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Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Developer: Remedy | Publisher: Rockstar Games
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/23/03 | Genre: Action

From the packaging, to the graphic novels, to the game environments, Max Payne 2 is an incredibly stylish game. Like the first Max Payne, this sequel offers up a gritty, violent, and dramatic story of a detective on his own, with nothing to lose. In the first game, Max Payne was wrongfully accused of murder, and it was up to him to get to the bottom of things. With his family gone, he felt like he had nothing to lose. Although that theme is terribly clich?©, developer Remedy presented the plot and the game in such a way as to make it really engrossing. To mimic the style of an old pulp detective novel, the game featured over-the-top dialogue that bordered on ridiculous. However, Remedy showed that they weren't taking themselves too seriously with a couple sequences of self-mockery. I thought the way the story was presented was quite enjoyable. There is even more humor in Max Payne 2. Don't worry; it doesn't make the game silly. It makes it more enjoyable, in fact, by breaking up the incredibly intense action and drama with bits of humor. It sets a better pace for the game.

The story was a large part of the first game, and so it is in Max Payne 2. As before, much of the story is presented with a graphic novel. At significant parts of the game, you will view a graphical novel (like a comic). The graphic novel is accompanied by voice acting, sound effects, and music. As the dialogue plays on, each panel of the graphic novel will appear. If you prefer, you can stop, or skip this altogether if you just want to get back to the shooting. I wouldn't recommend it since the story makes for a great experience. The voice acting is superb, as are the sound effects. The production quality is so high, and very professional. It's a well written, interesting story too. If you haven't played the first game, there is a short graphic novel sequence that you can view which kind of recaps what happened in the first game. This time, Max Payne has ended up back on the NYPD. He starts out by trying to discover the purpose and motives of a new organization that is somehow related to or involved with other organizations we became familiar with in the first game. As Rockstar has so well advertised, the plot does not only involve New York City organized crime groups, but it also revolves around Max's love interest in Mona Sax, an assassin that shared a common goal with Max during the first game. The story and presentation of Max Payne 2 outdoes that of the first game, and that's saying something. The beautiful graphic novels, the excellent voice acting and writing go well beyond what we're used to with most games. Remedy and their various artists and other talents did a great job creating and bringing to life a story that will really draw players into the game and keep them wanting to see what happens next. It's not like a typical game plot, and you really don't know who's doing what or how it will end.

The sound, both for story elements, as well as during gameplay is excellent. The original voice actors from the first game have come back to reprise their roles in Max Payne 2, and that's a good thing. Aside from the voice acting performed during graphic novels and in game cinematics, Remedy also enlisted the help of real New Yorkers to voice the hundreds of underworld thugs and innocent bystanders that you will come into contact with in the game. Aside from yelling clever things like, "Die! Die! Die!" when they see you enemies will also have short conversations with each other before they are aware of Max Payne's presence. Some of these are purely for humor or to build up tension, but sometimes, if you stop to listen to what they are saying, you'll get a hint about what lies ahead. You can also hear what Max Payne is thinking during gameplay which also helps to further the plot, and it sometimes gives the player a clue if they are having trouble figuring out how to progress. The sound effects are equally impressive. Of course, there are many unique sounds for all of the different weapons you will acquire, each sound helping players sense the power of each weapon. There are also many more sounds to accommodate the detailed environments. This is especially important with the new physics engine being used. Because objects can move more realistically, it's a good thing that there are lots of sound effects to go with all of the boxes, barrels, bodies, glass, and whatnot that will by flying around when you blow stuff up. If you have the hardware to handle it, the environmental audio is well done. Something that some lower-end computers may not be able to handle is the dynamic altering of sound effects when Bullet Time is activate. As the world goes into slow motion, so do the sounds, and it sounds pretty cool. Lastly, there isn't much music in the game, but what is there is really enjoyable. The main Max Payne theme is back of course. You'll hear a new version of it during the title screen and menus, and you will also hear different versions of it during important story moments. There is also some faster paced music that helps convey tension and excitement during certain sequences of gameplay. However, most of the time, there is no music playing, but it fits just fine. Although you won't get to hear the actual song until the ending credits, a group called Poets of the Fall has written and performed a song specifically for Max Payne 2. Throughout the game, you'll here characters humming, singing, whistling it, and more. I think most everyone will enjoy the song when they finally hear the actual version of it during the credits. Aside from being a nice song, it also demonstrates the effort and care put into the whole production of the game.

