Developer Rockstar is rarely the one to follow conventions, always enriching their games with innovative mechanics and even sound. So it's no surprise that for the critically acclaimed game Max Payne 3, they decided to buck the Hollywood trend and bring aboard someone completely different for the soundtrack. Under their direction, acclaimed noise-rock band Health created an immersive soundtrack that not only relates to the gameplay, but is a mirror image of the broken protagonist Max himself. The digital soundtrack was released shortly after the game hit the shelves and features 27 tracks, all of which are heard in game. Those who purchased the special edition of the game were also received a voucher to download the soundtack, though this version featured two fewer tracks.
It's only fair to start with the track that generated a lot of hype for the soundtrack, the game's theme song "Tears". The brooding industrial beats and cool guitar lines of the introduction set the tone for the musical experience. The dark distorted vocals that eventually emerge are like bread and butter to the background soundscape. With only a few shuffles and breakouts throughout the track, the song is quite minimalistic, but always affecting. It definitely stays closer to Health's commercial sound than the other tracks here, though it still fits the scenario well. The brooding tones emphasise the protagonist Max's mental state, while the well-written lyrics are reflective of his past and desire to move on. Finally, Health's fanbase are also likely to enjoy "Future". Though principally instrumental, it follows a similar pace and beat as "Tears" and closes with some haunting choral work.
The rest of the soundtrack is dedicated to the instrumental tracks from the game, most of them heavily influenced by the game's scenario. As a result, they're less likely to appeal to Health's core fanbase, but they should form a strong connection with those that have played the game and appreciate Max Payne. The protagonist's mental state is perhaps the main focus of Health with their scoring and, inevitably, this leads to a lot of dark and unconventional music. Take the distinctive blend of elements in "Torture", for instance. The melody is surprisingly bright, but the sound it's rendered in is archaic and desperate. The end result creates a fascinating connection between Max's dark present and tragic past, while staying true to the tense atmosphere of the game. Tracks like these won't be globally accessible, but they're very effective and potentially enjoyable too.
In context, many of these tracks are as immersive as the best moody ambience from Trent Reznor or Cliff Martinez. "Painkiller" is perhaps the track that puts the most emphasis on low-key electronic soundscaping. It obsesses around the same beats and ideas during its six minute playtime, while having just enough drive to pay off. The end result gives a new meaning and unique identity to Max's addiction to painkillers. Maintaining this approach is "Sampa", basically Health's version of the series' main theme. Recurring melodies from the original games are noticeable, conveyed in a very dark tone and texture to highlight the sympathetic emotions. A further highlight is "Dead", which grows even more brooding as the adrenaline-pumping drums and bass kick in halfway. The cries of an infant in the background serve as a chilling reminder of Max's history.
Going beyond the slow electronics, the game's action sequences tend to boast compelling rhythms and other exciting elements. "Severin" is the most adrenaline-pumping track on the score, mixing fast-paced drum work with harmonic guitars that levitate the excitement of the action. This track is one of the exclusives to the digital release, along with the moody scene-setter "Blasphemy". "Max: Finale", on the other hand, hybridises classic action scoring with tense-sounding electronics. It doesn't provide an epic 'in your face' finale like most of today's Hollywood-inspired games do, but instead captures the gravity of the situation with its more personal, agonising approaches. "Max: Favela" also deserves an honorable mention as one of the few tracks that uses Brazilian percussion work to directly relate to the setting. There is also an enjoyable bonus track that was made exclusively for the game by the famous Brazilian MC Emicida.
What Health has done here is not something that's "cinematic" or "orchestral" per se, in contrast to the majority of blockbuster video game scores being released today. However, they have managed to create a soundtrack that's both the pulse and backbone of the game. The dark and brooding tunes are not only there for the ambience, but they also cleverly reflect on Max's broken morals and health. Health could have done more to reflect on the Brazilian setting, rather than focusing linearly on Max and his grit filled experience. However, that still doesn't stop the soundtrack from being something unique and innovative to listen to. Inevitably, the album won't be easily accessible to mainstream listeners it's best to appreciate the music within the excellent game first, then listen to the soundtrack on its own later. Health's long-term followers may wish to purchase the "Tears" single over the full soundtrack, though both together can potentially provide a very rewarding listen.