Review by The Hellbound Heart
"Max Payne is Reborn"
I have not long ago (a matter of minutes) completed Max Payne 2 for the PC. Arguably the biggest PC game of 2003, and it was certainly number one on my Christmas list. To tell the truth, I've never really liked PC games for one reason or another. They crash, or the specs of your computer never match up to the requirements until you shed a load of money for upgrades to see the full potential of the software. For that reason, consoles such as the PS2 or Dreamcast have also proved cheaper and more convenient. However, with a new PC in my possession (3.2 GHz processor and 512mb RAM etc) I decided to give it a go. I was certainly not disappointed.
In short, this is the best game I have ever played for depth of story and emotion since Silent Hill 2, my favorite game of all time. It is the best action game of its ilk ever. I have to say I love Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne JUST as much as Silent Hill 2.....
The graphics look sumptuous and beautiful, maintaining a deep clarity of detail throughout on all the textures. Simply put, it looks amazing. It also seems to run very well even on older graphics cards I hear, although having one that can handle the smoke particle effects and mirror reflections all enhance the aesthetic appeal of conveying a sense of reality. The re-modeled characters, particularly that of Max Payne (who now somehow resembles Richard Hillman from Coronation Street) is very well done, and a great improvement on the first game. You can see the hard life Payne has suffered engrained in his features, the dark aura of a man lost from a world he once knew, but still in it and unable to awake from his nightmare. Payne's leather jacket is excellent, you can see every crease of the jacket, the reflection of the surroundings just visible on the shiny leather in well lit areas. Later on in the game, Max's injuries which are crudely patched up still remain visible as you near the end of the game.
It is the buildings and surroundings that are the core of the developers design genius, and they are not afraid to show expanse, detail, simplicity and grim decay. One minute you may be walking in a building used for storage, or later in a huge manor with beautiful paintings and architecture adorning the walls and ceilings. In the decaying buildings or the ones on fire as you unexpectedly find yourself in, the environments become alive and the structures fall around you with no noticeable slowdown and you see the innards of the place exposed, tiles falling, staircases collapsing. It is amazing and you almost feel like stopping and witnessing the destruction. The fire effects are a highlight, and are beautifully used, moving with grace and purpose as the smoke billows to the roof. The greatest level in my opinion that shows off all of the above is the funhouse. You have to see it to believe it!
All animation, the reloading of the gun, the explosion of Molotov cocktails as the flames disperse and grenade explosions send the villains into the air are all very satisfying.
Indeed, the two greatest inclusions since the original is the implementation of the bullet time 2.00 system and the new Havoc system.
Bullet time 2.00 is a massive improvement over the original, the picture no longer becomes blurred but alters to a golden tint with the more kills you manage in a given moment. This allows you to move quicker even though the villains are still slowed down. Hence, the better and more efficient killer you become the easier it is to clear out the rooms. Bullet Time just gives you enough time to assess a room's situation and enemy placement instead of running in like a loon. The need for clear methodical thinking and strategy is very important. Bullet time 2.00 also has the very cool effect of showing off a reload animation when you are constantly firing and can't stop to reload, showing off an awesome 360 degree spin. By the time Max faces forward again toward the enemy, he has reloaded!
The new Havoc system (which will be used again in the big new PC games like Half Life 2) allows the shot villains to collapse and fall off the side of buildings with greater movement and realism. You see the motion of the body fly backward as the bullet hits, and with the new 'rag doll' physics the body is flung in that direction, limbs flailing about as they hit the ground or crash into cardboard boxes. It is amazing to behold and very well done, making the gun fights even more breathtaking. Likewise, the majority of all objects in the game (boxes, crates, bins) can be knocked over by gun fire or Max's body.
Weather effects (mainly rain, always at night) are very well done, as are the little touches like puddles and the sound and flash of thunder and lightning.
While Max Payne 2 does not have an extensive soundtrack like some games today, it is nevertheless some of the best music I have ever heard. The main theme of Max Payne has been redone in Cello this time, and immediately this gives the game a different feeling from the original. It feels one hundred percent the movie epic, a haunting ambience that pervades throughout the game and creates the perfect atmosphere of Max Payne's tragic life whilst conjuring the image of an imperfect world devoid of innocence. The theme is both contemporary and classical at the same time, and the theme is used as the background music to all the graphic novel intermissions after a level is completed, reviewing the plot by means of artistic pictures before setting up the next development. The end credits song called 'Late Goodbye' performed by Poets of the Fall is one of the best songs in a game I have ever heard and fits snugly into the movie like genre style the game has made its own.
The majority of sound is used for the graphic novel interludes where the pictures pop up like still tableau’s and the illusion of movement is created by the sound of footsteps, a gun being cocked, a drink being drunk or the screech of a car's wheels. This is one of the series most innovative and mesmerizing aspects.
The sound of gunfire is very satisfying, as is the moment just before you ambush some villains when you overhear their conversation from around the next corridor. Like everything else in the game, the conversations are most of the time very amusing and to an extent humanize the villains by getting an insight into what they think about. Fed up with the boss, scared of heights or girlfriend trouble. There are also other sound bites which give away their plans such as the shout of blowing the explosives that you just realize are surrounding you.
