I woke up this morning thinking about Max Payne's face. Okay, I know that's a little weird, but you've gotta hear me out on this one: Remedy Entertainment and Rockstar Games are collaborating on a remake of Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and it's likely the former NYPD detective is going to undergo yet another facelift.
Max Payne has worn three faces in the last two decades – well, four if you count the movie starring Mark Wahlberg, but I'm in the business of forgetting that ever happened. Remedy's creative director Sam Lake was the face model for Max Payne in 2001, a result of the studio struggling to reconcile its ambitions against a tight production budget – the game's main antagonist, Nicole Horne, was even portrayed by Lake's mother. With success came money, which Remedy used to cast actor Timothy Gibbs in the role for 2003's Max Payne 2. A decade later, when Rockstar Games took on the challenge of Max Payne 3, the studio cast James McCaffrey to be the face of Payne – a natural fit, given that he had voiced the character since its inception.
Who wore it better? My head says Gibbs, who had a face for a vigilante on the hunt for justice. My heart says Lake, whose iconic grimace has followed the writer like a specter ever since. As for McCaffrey, I think he did a fantastic job with a more grizzled, floral-shirt-wearing private contractor. The problem is, none are the right fit for Max Payne now. You've got to remember, the first two games work across non-linear timelines, jumping back and forth through events to build up backstory and tension.
Max is around 33 years old during the 'Payne residence massacre', and in his late 30s by the time he's prowling the shadowy streets of New York City across the events of the two games. Gibbs is currently 54 and McCaffrey is 63, unless Remedy plans to substantially change the character, I'm not sure I can see either of these actors jumping between stunt pads in motion-capture suits, nor their faces working for a younger Payne. As for Lake, while the 52 year-old can certainly still pull off the grimace – and has been recently seen digging Payne's old leather jacket out of storage and totally rocking it – it's difficult to see him wanting it; it's fun for us to think about, but it's worth remembering that he also has one of Finland's largest game studios to lead.
Max Payne Remake and the Northlight Engine
Remedy Entertainment looks back on the making of Max Payne, one of the most iconic action games of its era.
Remedy and Rockstar are yet to detail much about the Max Payne remake, but I'm going to take a stab in the dark here and guess that the studios will recast the character entirely. While there's the option of de-aging Gibbs or McCaffrey (as Rockstar did, to an extent, in some Max Payne 3 scenes), keeping some degree of consistency between face textures and nostalgia, and affixing the face to somebody else's motion-captured body, this could be a bit of a missed opportunity.
As was proven by Quantum Break and Control, Remedy is arguably one of the industry leaders when it comes to motion capture and face mapping. The studio did a fantastic job capturing the likeness of Shawn Ashmore, Aidan Gillen, Patrick Heusinger, Dominic Monaghan, Lance Reddick, and other Hollywood talent in its 2016 sci-fi thriller, while Courtney Hope emerged as one of the industry's best actors after her crawl through the Oldest House in 2019.
With the Max Payne remake set to be built in Remedy's proprietary Northlight Engine – first engineered to support Quantum Break, improved for Control, and set to be the backbone of Alan Wake 2 – it makes sense that the studio would want to cast a new actor as Max Payne. That it would want to properly capture an actor's likeness and mannerisms, using it all to fuel a cinematic story and capture dazzling animation as the detective pirouettes around bullets in the seediest spots NYC has to offer.
Given Rockstar's investment in the production – Take-Two purchased the Max Payne IP rights back in 2002 for $34 million dollars – it's easy to wonder whether this remake is being seen as an opportunity to introduce the series to a new generation of players, and then expand upon it. There's a 10-year gap in continuity between Max Payne 2 and Max Payne 3, and therefore plenty of locations for Remedy and Rockstar to rip apart with new-generation bullet time and procedural environment deformation.
Where this would leave long-time voice actor McCaffrey remains to be seen, but given that he's plenty busy with Remedy generally – lending his voice and likeness to Zachariah Trench in Control, and to Thomas Zane in Alan Wake – the studio has him covered. It's also worth considering that whatever Remedy does here with Max Payne could ultimately loop back in with the broader Remedy Connected Universe, which ties the worlds of Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and Control together. McCaffrey also voiced Alex Casey in Alan Wake, who was the subject of Alan's first book – a crime thriller long thought to be loosely modeled on Max Payne. If Remedy's worlds are colliding, McCaffrey already has a presence.
With the Max Payne remake "currently in the concept development stage" it's likely a number of years away from release, but it might be worth preparing yourself for the inevitability of Payne wearing yet another new face.
Looking for something to play while we wait for Max Payne 1+2 remake? Why not check out this list of the best action games you can play right now.