Graphically, Max Payne 2 is noticeably improved over Max Payne. Like the first game, gun animations are detailed and every bullet is rendered in real time. That's necessary for the slow motion of Bullet Time. Also, the textures (can) have a very high level of detail. What's improved over the first game is that characters seem to be made of more polygons, especially their heads. Faces are now fully animated. There's no more "constipated face" Max. There is also a new lighting and shadowing engine that looks a lot better. The great thing about the shadowing is the use of soft-edged, fading shadows that appear much more realistic than the sharp-edged shadows of older technology. There are also a couple cool new effects. Thankfully, you won't see this one too much, but it does look cool the few times you see it. When Max has a dream sequence, everything you see smoothly warps and bends. It's a cool effect, but it would make you sick if you had to play with it for too long. Another effect you'll see much more often is a real time altering of color during Bullet Time. It makes everything appear in sepia. It just kind of heightens the sense of expanding small instants into longer moments of clarity. The level of detail must be commended. Not only is there a large variety of textures to make the locations believable, but there are tons of objects in the various locations. It just makes every location seem like it could be a real place. A long wall won't just have the same repeated textures; some sections might have some cracks, stains or graffiti. Desks have papers and cups and things on them. There are a lot of little things to stop and admire.

One thing that hasn't changed very much is the gameplay mechanics. Max Payne 2 plays very much like its predecessor. It's purely a shooter. Environment interaction is pretty much limited to opening doors and pushing elevator buttons. Yeah, Max Payne is purely an action game. It's a well done one at that. There's not too much to say. You choose a gun, point at stuff and shoot. Okay, it's not that simple, but it's not too hard to learn. Of course, the thing that set Max Payne apart was the Bullet Time mode. Simulating Max's heightened state of mind and body due to adrenaline or however you want to think about it, the player can activate Bullet Time to go into slow motion. This drains a meter as long as it's active. The meter is replenished when enemies are killed. The player can still move the cursor at normal speed during Bullet Time, giving him or her a significant advantage in combat. Max Payne can also perform a "shootdodge" which activates Bullet Time and causes Max to dive in the desired direction. During the dive, the player can aim at normal speed and becomes a harder target to hit. The downside is that you are vulnerable when you are getting back up. Bullet Time has been adjusted a little to become "Bullet Time 2.0" for the sequel. Probably the most important change is that the Bullet Time meter slowly refills when it is not activated. Killing enemies causes it to refill much faster. In the first game, it was only refilled by killing enemies. The other change is that the more enemies killed in succession, the more dramatic the effect is. That is, initially, Bullet Time 2.0 does not slow things down as much as Bullet Time did in the first game, but as more enemies are killed, time slows down more and more. It's a cool effect. To be honest though, it doesn't change things that much. In Bullet Time, the player has much more time to think. Not only is it easier to get headshots and actually avoid bullets (which you can see), but you also have more time to think about aiming for an explosive box or diving behind a table for cover.

A major addition to the game is the use of the Havok physics engine, the same technology developed for Half-Life 2. The physics engine allows for all types of objects to behave very realistically ?Äìmuch more than we've ever seen before. Collision detection seems to be modeled accurately to the real shape of objects, not some cylinder or box around them. Each object behaves according to its shape, mass, and appropriate laws of physics. For instance, a block of concrete will be much harder to shoot over than an empty paint can. The way all of the environments objects move and collide is amazing to see, especially in the slow motion of Bullet Time. Seeing the explosion of a grenade cause a pile of boxes and chairs to go flying makes for some breathtaking scenes. Corpse physics are the best I've seen as well. Bodies fall and collide with things realistically, and they don't seem too floppy. They seem like they have the correct mass and flexibility. There are plenty of places in the game that have obviously been set up to show off the physics. For instance, in one place, an enemy is positioned so that when you kill him, he will most likely fall onto the end of a long 2x4 that is set up like a teeter-totter with some paint cans on the other end. Or how about a pyramid of tires? That had to be set up just for players to knock down for fun. Still, these objects all make sense in the locations that their placed. It's not really contrived. As cool as the physics engine is, it doesn't add that much to the Max Payne gameplay. It does help to simulate a more realistic world, and naturally there are a few new things to consider. For instance, if you are going to hide behind an object for cover, you have to be careful that it doesn't get pushed over or shot over, or that cover will no longer be there. Also, objects that have been thrown into the air by an explosion or something else could obstruct your line of fire, and you have to be aware of that. You can also push explosive objects to different places to surprise enemies. Overall though, Max Payne 2 is not a game in which you interact with the environment a lot, so the new physics are mostly there to "wow" you.

