Max Payne 3 OST

(Rockstar Games; 2012)

By Calum Marsh | 8 June 2012

Perhaps because most modern videogames find themselves soundtracked by rap-metal bands or proper composers on loan from Hollywood (and sometimes both), the fact that Rockstar’s triple-A blockbuster Max Payne 3 sports an original score from trendy noise-rockers HEALTH automatically qualifies it as cool. It also suggests that somebody at Rockstar has both good taste and the good sense to use it, and we should be thankful that no focus group overturned in favor of something more in keeping with popular public opinion. But then that’s exactly how Rockstar roll: they are above all else masterful curators, bringing together the best people to work on the most hotly anticipated projects and guaranteeing that everything bearing their stamp boasts only the most well-conceived and – executed everything. Whatever their faults (and they very often have many), you can be sure that Rockstar games will always look and sound like nothing else on the market—they ensure that everything from a game’s art direction to sound design to voice acting is immaculate, and it shows. I mean, even the goddamn fonts are worth noting, all clean lines and unfussy.

Is it really so surprising, then, that Rockstar would bring a band with as cohesive and well-defined an aesthetic sensibility as HEALTH on board for this kind of project? Somebody somewhere pointed to Get Color (2010) and said “like this only longer,” and HEALTH delivered: Max Payne 3 is about ten hours long and not a second goes un-HEALTHisized, the whole thing drenched in the unmistakable guitar and synthesizer melange that is their trademark sound. They’ve learned a thing or two from Hans Zimmer, I think, insofar as they’re at times reliant on that popular Dark Knight slow-burn, but they adopt the trick so effortlessly that it never feels like plagiarism. And the dance music sensibility they increasingly came to embrace over the (brief) course of their discography has been scaled back, as it needed to be to suit the occasion, but the band is otherwise performing as they might in any other context.

And so, taken as a distinctive whole, the Max Payne 3 soundtrack sounds more or less like a HEALTH album proper—albeit one predicated on and guided by a gamer maker’s impulse rather than a musician’s. Which means that instead of standalone, stand-out singles like their earlier coups “Die Slow” and “Crimewave,” the tracks which make up this soundtrack are more akin to song-suites that increase or decrease in intensity only when it suits the mood of the particular “scene,” as it were. The ebb and flow of it all is distinctly game-like, in a sense—long sections are meant for nothing else than chock-a-block killing, which Max Payne does often and with flair—but because this Rockstar game is characteristically cinematic, the band has been afforded the freedom to spend long periods in relative repose, letting their sound simmer portentously. This proves to be a good look for the band, in fact, one that suggests perhaps a second calling in the movie business; you can almost see the horror films or action thrillers getting the added kick HEALTH provide here.