This post includes links to, and discussion of, severe depictions of violence.
(PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox) I’ve never loved the faux-noir of MAX PAYNE or its sequel. (Don’t even get me started about the film adaptation.) Those games felt terribly adolescent, which isn’t the vibe you want from noir or neo-noir. Even BRICK, directed by Rian Johnson — an entire neo-noir film about adolescents — feels far more mature than the first two Max Payne games.
MAX PAYNE 3 is a completely different beast. It’s neo-noir by way of Michael Mann in COLLATERAL mode, all hedonism and nihilism and neon-soaked coastal digital backdrops with rude black drop-offs, letting you know you’re just so close to falling off the precipice.
MAX PAYNE 3 came out around the time of KANE & LYNCH 2 which, while KANE & LYNCH 2 is an extraordinarily remarkable visual triumph, it is also a terribly unplayable game (and I actually enjoyed the first one despite the fact that it was one of the first games to cause a major rift in games criticism), and both share a very stylized, very heightened but also very surveillance look to them. (Also, both clearly owe a debt to the missed action director Tony Scott.)
Are you playing as an irredeemable shitheel? Yes, yes you certainly are. Is there any fun to be found in this personal hell that you’re playing through? No, not really — you’re barely an anti-hero — however, there is one fucking amazing set-piece scored by electro artists HEALTH featuring a looped version of “Tears” that I will never, ever forget. I play a lot of games and, while I am normally prone to hyperbole, this moment is absolutely in my top 10 gaming moments of all-time.
There’s a specific melancholy to it while, yes, it has a lot to do with HEALTH’s initial “Tears” video which is definitely NSFW and features a lot of dystopian zombie toddler stuff, but the devs finessed it slowing down and back up and looping, and the level is designed in a certain way that is emotionally evocative.
You can go long stretches without seeing anyone. You simply feel beaten down, like you’re on your last legs, but you still have to circle around the airport. There is no hope for Max here, but he’s trying to do the right thing, get to the exit, and the brutality of trudging through the endless folks in the airport is a testament to that.
(Again, I will note that this excerpt is very violent.)