Superficially, Max Payne 3 is an action game centered around blowing the heads off of thugs in ways that would give John Woo a giddy erection. Diving down stairs, pistols akimbo, raining a torrent of hot lead that would seem more fitting spouting forth from the vengeful maw of an ancient Aztec blood god – Max Payne 3 is the pure, raw distillation of everything gamers crave in their shooters.
Peel back a few layers, however and, much like the majestic onion, Max Payne 3 reveals itself to be a hard-boiled noir detective story, very much akin to the classics of the genre. Our titular ex-cop is an emotionally broken wreck, haunted by the murders of his wife and daughter, and seeking to either kill the pain with booze and prescription narcotics or throw himself into one more firefight that just might end it all. He’s a hero, but the fact that he does good is more an incidental side effect of his ongoing battle with internal demons than anything else. Granted, this is routinely expressed by Max shooting up the place in spectacular fashion, but the overarching mood of the game is far from jovial, adolescent posturing. Instead, everything is awash in fatigued, melancholy overtones. At one point, Payne himself describes the experience as “another futile quest for revenge.” (more…)