Note: This post contains major spoilers for Max Payne 3.
When I first played through Max Payne 3's brutal single player campaign, the shocking depictions of violence are what stuck with me in the aftermath. Sometimes I'd be playing some relatively light-hearted fare like Rayman Origins, only to think back to Marcelo's immolation at the hands of the Cracha Preto, or the holes I'd pushed through some poor schmuck's face with my automatic pistol.
It was powerful. It was shocking. It hung around like trauma.
I loved the game because, and in spite of, these displays of gratuity. I can remember looking away from the TV when I thought someone's death was imminent, even Max's. Sure this meant I failed the odd quick time event, but it also meant I could sleep at night. It meant that I could stomach the tension of shootouts and close encounters with militiamen. It meant eventually seeing the impossible tidiness of Max's redemption.
Recently I've felt the urge to return to glitzy (and grimy) Sao Paolo, but that was effectively tempered by my unwillingness to pull the Xbox 360 out of storage and hook it up to an entertainment system which is at capacity (in terms of HDMI ports and shelf space). Thankfully, Steam came to the rescue with an unbelievable bargain: the game plus all downloadable content for a measly 8 US dollars.
It may have taken 3 days to download, but it was well worth the wait.
Despite my laptop struggling with the neon noir presentation (especially scene transitions) and the pin stripe of Max's suit, it's been a relatively smooth ride. Shootdodging against hordes of gang bangers occurred at a reasonable clip (just shy of what I assume to be 30 frames per second), my "rig" just can't handle the raw emotional power of Rockstar's scripted sequences. Voicework usually played out of sync with the rendered actors and my hardware approached alarming temperatures, but we got through in the end.
What was most surprising was just how well the action held up. I can remember complaining that I found the damage model (read: how you accrue damage) to be inconsistent, but this time around it felt just fine. I mean, you should go from dandy to deathbed after being hit with a sniper rifle or up close with a shotgun, shouldn't you. Also, since when have video games been known for realistic portrayals of pain thresholds in the human body? With a bit of patience, any combat situation is easily cleared - the only exceptions being 2 not-quite-boss fights in the penultimate chapter. If you take the time to search your surrounds and find a few bottles of painkillers, it's even more likely that you'll live to shoot your way through another day.
Back to the action, leaping through a dangerous battlefield in slow motion and peppering anything in your sight with precisely placed projectiles is still super cool. Pulling away from cover could be less awkward, but I'd be unreasonable for labelling that as anything other than a slight annoyance. It is bloody and gross fun perforating heads and body parts with a wide arsenal that covers everything from several variations of the modest pistol to the rocket launcher.
What really sets this slightly aged masterpiece apart from 2 years’ worth of blockbusters is Health's original soundtrack that even makes a title screen sad enough to force your head between hands. The stirring string arrangements that punctuate the bullets and blood (and usually accompany the titular character drinking and drugging himself into a stupor) are, with hindsight, more haunting than any instance of gun violence. It lingers, playing through my head whenever anything fails to go to plan. The grimy, foreboding tracks that are played throughout the bullet ballet are just as -- for lack of a better word -- catchy, and I've had the album on regular rotation since I started downloading the game last week.
One interesting observation, particularly after having just started playing the Tomb Raider reboot, is that the game tends to fetishise death. I was almost glad to see the camera focus on Max's death mask and various angles of blood spatter after having been subjected to arguably erotic angles on Lara Croft's multiple and gruesome demises. Granted, Tomb Raider seems that little bit more uncomfortably preoccupied with the protagonist's agony in the throes of death, but at least now I can find an example of this treatment on a man.
While we're on the topic of problematic treatment of women in games, they exist only to be saved in Max Payne 3. I realise this ties in heavily with both the noir theme and the premise of the original, but even the strongest (and, if memory serves, only surviving) woman character is shown to have some serious flaws and has to be saved by the lead male. It could also be argued that Giovanna is the only woman to survive because she exhibits some positive behaviours and is thus worthy of saving.
So, two years on, Max Payne 3 is still very much worthy of your time. If 10 hours of bloody, bullet-riddled mayhem didn’t sound appealing upon its release, it’s not going to be any more attractive to you now. That being said, I again found myself falling for and with Max from failure to stomach-turningly grisly failure. If you’re looking for a third person shooter with a compelling story and solid, cover-based shooting action, I can recommend this (again) without hesitation.