The game is still about shooting, shooting, and more shooting. Since that's what the game focuses on, it's a good thing that Remedy did it so well. There is a good variety of weapons. Although there are a couple new weapons, there's nothing radically different. You just need to learn the various strengths, firing rates, and clips sizes of the different weapons. Although you might get through the game just shooting like crazy with whatever you have, you'll do much better if you get to know each weapon and pick a few favorites. You have a few different hand guns, shot guns, machine guns, and some rifles. In addition, you can have grenades and Molotov cocktails. You can also hit enemies with your gun, but honestly, you're not going to use it very much because it isn't that strong and there's plenty of ammo to be found. Since location damage is modeled accurately, it's important to get those headshots or body shots at least.

While the core game mechanics haven't changed, Remedy has provided much more variety in combat situations. The environments you'll be fighting in and the way enemies are placed make Max Payne 2 more enjoyable than the first because it feels like you have to be more mindful of what's going on around you. It just feels like the level design has improved a lot. There are also a couple of levels where you'll hardly see a gun, but they're actually more fun and interesting than the dream sequences from the last game. There are no more frustrating and poorly designed platforming challenges. That was pretty much the only complaint people had about the first game. Now, the few levels where you don't use a gun are interesting and they are mainly there to further the story.

Max Payne 2 is not a very long game. I'd estimate that most people could beat it within 10-12 hours. This is thanks in part to the self-adjusting difficulty. It seems to work pretty well. The game adjusts the skill of the AI and the number of painkillers (health restoring items) based on how well the player is doing. After the game is completed once, new difficulty levels are unlocked, as well as the new "Dead Man Walking" game mode. In this mode, Max is placed in a modified version of a game level and enemies spawn infinitely. The goal is to last as long as possible. In addition to these modes, there are already quite a few mods available on the Internet. Remedy made some good mod tools for Max Payne 2 as they did for the first game. Not only do people create new levels, but they create new types of gameplay from the Max Payne engine. For instance, for the first game, people created mods that let Max perform Kung Fu moves, use entirely new weapons, or even reenact scenes from The Matrix. There are sure to be plenty of mods created for Max Payne 2 as well. You can find the current ones by checking the links at the official site. These will definitely increase the life of the game.

Overall most people would agree that Max Payne 2 isn't that different from Max Payne. Ordinarily, that would be a pretty bad thing. However, in this case, Remedy has developed the game with so much style and care. The story has such a great presentation and it really adds a lot to the experience. The production values are just beyond the level that we are used to seeing in games. In addition, though the basic gameplay hasn't changed much, the level design is better all around. Max Payne 2 is seems even more intense, more dramatic, and more engrossing than the original. If you liked the first game, then you'll definitely like this game. If you didn't like the original Max Payne (there are a few of you out there), then you're probably not going to like this one either, as nothing major has changed. If you haven't played the original, give this one a try. You don't need to play the first game to understand the bulk of what's going on. There is a short sequence that recaps the events of the first game. Newcomers might miss a little bit of the humor and story, but they won't be confused. Those who played the first game will understand the story's relation a little better. At the end of the credits, Remedy tells us that "Max Payne's journey through the night will continue." If they can keep this up, I'm completely ready for another chapter in the not-so-cheery life of Max Payne.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 12/22/03
ESRB Details: Blood, Intense Violence, Mature Sexual Themes, Strong Language
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