One of the funniest bits of sound that come from the game are from the TV sets. These broadcast a couple of drama serials that are all satires of the original (e.g. an over the top 1970's style cop show resembling the first games plot, a classical love story called Lords & Ladies and also the Pink Flamingo which strangely seems like Lynch's weird Twin Peaks). You will find yourself clearing a room of adversary's and then stopping to watch the next episode as each chapter progresses.
Game Play: 10/10
The main core of the game and it doesn't disappoint. It is essentially the same as the original Max Payne but enhanced even further. This is great as if you have played the previous game, you can very quickly fit back into the style of play, how to use the awesome new Bullet Time 2.00 and where the pain killers may be.
Max Payne 2 is the definitive action gun game. There is no better game. The ease by which you can explore and then notice an enemy and slip into a slow motion roll guns blazing is very satisfying and in effect, like playing an active role in a John Woo film. A criticism of the original was that the control design allowed for near perfect gun combat, but very frustrating platform sections which seemed to require pinpoint accuracy or near fatal death was met all too quickly. Thankfully, these such level ingredients have all but disappeared and those that are there are short and not a problem. As have the brilliant to watch but murder to play nightmare dream sequences from the original. In their replacement are trippy dream like levels which revisit areas of the game, or delve into Max's screwed psyche. The clever story of the sequel starts at the present time and backtracks through the past to how Max has found himself in dire strait, until finally catching up to the present in the last chapter. At the start, the dream like sequences hint at past events that Max has forgotten but needs to remember. Characters and situations that have happened become warped, trust is no longer a certainty. These dream sequences are one of the main aspects of the game that I like the most and shows how the developers are always keeping you guessing as a gamer. They flaunt dream situations which though altered, ring true to how Max and yourself perceive the plot against you. Sometimes terrible choices are put forward, and though they don't affect the main plot back in reality, they effect you as a gamer nonetheless. You realize how clever this game is. It takes itself seriously in the right places, but steps on humor and satire at the right moments. Humorous levels like one at the end with Gognitti and armed villains not reaching a containment safe room because you are in it and the bombs explode are all very funny. The game throws so many action set pieces at you, generally involving the environments like the Funhouse level, arguably the best, that you'll be so excited to see the next level or revisit the latter.
Another big difference in this game is the inclusion of a secondary playable character (Mona Sax) for a few levels that demonstrate two different perspectives of events that you as Max have gone through. This is a great device and breaks up the game nicely, with more emphasis on using a sniper rifle to protect your main character who now acts independently. Likewise when as Max, Mona gives you a hand and she proves very good! The bond that develops between the two main characters and the tragic and blossoming love story between them is one great feature of the game. Other characters also briefly help you out though you don't control them.
Environments get destroyed, and sometimes it pays to look out for explosive canisters so that enemies can be killed and ammo saved (though you rarely need to). That's part of the fun, the huge array of weapons available. Another big winning aspect is the way set pieces are thrown in your face constantly, you have no time to get bored but instead just marvel!
I preferred using a PC controller for Max Payne 2 as I found the bullet time key placement and movement with keyboard/mouse combination awkward (not used to it). The bullet time SHIFT key seems placed a little too far down the keys of movement. The precision and movement of the mouse for aiming and firing is second to none.
Life Span: 8/10
The game isn't as long as some might like. What it is though is a cleverly crafted piece of gaming 'art' and 'innovation' that focuses just as much on a deep and moving story and at times satire as the cool action set pieces. Arguably this is the biggest difference in Max Payne's 'rebirth', the greater need to tell a great and compelling story than bombard you with similar level design. The game is like a roller coaster ride, when you're on you don't want to get off from the excitement and the next clever device thrown at you, but when it is over you are left with the a perfect gaming experience that you will always remember and want to play again. I completed the game in about 10 hrs I guess, but spread over 5 days. I have heard from other gamers and reviews that a long 7 hour stint should see it completed. Completion unlocks a harder game mode and a mode similar to time trial on the levels with a countdown timer, and a mode with re-spawning enemies to see how long you can survive and hone your skills. The great thing about the game though, is that the bullet time never lets you kill enemies the same way twice, and each room/battle is a big set piece moment. You'll want to play it again....and you will!
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is one of the greatest games I have ever played. It has also rekindled my faith in PC games. The PC version is undoubtedly the best, with the Xbox and PS2 in that order.
Like Silent Hill 2, Shenmue or FFVII this game has touched me in a way that only a special game can. It is a dark and disturbing tale of one man's struggle to live in a harsh world, a vicious side of a city only he witnesses and has forever tainted his life. More than that though, this game is an adult love story between two people, Max and Mona who find themselves thrown together by fate and the need for some kind of company aside from the cold barrel of their guns. As the game progresses we see the confusion Max faces coming to terms with his wife's death from the original, the scars still evident on the inside though healed on the outside. Here is a man with nothing to lose, no one to care for. Mona's reappearance throws his values into disarray, and makes him reassess his life and where it has brought him. It is arguably the greatest love story a game has offered. It is a tale of trust, vengeance, betrayal, existentialism, fear, but most of all love and humanity. Ironic then, that a game where killing bad guys is the main aspect of the game play and there is still a tale of emotion and love being told. That’s what makes it special. It is a gaming psychological novella that unfolds with timely precision. Sam Lake the writer should be proud of his work, as should the rest of the team.
It is the game of 2003.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/04
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