Why Rockstar won't release Max Payne 4

The Max Payne franchise started out as a true project of passion. The main character and series namesake was initially portrayed by his creator. That creator also wrote Max's script, which is notable for its poetic yet haunting dialogue. And though later games went on to become bigger-budget over time — even spawning a full-length feature film — fans have stuck by Max Payne, their damaged, cynical anti-hero. There have been three Max Payne entries, and fans want another.

Unfortunately, it's not going to happen.

The series has developed something of a cult following these days, with those devoted to Max praising the "bullet time" mechanics he helped popularize, while also longing for the dark, grim noir setting his games were known for. But times have changed. The companies behind the series have changed. And video games as a whole have changed, too. Max had his trilogy, and the powers that be seem content to let that be that.

Or, to put it more poetically: if Max Payne is trying to buy more sand for his hourglass, it doesn't look like anyone is selling any. Here's why.

He got a proper sendoff in Max Payne 3

If you're reading this and wishing for a Max Payne 4, you've likely played through every story the Max Payne series has to offer. But if you haven't finished the third game in the franchise, you might want to stop reading. There are spoilers ahead.

The most simple answer for why there will never be a Max Payne 4 is simply this: the end of Max Payne 3. It's the classic hero's goodbye, though in true Max Payne fashion, it isn't the cowboy riding off with the girl into the sunset. Rather, Max learns that he's successfully played a role in dismantling an organ harvesting ring and that the villain he apprehended in the late stages of the game has been hanged in prison.

For the first time in a long time, Max has no enemies in front of him. There are no bullets flying his way. No blood being spilled. No more vengeance to be had. Instead, there's only the setting sun, the rolling tide, and the beach. Max walks away and the credits roll.

Somewhere, Max Payne is still on that beach. Bringing him back at this point just doesn't feel fair.

Max Payne doesn't fit Rockstar's "games-as-a-service" focus

Rockstar Games has struck gold in the streets of Los Santos. Grand Theft Auto V is the "most profitable entertainment product of all time." It boasts over 90 million copies sold, and enjoys an increasing stream of additional revenue from its microtransactions and multiplayer component, GTA Online. The game came out in 2013, yet still manages to chart on NPD monthly sales reports. It's a complete juggernaut, and it's shown Rockstar that an always living, constantly updated game can become a cash cow. Which is why it's not a surprise that the company looks to be adapting that GTA formula for its next title, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Max Payne just doesn't fit that script.

The Max titles are single-player at their hearts. Sure, there have been multiplayer modes in the past. But they never felt as important as the narratives put together by Remedy and, later, by Rockstar. An always-online mode would feel out of place in the Max Payne universe, not to mention that "bullet time" isn't quite feasible to use in a world full of other gamers. Max Payne Online would be a bolted-on addition rather than something that seamlessly fits into an already-open world, and for that reason, you have to believe that Rockstar will pass on doing it.

Which means they'll have no interest in doing another Max Payne.

GTA Online and Red Dead Redemption 2 consume a lot of resources

And the idea of supporting yet another massively multiplayer online game is crazy talk, anyway. Grand Theft Auto's transition into that space was a learning experience for Rockstar, which realized that it had to devote entire teams to the task of keeping the game fresh after release. The sale of Shark Cards certainly helps fund that, no doubt, but Rockstar's hands are pretty tied up in GTA Online.

Not to mention that Red Dead Redemption 2 game everyone is talking about.

For the past several years, Rockstar has had studios working on an entirely new entry in the Red Dead franchise. It's going to be an open world game, just like its predecessor, and as was stated above, it's going to incorporate always-online components in a similar way to GTA. Once Red Dead 2 comes out in October 2018, Rockstar will have teams working on post-release content for two very big titles.

That doesn't sound like an opportunity to bring back an old IP. Instead, it sounds more like Rockstar will have most of its resources committed to keeping its two moneymakers up and running.

Max Payne 3 failed to meet sales expectations

And speaking of money, if Max Payne 3 had sold gangbusters and become the series everyone clamored for over Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead, there's an excellent chance that a Max Payne 4 would be in the cards, or that you'd be playing it already. But there's a reason Max Payne is sometimes looked at as a cult classic franchise and not one that sits among the pantheon of GTA, Call of Duty, Madden, and the like. Cults don't speak for the mainstream, and Max Payne 3 didn't sell enough copies to those people.

The first quarter of 2012 was not a friendly one for publisher Take-Two. The company posted a $110 million loss, with much of it blamed on low sales of both Max Payne 3 and Spec Ops: The Line (an underappreciated game in its own right). For a publisher that can boast big-name franchises like GTARed DeadBorderlands, and the 2K series of sports titles, games that don't sell well tend to stand out. And it's never a good sign when a game is specifically called out in a quarter with, as Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick put it, "disappointing results."

You can put two and two together. Publishers want games that sell, and in Take-Two's case, it has several that consistently do. Max Payne didn't, and it doesn't appear either Take-Two or Rockstar are willing to gamble on a fourth try.

Rockstar is publishing fewer games and taking fewer risks

Whether it's because of pressure from Take-Two, or because Rockstar has realized that both Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead can essentially print money, one thing has become evident in recent years: Rockstar Games is not taking risks anymore.

Rockstar was a much, much different company back in the Xbox/PS2 and early Xbox 360/PS3 generations. It was a company that experimented. It published games from outside studios. It gave players weird games they never asked for but fell in love with anyway. And it always had a hand in a bunch of different genres.

Rockstar had the honor of publishing Oni on the PS2 before Bungie became a Microsoft-only Halo machine. It published the Smuggler's Run series. It gave detective work a try with L.A. Noire. And internally, it brought us games like Midnight Club, ManhuntRockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, Bully, and The Warriors.

All of that, along with the Max Payne franchise, seems to have faded into obscurity. Rather than roll the dice on the what-ifs, Rockstar looks poised to be a two-game studio going forward. And that's not only sad for Max Payne fans — it's sad for video games.

Remedy is now busy with a new IP

And somehow, we almost made it back to the beginning. Back to the birthplace of Max Payne, inside Remedy Entertainment and — more specifically — inside the mind of his creator, Sam Lake.

Remedy gained notoriety for the Max Payne series and, since then, has become a studio that people look forward to seeing games from. Remedy left Max Payne and dreamed Alan Wake into existence. The studio then merged video games and television together to create Quantum Break. And now Remedy is working on a brand-new IP that it unveiled at E3 2018 called Control.

But hope lived briefly in the hearts of Max Payne fans when Sam Lake, a founder of Remedy, gave an interview ahead of Quantum Break's release. In it, he stated that he'd found closure with the franchise following the completion of Max Payne 2, but that he and his team "could come up with something cool" if given a shot at the fourth installment in the franchise.

Those words carried a lot of weight in the hearts and minds of fans. But alas, a Max Payne deal never did happen and a game didn't pan out. And now Remedy has yet another new project to work on, which means they won't be returning to Max Payne. At least, not anytime soon.