the panels fit in with the gameplay.
You see one character from the Hoboken flashback levels of Max Payne 3 in some less explosive moments, which retroactively adds a nice bit of tension to what eventually happens in the game. And some sequences get lifted wholesale from the games, too. But it doesn't feel lazy. Instead, Max's depressing solo drinking feels even weightier
After the Fall and Hoboken Blues feel like part of a larger whole and prove to be vital parts of a portrait of what it looks like when a man falls into the worst pats of himself. They're free so definitely take a look.