Max Payne 3: sequel or reboot?
As far as cinematic experiences go, Max Payne 3 is easily one of the best in recent memory. The folks over at Rockstar Games really outdid themselves, creating a narrative that is rich with gripping plot elements and beautifully stylistic visuals. Characters' realistic mannerisms, Brazil's rich environments, and James McCaffery's awesome voice all combined to deliver a triumphantly brilliant story about a guy who just can't seem to have a good day.
Regardless of whether you dig the plot or not, there's no denying that the animations and voice acting are incredible. But as rich as the story's various mechanics may be — and as much as I personally love the actual contents of the plot — I constantly questioned whether Max Payne 3 was actually a sequel to Max Payne and Max Payne 2, or if it was a reboot of the entire series.
Max Payne 3 takes places several years after the events of the previous game ... or so it would have you believe. The truth is that there aren't a whole lot of nods and references to the last entries in the series outside of the actual environments (parking structures and restrooms are iconic locales). With the exception of Max briefly talking about his deceased wife and daughter, it's obvious that this is an entirely new chapter in the Max Payne universe.
What really made me think of Max Payne 3 as more of a reboot than a fully fledged sequel was the whole Mona Sax issue. You remember Mona, right? She's that sexy femme fatale with a hot voice and the ability to kill most people without flinching. She was also a strong component in the first Max Payne and one of the main stars in Max Payne 2. In that game, the duo of Max and Mona took on entire armies of bad guys by themselves. They were the stars of the show.
Sure, you can make the argument that Mona was trying to kill Max all along, but when it came time to pull the trigger, she couldn't do it, and she ended up taking a bullet for it. She was with Max every step of the way, in the process becoming an integral part of the story and lore of the Max Payne universe. And for those of us who weren't p*ssies and actually beat Max Payne 2 on Dead on Arrival difficulty, we were rewarded with an ending where Mona survived the gunshot, and the game ended with an embrace between the two hard-ass protagonists.
Quite frankly, Max Payne 2 features one of the best endings ever in a video game. Seriously, ever. Whether you consider the ending where Mona dies canon or you prefer the ending where she lives, that game offered a truly chill-inducing finale with Max calmly saying, "I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was all right." Closure. Max had finally managed to deal with the death of his loved ones, and he discovered that he could love once again ... only for him to briefly mention how he felt guilty about the whole Mona situation in Max Payne 3.
I'm of the mentality that people can interpret stories as they see fit, and I would personally rather consider Max Payne 3 as more of a reboot than a continuation of the series. And yes, it is mainly because of the whole Mona thing. In 2001, Remedy Entertainment created a protagonist — a hero — that legions of gamers would ultimately care about, and we did. Max is a guy with a f*cked up story, and we can't help but cheer him on every step of the way. Mona was then introduced into that story and quickly became Max's equal: someone we wanted to care about, and we did.
The events with Mona were some of the greatest in video game storytelling history, and the fact that there's hardly any homage paid to them in the last game makes it impossible for me to think of it as anything other than a reboot. Call me stubborn, but I just wouldn't be comfortable thinking of Max Payne 3 as a true sequel. The Address Unknown funhouse, the construction site, the snazzy apartment complex, Alfred Woden's manor. All of these are iconic locales that tied Max and Mona together, creating one of the greatest fatal love stories not just in video games, but in all of entertainment.
So is Max Payne 3 a sequel or a reboot? According to Rockstar, it's probably the former. I, however, look at it as one of the most gripping reboots in all of video games. It carefully tells a new Max Payne story that's rewarding to watch unfold and exciting to be a part of. But in my world, Max and Mona are in New York. Together. Happy. Also, Max is still one hell of a cop, and Mona is now the baddest vigilante in the city.
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