By Sparky_Buzzsaw 8 Comments
Grab a can of compressed air, quick-like. You feel that heat coming from your computer? That's not from you watching eighty-seven porno videos while designing some 3D image of Pauly Shore putting boots to asses in your dream sequel to In the Army (tentatively called In the Army: Even Armier). Nope. That's the power of this blog, honey dumplin', and it's about to make your shit 'splode!
OK, probably not. This blog, however, will very likely ruffle a few feathers. Although truth be told, I think the three of you still reading my blogs won't probably give two farts. In any case, I'm devoting this blog entirely to Max Payne 3, a game both lovable and jarring. I started this off as a review, but I thought it might serve better as a blog. If you want my review thoughts, here it is - play this game. It's actually pretty great, and if you don't mind a bit of repetition in its stop-and-pop gameplay, it's a meaty, sweaty brick to the forehead, in all the delightful ways a brick to the forehead can be. The story is terrific, simply one of the best of the year, if not this generation of consoles (which puts it highly ranked in terms of stories told in vdeo games, period).
But upon completion of the game, I didn't find myself in a good place. You see, much like the terrific music theme of Max Payne 3 (and you really should check out the music from this game - it's striking and filling in a way that video game music rarely is outside of Bear McCreary's work), there are some jarring notes when you expect something different. These notes aren't awful, but they do strike a bit of a despondent chord in me. That seems like a bit of an oxymoron. I plan on rambling for a bit, so bear with me, but I hope to explain.
A Bad Man in a Bad Land
At one point, roughly halfway through the game, Max Payne is finding his way through a maze of narrow streets in Sao Paulo. He's a bit lost, and follows a young guide to a street party. Things go south (in Max Payne 3, things always go south), and soon Max is own his own again. Left at that, it would have been an unremarkable scene, fleshing out the world a bit more but not really accomplishing much beyond setting a scene. But Max makes several comments throughout the party and afterwards in his rough inner monologue that change the face of the scene entirely - as well as adding a very, very tough backdrop to the entire game. I'm going to paraphrase here, and likely badly, as I can't find the exact quote online, but here goes:
"...they danced like this for the amusement of the rich American tourists who could take pictures from their armored buses..."
"Who could blame them for not liking me? I was just another middle-class American gun for hire, and they had nothing."
The theme isn't a new one. We've seen the American fish-out-of-water story in many games. But I don't think a game has found a way to quite get so personal with it as Max Payne 3 did, and you know what? I'm sort of grateful they addressed this so bluntly through Max. Throughout the game, one of the things Max deals with constantly is a sense of guilt about the poor fortunes of others - not that he's necessarily taken anything away from them, but that he's succeeded even as miserable as his life may be where others are living in hovels and shanties, simply because he's American and has had more of an opportunity.
The writer and actor have nailed something here. It's not a new thought, or even particularly well-spoken. But in its blunt ugliness, Max Payne speaks for what I've felt in the past. How the fuck can I have so much when so many have so little? And how do I deal with that? Max isn't an altruist. He's not a bad guy by any means, but he's no saint. He wants to get paid, get drunk, and be left the hell alone.
But in a very real-world sense, he's exemplifying the kinds of thoughts anyone American with half a heart has thought at some point or another, that guilt over the state of the world past a few lucky countries' borders. My small one-bedroom apartment would put many places to shame the world over. I bitch about not being able to find work and yet have my every need tended to thanks to the hard work, sweat, and blood of countless other people. I play video games. I watch TV. I dick around on the Internet. I have an extraordinarily good life, and thousands of miles away, whole groups of people are starving and making do with practically nothing.
It's one thing to say that if I were there and able to, I'd try to help out where I could, but would that be a lie? I'd mostly be like Max, shuffling through the people I met, trying to keep my head down and feeling angry about their situation compared to mine and those I'm with regularly. Roughly thirty miles from where I sit now, billionaires fly in and out regularly in the summers to their dude ranch for weekend getaways. Fifteen miles less than that, millionaire ranchers get duded up in two-hundred dollar jeans and belt buckles the size of Texas for reality TV show camera crews. Half a mile from me is an overgrown trailer park, so full of broken bottles, scrap metal, and junk that you cannot walk through it except on the street.
It's a bizarre, disjointed world we live in. To the people that will never read this, the people who will starve and never know what it's like to not live in poverty, I get why you might hate us. I do. I'm sorry. We burn through what we have, always hungry for more and giving one day a year to be appreciative of what we have, just before trampling each other to death for a few bucks off some movies and toys. I wish I could say for certain that if I could, I'd put my hand out and help you up.
That's what Max Payne evoked in me. That's how deep this game got to me. But...
On the Other Hand
I wish I could have been there for Rockstar's research trips into Sao Paulo. It would be easy for me here to rage at them for being a flush, money-hungry company spouting hypocrisy without having done a thing to help them down there. But how do I know that they didn't? How do I know that they didn't hire some people down there, temporary or permanent? How do I know that one night, they didn't get together and have a few drinks with the locals, commiserating and trying to lift some spirits if only just for a while?
But I'll tell you this much. If they didn't, if they somehow managed to be the assholes Max Payne so deliciously described, then I've got no words. All I can do is hope that they did. Maybe somewhere in Sao Paulo, there's a new business opening up thanks to the executives at Rockstar Games. But the horrible, crass part of me, the part that's seen and suffered first-hand from the unending greed of others, knows that in all likelihood, those same executives are buying third or fourth homes somewhere while there are men and women everywhere scraping the bottom of the barrel.
And One Other Thing
Let's bring things to a close with one last thought, and move it back towards a more technically jarring aspect of the story versus the gameplay. How bizarre is it to have such a reflective, introverted story, and yet have the bizarrely cartoonish and outlandish number of bodies hitting the floor? I think Max Payne 3 would have been a supremely effective game if it had a bit of self control, but then again, that wouldn't quite be a Max Payne game, would it? And maybe that's just it. Maybe I'm looking for more than what this game was. What I want out of games, out of their stories and their potential, it might not be what the world wants out of them. Funny enough, I think I'm perfectly okay with that.