Nicole Horne is the main antagonist and CEO of Aesir Corporation in Max Payne. A ruthless and amoral businesswoman in her late fifties, Horne is responsible for the killing Max Payne's wife and daughter and the production of designer drug Valkyr. Due to Horne's wrinkled appearance, she is known as "the witch" and "the hag" until Max Payne uncovers her name.
In 1991, Nicole Horne was involved in Project Valhalla, a research program conducted by the United States Army, to develop a chemical substance to enchance human stamina in order to train improved soldiers with superior endurance and morale. Horne's rival Alfred Woden and his cabal, the Inner Circle, were also involved in the project. The scientific research in Deep Six, a military bunker located under a steel foundry known as Cold Steel, spawned the hallucinogenic agent Valkyr, but the experiments proved that Valkyr turned test subjects into homicidal, psychotic killer with no sense of reality. In 1995, four years later, the results were considered "unsatisfactory" and Project Valhalla was officially cancelled by the military. However, Horne continued the research unauthorized and took control of the Deep Six facility.
A part-time employer of the District Attorney's office named Michelle Payne received an army dossier on Project Valhalla on her desk. Michelle did not realize that the documents were extremely sensitive, assuming that the dossier was "a mix-up at the courier service". However, Horne found out that the project was compromised and decided to silence Michelle by eliminating her. Officially, she authorized a field test to observe and study the Project Valhalla in an urban setting. Three test subjects were injected with high dosages of Valkyr and send to the Payne residence in New Jersey. The psychotic test subjects murdered Michelle and her infant daughter, and Max Payne, Michelle's husband and a detective in the New York Police Department, arrived too late to save her family. Horne personally phoned the Payne residence and Max responded to her call, but Horne closed the line, saying that she could not help Max. Max killed the test subjects, whom were believed to be drug abusers addicted to Valkyr, and transfered to the Drug Enforcement Agency to solve the Valkyr case.
In the next three years, Horne became more and more influential figure. She delivered Valkyr to the Punchinello crime syndicate, the largest Mafia family in New York, and allowed the mobsters to promote the substance as the newest designer drug for the drug addicts. Horne manipulated Don Angelo Punchinello, the head of the Punchinello crime family, but Punchinello never discovered Horne's name or identity, believing her to be a government official. Alfred Woden and the Inner Circle attempted to expose Horne's illegal activities, but she blackmailed the Inner Circle into silence with a sex tape bought from Candy Dawn, a prostitute who taped her encounters with Woden. In publicity, Horne was known as the President of Aesir Corporation, the company noted for its phenomenal success story. Horne placed her penthouse and workplace on Aesir Plaza, a skyscraper located in Manhattan. She installed extensive surveillance systems on the building and hired an army of security guards to secure her safety. Horne was often seen with the "killer suits", well-trained bodyguards and agents with sunglasses and black tuxedos. According to Woden, Horne had "more than half the city in her pocket".
When Max Payne, an undercover DEA agent in the Punchinello crime family, was framed to the murder of his partner Alex Balder, he started his one-man war against the Mafia in the worst blizzard of the century. One of the mobsters killed during Max's rampage was Rico Muerte, a Chicago gangster hired by Horne to assassinate the Mayor of New York, who had requested for eliminating the Valkyr problem. To erase all evidence connecting her to Valkyr and the Punchinello crime family, Horne had to eliminate Angelo Punchinello and destroy Cold Steel. She and the killer suits arrived on an armed helicopter to the Punchinello Manor, where Max had killed the guards and was interrogating Punchinello. The killer suits stormed the Don's officer, executing Punchinello. Max was caught by the killer suits, and Horne injected him with an overdose of Valkyr. As Max helplessly lied on the floor, Horne ordered the killer suits take her to Cold Steel. Afterwards, the Punchinello Manor was burned to the ground and Max was framed to the arson. With Punchinello dead, Horne ordered the killer suits to commence Operation Dead Eyes, which was aimed for exterminating all personnel involved in the Valkyr production and decimating the Deep Six bunker. The mercenaries hired Aesir Corporation eliminated the chemists in Deep Six and the killer suits activated the self-destruction system installed on the bunker, but Max was able to uncover the truth behind Horne's involvement on Project Valhalla and Michelle's death. Soon, Max was contacted by Alfred Woden, who introduced him to the Inner Circle in Asgard Hall. Woden promised to prove Max's innocence if Max would eliminate Horne. However, Horne send the killer suits and mercenaries to kill the members of the Inner Circle, but both Max and Woden survived the attack.
Having no other choice but to fulfill Woden's request, Max stormed Aesir Plaza, killing dozens of Horne's security guards and killer suits. Mona Sax, an assassin hired by Horne, was send to eliminate Max, but Mona sided with him and was shot for her betrayal. However, Mona survived. After deactivating the security locks, Max reached the penthouse and met Horne face to face. Horne ridiculed Max's stubbornness and blamed Michelle for the course of events that eventually brought Max to Aesir Plaza. The NYPD was en route to Aesir Plaza to apprehend Max, but Horne stated that Max would be dead before the police arrive the building. As Max pursued Horne through the penthouse, Horne spoke on the intercom, asserting that Max was doomed not to succeed. At the rooftop, Horne boarded on the helicopter, but Max shot the wires supporting the broadcasting antenna. The antenna collapsed, crushing the helicopter and killing Horne. Then, the helipad plummeted to the ground, destroying the remainders of Horne's helicopter. With Horne dead, Max's journey across the city was finally over.
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
In the "Previously on Max Payne" feature in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Max states that Horne was a member of the Inner Circle, contradicting the original game in which the Inner Circle was a secret society acting against Horne and Aesir Corporation. In the first level, "The Darkness Inside: Prologue", a hallucinating Max hears Horne's words "Is this the Payne residence?" on the answering machine. It is revealed by Vladimir Lem that Alfred Woden sent the Project Valhalla files to Michelle Payne's desk in order to intimidate Horne.
As the original Max Payne included numerous references to Norse mythology, Horne is identified with Hel, goddess of the underworld (Helheim, "house of Hel"). In the opening segment of the graphic novel in the final level, "Pain And Suffering", Horne is called the "queen of the underworld" as Max loads his Colt Commando in the elevator.