Review by RivenCaulfield
M P 2 : Maxterpiece Payne
When was the last time you went to the movies, and witnessed a sequel that beat the crap out of its predecessor? Taking the best things and making them better – cutting away the chaff that didn’t work, and solving the problems of the original?
I’m a cinephile, and I can’t recall the last time. Sequels, as a general rule, suck - but this phenomenon appears to be reserved to motion pictures. When Max Payne washed across the PCs and PS2s and Xboxes of the world, it truly set a new standard for action games, and visual style. Remedy had their work cut out for them in continuing the franchise. Sequels suck, but Max Payne 2 blew me - away.
S T O R Y
It’s been argued that the plot of Max Payne 2 is full of holes – and it is, if you run Hell-bent through the levels, never listening in on conversations, not paying attention to the details that fill in those holes.
The story is deep – a twisting and elegant series of lines that converge and move apart, pulling you deeper into the darkness of New York City.
Billed as a film-noir love story, MP2 delivers what it promises – on your first play, you’ll burn to beat the next level, just to see how things between Max and his femme fatale progress. You want them to end up together, you want them to end up happy – you care.
Once you’ve played, however, you’ll certainly play again – and in my case, every time I’ve played through again I’ve learned something new about the story. Something that made me say ‘ohhhh – so that’s why so-and-so did so-and-so’.
S O U N D
I’ve never played a game that sounded so good. With enemies closing in, you’ll know what weapons they wield simply from the characteristic sound of each firearm. The pop-cap sounds of a 9mm, compared to the chunky Desert Eagle. The smooth, clear rapid-fire of the MP5 submachinegun, compared to the metallic clatter of the ingram – each sounds spectacular.
When you throw a molotov cocktail, you can hear the smoldering of the wick as it flies. The ping of shell casings as they fall is amazing. The sound of the reload is so clear – the clip hitting the ground – pulling the slide – the slide snapping back – it’s perfect. The hollowness as you slide a pair of shells into the sawed-off – perfect.
Ambient sound is spectacular – the constant rain outside sounds perfect when you approach a window. Enemies talking just sound right – echoes match their location, and I haven’t even touched on the music.
Go to MaxPayne.com and put on some headphones – the music is this quality, all the way through. One of those few games that sound as good as they look.
G A M E P L A Y
The Fun Factor of Max Payne 2 far exceeds its predecessor – the fighting is more fast, more furious, with lead and shells and bodies flying around you in glorious Bullet Time 2.0.
Choose the right weapon, and headshots are easily within your grasp. Thanks to a totally revamped AI, enemies will reveal themselves only to quickly seek shelter, and take advantage of your mistakes. They call out to their comrades for help, and yell an insulting “you coward!” if you duck behind a wall or pillar.
Adding to the responsive control and vicious enemy AI is the integration of the HAVOK physics engine, which applies to everything from teensy painkiller bottles to great big barrels to the enemies and Max himself. Bust through a door and the enemy behind will be knocked to the ground. Put a Desert Eagle round into an enemy’s shoulder and watch it fly back – plus, I’ve never seen a game where the headshots look more like, well, getting plugged in the head. It looks like it hurts.
Fun, fun, fun.
I M P R O V E M E N T S
It would be churlish of me to write a review of MP2 without taking into account all of the improvements over its predecessor (graphics and sound aside), and the integration of the HAVOK engine is only the beginning.
Though Max Payne 1 was an unequivocal hit, it was not without its flaws. You would leap into Max’s signature shootdodge, get off half a clip with the dual 9mms, or maybe three shells from a shotgun, only to hit the ground, slowly get up, and hope you’re not already dead. When Max had his nightmare sequences, you would fumble through the level and have to deal with a ridiculous line-of-blood jumping puzzle, that had no place in the game. Also, there was that stupid level in Angelo Punchinello’s restaurant, as it blows up around you. Man, that was just tedium.
Max Payne 2 fixes these, and makes it fun. Now you’ll fly into a shootdodge, firing madly and hit the ground – but hold down the shoot button, and you’ll keep on pumping rounds into your foe – even continuing to aim at multiple enemies from your prone position – headshot city. Not only is this helpful, it looks damn cool – straight outta’ John Woo or Desperado. Nothin’ spells fun like busting through the door of a room, sliding across the floor, shooting under a table and taking out the legs of an enemy across the room.
And the dream sequences? Gone are the confusing labyrinthine designs, gone are the tedious blood-trails, replaced with psychobabbling NPCs, real ambience, the real sense you get in a dream, wandering from reality to reality.
Another improvement is the levels. In MP1, the levels were sparse – practically bare, even. There were boxes and gas canisters and washrooms, sure, but they never felt like a real bedroom, or even a real hallway. Beyond that, the levels were tiny – we’re talkin’ like cold-water shrinkage tiny. You’d blast through five baddies, and have to sit through a five-minute load screen. No good, man. No good.
In MP2, life has been breathed into the world. Rain constantly pours down from above – water faucets (and towel dispensers, and showers, and phones, and lockers, and toilets) work – half the enemies (and friendly NPCs) will be in the middle of a conversation as you approach, and you’re free to listen in.
And the size, OH the size – whoever said bigger isn’t better was lying – lying straight to your face. The levels are huge – sprawling, and packed with baddies. When they’re not, it’s okay, ‘cause you’re in a Funhouse. Or the building is exploding – and through the exploding building in MP1 was tedium, this one is beautiful. Watching boxes and bodies and pieces of wall fly, fighting off enemies while trying to dodge the firestorm – it’s gotta’ be seen to be believed.
Which brings us to Bullet Time 2.0 – the next generation of Max’s signature skill. In MP1, you hit Bullet Time and time slows down, and you didn’t expect anything more (and I certainly didn’t think to). But Remedy took it upon themselves to improve even the most basic, coolest thing about their game. In MP2 you’ll hit Bullet Time and time will slow down – enough to give you a fine advantage. But kill your first enemy, and you’ll gain more of an edge – you can hear when you’ve killed, just by listening to how time slows further down. Kill and kill again, and you’re deep in the zone, the action around you crawling at a snail’s pace while you figure a way to get out of this alive.
When reloading in bullet time, Max will duck and spin to avoid enemy fire. When he’s fully in the zone, time will come nearly to a stop while the camera pans 360 around him, giving you a clear view of all the enemies around you - giving time to plan your next move.
Man – they almost put too much thought into this game.
G R A P H I C S
I have never played a game that sounded so good, nor have I played a game that looked so good. The textures are drool-worthy. Max’s leather jacket sways realistically and caches the light in its shine. Muzzle flare is gorgeous – the faces of these characters are the best I’ve seen, barring the Disney-style facial animation of Sora and Kairi in a few of the Kingdom Hearts cutscenes (you know which ones I’m talkin’ about – the ones where they show teeth). This is one production which truly takes game detail to an anal level, from the rings that hold up Mona’s punching bag to the clippings on the police station wall.
I don’t know if there’s ever been a game where a 9mm fires little gold bullets, the Desert Eagle fires big hollow-points, the rifles fire long sleek slugs, and the shotguns let loose a pack of perfectly round, reflective ball-bearings, but I gotta’ say – it’s about time.
This game belongs in the Smithsonian, where it can fraternize with other great art.
V A L U E
Ten for ten on value. In other reviews, people have said this game has little replayability, but I disagree. You may play Max Payne 2 through once, twice, thrice, then let it go for a while. Try a few other shooters, maybe. But you’ll come back to Max, I guarantee. He offers you what many have attempted, but none could perfect.
Well - ‘till now, that is.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 12/05/03
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