Review by MTLH

"The first Payne was great, the second one is even better."

Riding a wave of hype, the original Max Payne was released in 2001 and became a huge success. And when a game is successful, there is an unwritten law that states that it should be followed up by a sequel. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne saw the light of day in 2003. The first game was a highly entertaining shooter with a time slowing trick that featured an accomplished plot that didn't take itself too seriously. How does The Fall of Max Payne fare in light of such a successful predecessor?

Max Payne 2 certainly looks better then it's predecessor. It is amazing how much difference two years make. The characters, both the main protagonists and the rest, are animated well and feature a lot of detail. Faces look real this time instead of stickers plastered over a Lego head. There are still a few anomalies though. Sometimes an arm may stick out at a slightly funny angle or the lip-syncing can occasionally be absent. Still, these occurrences are quite rare. Overall the characters look great.

The environments likewise received a bit of polish. Textures in particular seems to have been greatly improved, leading to more detailed and varied surroundings. The interiors of the warehouses and apartment complexes Max battled through previously tended to look a bit samey in this regard. The type of environments themselves also vary a lot more. Payne not only shoots his way through rundown apartment buildings this time but also frequents a funhouse for example and a hospital.

The game features the more advanced Havok physics engine this time round, allowing for objects and dead bodies to fall and move more realistically. This works well most of the time, although it is a shame that it has little impact on the actual gameplay. What is more worrying, is that certain objects seem to have very little weight. Chairs for example, are knocked over as if they where made out of cardboard instead of being the solid wood or metal items they are supposed to be. After a while it does become less noticeable however, but it remains a small blemish on what are otherwise wonderful visuals.

The soundtrack complements the dark style of the game. It's moody and downbeat with the occasional up tempo bits when the gameplay or plot needs it. The score features a lot of the tracks of the first game or at least sounds a lot like them. That isn't a problem. It worked then and it works now.

Voice acting is wonderful. While Max is voiced by the same actor, the rest of the regulars are recast. To be fair this isn't really noticeable and all do a great job. Sound effects are generally good, adding some bang to the gunshots and explosions.

The subtitle says it all. Starting a little while after the first game, The Fall of Max Payne follows Payne's newest descend into his own personal hell as he once again becomes involved in a conspiracy. Of course, it all starts when Max encounters a woman he presumed was dead and before long he encounters more familiar faces.

Max Payne 2 is a third person shooter with Max gunning down his enemies by the dozen. He is well equipped for the task with an assortment of weapons at his disposal, from simple handguns to assault rifles and grenades. Once again, our hero can slow down time to make his killing spree a little easier for him and also infuses the proceedings with a bit of extra style.

This bullet time mechanism can be employed in a manner of ways. The most useful of these is when Max performs a manoeuvre. Diving into a room for example or dodging incoming fire. Using it decreases a meter in the shape of an hourglass. Replenishing this meter goes automatically but this can be speeded up by killing a few goons.

The story is told mainly through the use of a graphic novel. After finishing certain segments, a few panels will show up continuing the plot. Ingame cut scenes are also used. The ratio between the two seems to have moved a bit in favour of the latter. Compared to the predecessor, the plot seems to be a bit more compact this time. Yes, it is still dark and full of pleasantly noirish cliches and Max again visits several different locations but the actual story seems to involve less actors and factions then previously and features less twists and turns.

The story does jump back in forth in time though, slowly revealing what has happened. Yet this also adds to the compactness because it stays within the boundaries of the plot. The story starts when Max goes off to investigate a disturbance and it ends when he has had his revenge. Every scene in the game, whether it is situated in the present or in the past, stays within these limits. Compare this with the hallucinations Payne had in the first game and the difference becomes clear. Those sections formed a sideline to the main plot whereas Max Payne 2 doesn't have such additional plot strands whatsoever.

An added treat comes with several televisions programmes that Payne can follow when he encounters an occasional TV set. These offer a nice analogy to his own story and are hilarious in the manner in which they parody his own actions.

The mentioned compactness also reflects upon the level design. Payne visits less locations then before although they are more varied. This game also has more distinct set pieces and other little clever ideas which nicely break up the core gameplay. For example defending someone during an assault or playing a part of the plot from the view of both Payne and another character, controlling each in turn. It are these additions that sets Max Payne 2 apart from the first title.

The sense that you are just guiding Payne through one corridor to the next and from one shootout to the other is still there however. The game is as linear as the first one. Doors that can't be opened, conveniently placed obstacles and other such barriers do guide Payne along. This comes with the genre I suppose but at times this can be a bit too obvious. It becomes more noticeable this time round because of the aforementioned addition of more varied set-ups. It doesn't detract from the game as such but the level design could have facilitated a bit more freedom.

The Fall of Max Payne consists of three parts, with each one containing eight chapters. This makes the game sound bigger then it really is, seeing that it won't last all that long. It isn't that the game isn't challenging or something like that. Far from it. It comes down to a few factors. Max Payne 2 is rather generous with painkillers that replenish Payne's health and with the ammunition for his weaponry. The aforementioned compact level design is also complicit because it results in relatively short levels. The opposition does provide a decent challenge, although that has more to do with force of numbers and the type of weapons they use. A moderate use of the quicksave and quickload buttons in combination with using some of the heavier guns will see the player coping with most engagements. This allows Payne to wander from one setpiece to the next relatively unscathed.

The presentation is great, conveying a moody and dark atmosphere. Also of note are the hugely improved visuals. What a difference two years make. The gameplay itself hasn't changed that much, with Max still shooting his way through dozens of enemies with the aide of the bullet time mechanic. But then again, it worked wonderfully in the first game and so it does in this one. The main difference comes with the level design which is more compact this time around, featuring more distinct set pieces. All in all The Fall of Max Payne improves on the first game and comes highly recommended.

OVERALL: a 9.4.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/23/09

Game Release: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (EU, 10/24/03)

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