Review by GamingJock
"As a veteran of Max Payne, I walked away somewhat disappointed"
I am a big fan of the original Max Payne- I loved the action, the style, the story, and the humor. I never did get around to playing the sequel until this year. So I grabbed a copy online for $10 and walked away the next day feeling strangely... unsatisfied. It wasn't just that I beat the game in two three hour sittings, it was also other problems as well.
One of the main selling points of the Max Payne series is the story. The original Max Payne was a gritty, suspenseful tale, and was told in such a manner that even cliches could be overlooked. However, Max Payne 2 is a confusing cluster. I did not find the urgency and power of Max's mission like in the first game. The story jumps all over the place from character to character and frankly, I didn't care about half the people in the game. The main villain is a complete cop-out after playing the first Max Payne, and his motivations are neither convincing nor well-developed. The big bad conspiracy lacked any of the significance or punch for me compared to the first game. Also, for a "film noir love story" I did not see much passion or tension between Max and Mona, even when they desperately try to feel each other up before another wave of goons arrives. Consequently I did not care much about a later plot development involving Mona (which I cannot reveal for spoiler reasons).
If you did not play the first Max Payne, you will probably play through MP2 quite confused. Nearly all the characters are from the first game, aside from some minor bosses who die moments after they are introduced. The main menu has an option that recaps the first game, but frankly you won't care, for example, who Alfred Woden is and why he's important just because the game said he was.
On the upside, the game provides many "wink wink nudge nudge" references to the first game (which may be lost on new players) through often hilarious in-game TV shows and posters. There are also three recurring TV shows that progress along with the game, so by the final chapter you will see the final episode for each show, which are amusing enough to stick around and watch between gunfights. I enjoy the fact that Remedy is willing to make fun of their own game, such as an awesome TV commercial in which a cop talks about recovering from being shot in the head simply with Intefectrum painkillers ("I was back on the job in no time!").
MP2 is a very pretty game. Character models, while not particularly varied, are well done in particular, and the environments look nearly photo-realistic. Max will do battle everywhere from slums and warehouses to upscale NYC condos and even a horror funhouse modeled after one of the in-game TV shows. Also, the environment receives damage accordingly during gunfights, so it is a satisfying sight to behold as glass slowly shatters into a million pieces and catches the light during Bullet Time. Vehicles still look blocky and clunky, but they aren't an important part of the game
The only reason I did not give this section a 10/10 is because of the physics engine. I'm sure that the game physics were one of the selling points the developers had in mind, but to me it detracted from my gaming experience. None of the objects in the game have realistic weight. For example, bumping into cardboard boxes and trash cans will send them flying, which got annoying after awhile. The worst affect though is on the enemies. Let it be known I HATE HATE HATE ragdoll physics, especially when they are done poorly like in MP2. All enemies seem to weigh 15 lbs, as even small-caliber bullets send them careening through the air in cartwheels and flips, followed by bouncy landings and contorted poses. Some players might think this is funny or whatever, but it detracted from a supposedly serious, gritty game. Corpses seem to "float" on the ground and never look natural. Ragdolls are only impressive in MP2 during explosions. I would take the canned death animations of MP1 over ragdolls any day, even when mobsters grabbed their shoulders in agony as I blew out their kneecaps.
The music in this game is well executed, with the familiar Max Payne theme making its appearance. However, sound FXs are more hit or miss. For example, rain, thunder, and explosions are great sounding, but the gun sounds are not. None of my weapons feel like they have any punch to them. I've fired real firearms before, and even 9mm pistols are VERY loud. In this game your twin Berettas sound like firecrackers. Fortunately Bullet Time makes everything sound cooler.
If you're not familiar with the Max Payne series, most of the game is a third-person run-and-shoot through mostly linear levels. The main selling point is Bullet Time, a Matrix-like slowing down of time which makes gun fights a beautiful ballet of death. Bullet Time has changed somewhat in Max Payne 2. Max no longer moves as slow as his opponents during Bullet Time (unless he is shoot-dodging), and the more enemies he kills, the faster he moves. While this is cool at first, it actually makes the game too easy at times. Eventually you will kill so many people in Bullet Time that Max will run around at normal speed while everyone else is nearly frozen.
There are some other changes from Max Payne 1. First of all, some levels have you play as Mona Sax, but the change is purely cosmetic as she handles exactly like Max. The enemy AI has improved some, as I remember several instances of enemies throwing grenades to flush me out from cover. However, many times they will still blindly rush around the corner into your withering fire. A big change is fighting alongside friendly AI. Several chapters have Max team up with Mona, civilians, hookers, and various mobsters. Your partners actually seem useful beyond being simple meat shields, and while they can't go into Bullet Time or anything, they will take on their fair share of baddies.
One annoying thing is the "nightmare" or "dream" chapters. While Max Payne 1 had them as well, they were at the beginning of Parts II and III, and once they were finished the rest of each Part was uninterrupted action. Max Payne 2 sticks these in the middle of various parts. In my opinion this breaks the flow of the action as I guide Max slowly through a vomit-inducing spinning maze environment, and I felt cheated out of an entire chapter devoid of any fighting whatsoever.
My major quip with MP2 is that the game is VERY SHORT. I think I finished the story mode in six hours on the first difficulty setting. While this is alleviated some by an unlockable survival mode where you see how long Max can hold out against waves of enemies, I found myself quickly bored of the incessant shooting without motivation. If I had paid $50 when this came out, I would have been understandably upset.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10 (not an average)
While I did enjoy the bristling gun fights and interesting environments, overall it wasn't the experience I was hoping for. I feel that Max Payne 2 was actually a step back for the series. While this game is still worth a play-through, here's hoping that Max Payne 3 (if it gets made!) will be different and better.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 03/02/09
Game Release: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (US, 10/14/03)
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