With technology advancing over the years, cutscenes have become an important part of the gaming landscape. Better graphics, voice acting, and motion capture technologies have allowed for a greater fidelity to express complex emotions and actions. Some video games are known for their incredible cutscene storytelling, and I plan to shine a spotlight on the ones that have impacted the medium more than others.
As opening cutscenes go, I can think of very few games that have established the overall tone better than Max Payne 3.
To be fair, it’s really just the first of many brilliant cutscenes. But the opening clip offers a refresher course on poor Max’s gloomy, bloated history while also setting the stage for what will follow. This opening sequence has a lot of heavy lifting to do, but it does it without a hitch.
A washed-up cop turned pill-addled, booze-addicted, hard-boiled murder machine, Max has had it rough. This guy’s resume and family history read like a chapter out of Game of Thrones if the shops in Westeros sold semi-automatic pistols.
The opening scene sets the mood by reintroducing a chain-smoking Max Payne as he goes on a late-night booze run. The visual effects (screen distortion, color glitches, and jarring digital fuzziness) paint a vivid picture of Max’s mental state and how shaky, fragile, and nauseating it must be to inhabit that well-coifed head of his.
Max isn’t quite right in the head. He’s not seeing clearly or thinking straight, tormented by a past he can’t escape and probably doesn’t feel like he deserves to. It’s all there in the directorial style, camera movement, and shot choice.
Flashing back and forth through time, we see some of the tragedy that had left Max broken and some of the horrors that lie ahead. The shifts are made all the more jarring by the transitions, which are cued by a static shock-like flourish of lighting effects.
Max is a man careening off the edge, and he isn’t exactly wearing a seat belt.
Pretty grim stuff, but the motion capture and voice work tether the scene together, adding a level of lifelike believability. There is subtlety and nuance in every movement. Real pain and regret are on display, as we can see that Max wouldn’t be able to hang on without the narcotics and alcohol. He has a stubborn resilience, despite the circumstances.
The swooning and booming orchestral theme ushers us along with Max on his sordid downward spiral. Its an incredible opening cutscene, video game cinematics at their best.
“Very funny, ha-ha. Yes that is a fake laugh, you jerk.“