10 years ago, Rockstar released its greatest cult classic ever

A long legacy.

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max payne 3 key art
Rockstar Games

Rockstar Games is best known for the tremendously popular Grand Theft Auto franchise, but the studio has a lot more than that under its belt. Ten years ago, Rockstar released one of its most unique and underrated games with Max Payne 3.

To mark the occasion, Rockstar announced plans to release a new version of the game’s soundtrack by LA noise-rock band, HEALTH. Max Payne 3 – The Official Soundtrack (Anniversary Edition) will come to digital streaming platforms and vinyl later this year.

“When we began work on the Max Payne 3 score, we could not have predicted the momentous effect it would have on the trajectory of our band and the music we make,” HEALTH said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now, 10 years on, we are still as proud as ever to be part of the story.”

With the first two Max Payne games, Rockstar published while Remedy developed. But Max Payne 3 saw the studio taking over development as well. This resulted in an experience that was markedly different from its predecessors, but no less influential.

Max Payne 3 takes place nine years after the events of the previous game, showing a Max that’s hit rock bottom, wallowing in alcoholism and painkiller addiction. An incident at a bar forces Max to flee New York and take work as a private security contractor in South America.

Max Payne has always been a moody series, but Max Payne 3 embraces a grittier, almost grungy aesthetic. The entire game feels like a flashy crime drama, but with a relentlessly depressing tone.

Max Payne 3 is a deep dive into the nature of a man shaped by violence and substance abuse.

Rockstar Games

Part of what’s still so interesting about Max Payne 3 is how different it felt from other shooters of the time. While most entries in the genre cast you as a veritable superhero conquering set piece after set piece, Max Payne 3 constantly made its “hero” fail. Time after time, Max can’t protect what he’s supposed to — or falls back into that cycle of addiction. The game’s story is a fascinating window into the inner turmoil of a deeply broken man, but it also touches on other topics. With most of the story set in Sao Paulo, it weaves in elements of classism and how the widening gap between the rich and poor can lead to broader social consequences.

In many ways, the themes and introspection of Max Payne 3 feel far ahead of its time, more in line with modern titles like God of War and The Last of Us Part 2. Despite strong reviews from critics, some fans grumbled about the new approach to the story. But looking back a decade later, it’s aged remarkably well.

The Max Payne series has also introduced a variety of influential gameplay elements and mechanic. Bullet time continues to be the very best example of it, but Max Payne 3 really shines in the detail it packs into each and every scene. While the game is mostly linear, the city of Sao Paolo is realized with intimate detail.

Red Dead Redemption 2 draws a lot of inspiration from Max Payne 3’s shooting and systems.

Rockstar Games

It feels like Max is running through a realistic urban environment, and each segment of the game feels like a shooting gallery designed to account for Max’s diving and rolling. It’s not perfect, but Max Payne 3 is easily the best-playing game Rockstar has ever put out.

The game’s biggest influence has been on Rockstar’s own subsequent titles, both in terms of story and gameplay. Red Dead Redemption 2 owes a lot to Max Payne, due to its conflicted hero and several key gameplay elements. The shooting and weapon management of Red Dead Redemption 2 is practically lifted straight from Max Payne 3, with Arthur Morgan only able to equip as many weapons as he can physically carry on his model. Red Dead 2 also uses an iteration of that familiar kill-cam system to display the final shot of a firefight, not to mention the cover system.

Max Payne 3 sold roughly 4.5 million copies in its lifetime, beat out by L.A. Noire’s 5 million, a far cry from the eight- and nine-figure sales of Red Dead or GTA. But ten years later, Max Payne 3, feels like one of Rockstar’s most prescient and influential titles. It’d be great to see the studio do something similar again.

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