Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
I played Max Payne on the Xbox a while ago, well after the hype had died down, and was left with mixed emotions. And really, no one cared about my mixed emotions, because they’d all played the game a year before I ever got around to it. Though I really loved the gameplay and story featured in Max Payne, I was not impressed with some of the challenging puzzles and how short the game was. So, when the sequel to the game was announced as well as the removal of the puzzles that plagued me, I was excited. And when the length was said to be doubled, I jumped all over the sequel, and even went as far as to get the PC version, even though I was planning on waiting for the Xbox version again. Promises are hard to keep, but for the most part, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (MP2) delivers on all of them.
For those of you out there that didn’t play the original Max Payne (MP), here’s where we are at the franchise so far. In the original game, out hero, Max Payne, is a cop on the staff of the NYPD, helping fight crime on the gritty streets of New York. On a night much like any other, Max drives home expecting to see his beautiful wife and newborn child. He finds his home in disarray, and as he slowly climbs the stairs, he’s confronted with gun-touting invaders. After all the bullet casings have fallen, he discovers that the invaders have killed his wife and only child. Max thus begins a desperate quest to find out who was behind this senseless attack, and after millions of bullet casings hit the ground, Max had gotten his revenge and was ready to spend some hard time in jail.
However, this was not to be. Though Max had killed hundreds of people, he was played off as a hero, working as a renegade to clean the scum of the streets. Plus, I’m sure we’re supposed to believe that it was also a form of self-defense as well, considering that in most cases they shot at Max before he shot at them. But that is neither here nor now. Max is back, and since he has nothing else to live for, he’s back at his old job on the NYPD. Max lives day to day, still feeling the pain, even two years after his last romp. And wouldn’t you be too? MP2 picks up with Max doing his trade, investigating a routine homicide case. However, nothing is routine in Max’s life. He could do the same thing every single day, and nothing is routine, because he knows that lurking around every corner is a shadow of his past coming back to haunt him. Max treats his current assignment with caution, and soon he realizes that the rabbit hole goes much deeper than anyone anticipated; especially when a woman named Mona that he saw dead in the morgue with a bullet pierced into her brain shows up on the scene three feet from his face, very much alive.
This is as much as I shall reveal in the plot department. MP2 is all about plot twists and turns and full of elaborate surprises that jump right out of the game and almost slap you in the face. What this does for the game is allow you to get completely wrapped up in the storyline, and it pushes you through progression of it so that you can simply get to the next section. The story is told in several ways, the first being through real-time cutscenes, which are often very engaging. It is also told through story-board cutscenes, which are designed to look like comic-book pages, except instead of reading the dialogue and moving your eyes from frame to frame, the story is read along as the frames pop-up on screen. This is a very unique way to tell of Max’s plight, and as a fan of comic books, I was impressed with the animation and the story telling, which could easily be transformed into a real comic book and not lose much of it’s splendor in the process.
As engaging as the game’s storyline is, the well designed gameplay is the glue that bonds MP2 together. Not much has changed from the original title. Max still gains access to a fairly large stock of weapons, such as an AK-47, Dual Desert Eagles, Sniper Rifles, and Grenades. With this assortment of weapons and lots more, Max must take on wave after wave of enemies, often in groups of three to five. These waves and waves of enemies are also where the game’s new-found length comes into play. I spent double the amount of time I did with the original MP, however, only because I kept dying. As you progress through the game, your enemies, as I’m sure you imagine, get smarter and better equipped. And you’d better pray to God that you’ve got the weaponry to take out 4 guys with shot-guns and body armor in a narrow corridor. This caused me several deaths as I worked out strategies, and I quickly learned to become a quick-save whore after spending loads of time going through areas I’d already been through.
Fortunately for MP2, the gameplay is entertaining enough that you don’t really care too much about haveing to redo certain areas. While the game is fairly linear and requires very little through to progress, a few key features make it a great time: Bullet Time, Shoot Dodging, and an enhanced Havok Physics Engine. I can’t imagine rightly that there’s a single being out there that doesn’t know the basic concept behind Bullet Time, but I’ll give a brief synopsis of it anyhow: when Max triggers Bullet Time, his enemies slow down a bit. However, Max does not, and can still aim at the same speed. This gives him an incredible advantage over his enemies, and this ability alone allows Max to survive all the intense battles he gets into. As Max uses his Bullet Time, it drains away, but the more kills he gets while Bullet Time is active, the slower the Bullet Time drains. Got that? Good. Now, as he kills even more enemies, the enemies start moving even slower, and Max’s moves get even cooler. During reloads in intense gun fights, if you’re good enough Max will do a quick spin, unload, and reload, all in the time it takes for one enemy to shoot a single shot. This may sound like it gives you an unfair advantage, but in practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Shoot Dodging is another fantastic feature of MP2. While not nearly as exciting or flashy as Bullet Time, Shoot Dodging allows you to practically avoid most shots and still be able to shoot. With a quick trigger of this feature, Max can slow down his enemies and dive away from their barrage of bullet for a short period of time – without draining any of his precious Bullet Time. This creates a very interesting dynamic added into the games incredible shoot outs.
And finally, the moment you’ve all been curious about the most I’m sure.The Havok Physics Engine. This is not a new feature to games. It’s been employed in others, and will be as well in upcoming titles. And there are a few good reasons for this: number one, it’s more realistic, and number two, it’s more fun. Oh wait.I never explained what Havok Physics are did I? Oh bother. Well, Havok Physics essentially make a game more realistic by adding less stiffness to environmental objects. Thus, running into a pile of boxes causes them to go flying in random spots, depending on where you hit them. Shooting a ladder causes it to collapse in varying directions. Throwing a grenade at a dead body causes the body to go flying upwards and land in a new position, even bending and conforming to what it lands on. This adds a lot of fun to the games environment that aren’t normally found in games like this. You even get to play as Mona for a little chunk of the game in a fairly challenging sniper level. While a fun little diversion, I was glad to be back in Max’s shoes when it was over.
Of course, most successful action games have great graphics, and MP2 is no exception to this standard. The game looks simply incredible – a new graphical bar has been set. Half-life 2 and Doom 3 are the only games on the horizon that look like they can even attempt to surpass the bar. The character models look phenomenal, for lack of any better word. One thing that bothered me though is that Max looks nothing like he did in his first outing. Slowly though, this feeling wears off, because under his exterior, it’s the same old Max. The environments are also very gritty and expansive in their own right, even if the wide-openness of the levels is offset with repetitive objects. In the audio department, Max Payne is completely engrossing. Every single line in the game is voiced, and each character brings some unique charm to the game (the original voice actor for Max, James McCaffrey, has returned). A few songs dot the game, but they’re not really an important element to the game.
In the end, MP2 is a great game if you’re only searching for a quick and entertaining experience. However, it’s a short game as well and it’s also a full-priced game. Do you really want a fifty dollar game that lasts you anywhere from 3-12 hours (estimates from fellow reviewer and friend times)? If you do, pick up MP2 as soon as you finish reading this sentence, if not, wait for a price drop and then decide if it’s worth it.