Max Payne 3 Review: Death Transformed into an Art Form «

There’s a moment in Tony Scott’s 2004 film Man on Fire where Christopher Walken attempts to make someone understand just what kind of a man Denzel Washington’s ex-CIA operative John Creasy is. He calmly explains that, “A man can be an artist… in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy’s art is death, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece.” This statement could just as easily be used to describe the state of Max Payne in his third outing, which fittingly draws ample inspiration from Man on Fire. No matter how nightmarish his life may become, Max remains a steadfast angel of death who’ll stop at nothing on his road of revenge.

The many story and thematic elements that Max PaQyne 3 shares with Scott’s underrated film should not be frowned upon, but rather embraced. Anyone who’s played their share of Rockstar games knows that the studio has never been one to be shy about the works of art that influence them. Without the films of Martin Scorsese, Grand Theft Auto would not exist in its current state. Without the contributions that Sergio Leone made to the western genre, Red Dead Redemption would’ve never been able to ride off into the sunset of gaming history. In this respect, sitting down with a Rockstar title is akin to taking a lesson from a team of true pop-culture historians, and Max Payne 3 does not disappoint in leading us on a journey through genre film and literature past.

After an altercation back home leaves Max a wanted man, he flees to South America in an attempt to start anew, the sort of tabula rasa that comes paired with a bottle of whiskey and a handful of antidepressants. He takes a job in Brazil as a personal bodyguard for a family of absurdly wealthy socialites, but in typical noir fashion, things quickly go awry for our titular hero as the very people he was tasked with protecting get kidnapped by a slew of very bad men. A bulk of MP3 is spent navigating the various circles of hell that exist in Rockstar’s version of Sao Paulo. Max goes from posh nightclubs where the rich can go pretend to forget the rampant poverty that exists in their city, to the sprawling favelas that makes it feel as if you’ve just become a major player in City of God. The deeper Max gets himself into the seedy underbelly of Brazil, the more interesting his trip becomes. Navigating the labyrinthine halls of a sweltering shanty town provides a fully-realized and unique setting unlike anything I’d ever experienced in games. As is expected, Max’s tour of revenge is peppered with flashbacks that help us understand just how the hell he fell so very low.

The script in MP3 is fantastic, helping elevate Max’s classic somber hard boiled noir-speak to levels of legitimately impressive storytelling. Rockstar Games’ vice-president and lead writer Dan Houser is able to find humor in the horrible and relish the characters’ time stuck in the absurd muck of their lives. The script is aided by an all around excellent cast of voice actors, particularly James McCaffrey, who reprises his role as Max. Through the use of motion capture and a legitimately interesting story arc, Max is as fleshed out and real a character as he’s ever been. Rockstar must’ve realized the potential they had in this story, and thus implemented a radical and thoroughly entertaining suite of editing, transitions, and cinematic blocking techniques that exist both in cutscene as well as during gameplay. Scenes seamlessly bleed into one-another, important words and phrases stylishly flash on the screen mid-conversation, and Max’s narration as he looks back on his miserable life is equal parts tragic and hilarious.

As great as the script, direction, and editing are, its MP3’s soundtrack that stands out as the true innovation. Instead of just trying to create a score that imitates those found in any crime film, Rockstar enlisted the aid of HEALTH, a Los Angeles-based experimental rock collective. The score in MP3 dynamically changes based on your actions inside of the game; linger in a room for a bit and you may notice a set of horns slowly phase into the soundscape. Head down an alleyway off the beaten path and a snare drum may rise with each optional step you take. This player-based progression of the music provides a subtle interactive element that simply could not exist another medium. Instead of merely creating a facsimile of a film score, Rockstar and HEALTH took the idea of music in video games and moved it forward with a bold and exciting step.

 

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