Max Payne, released in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment (known these days for the Alan Wake games), was the first game to do a lot of things. Ever play a game where time slows down in the middle of the action, letting you carefully aim and fire your guns in slow motion? Max Payne was the first game to do that. In order for that to be possible, Max Payne needed to model individual bullets fired from guns, tracking their flight paths and having them realistically impact against walls, furniture, and people. Today every game that features guns does that, but Max Payne was the first; in earlier games, guns would magically damage enemies in their sights without any projectiles being used whatsoever. At the time it sounded impossible: individual bullets? No way. And you can dive sideways in slow motion, firing a pistol in each hand, while these bullets whiz past? Just like in the action movies? No. Way.
Today, games get a lot of criticism for trying to ape cinema so much, for being filled with non-playable cutscenes, countless set pieces, and other scripted events, but when Max Payne was released it wasn’t nearly so common, and it wasn’t a cause for criticism. In fact, it was cause for excitement. To be able to actually play a crazy action scene from a film was like a dream, something that the limited capabilities of older computers and software could never have enabled. Max Payne was not the first game to try to capture the feeling of playing a movie — the first game I played that tried this was Half-Life — but it is one of the most notable. I’d seen some people play sections of Max Payne, and it sure looked like it delivered. But I’d never played it myself until now.