Review by RyokoTK
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Max Payne, when it came out, introduced a whole new style of gaming that has since been mimicked in other games, with little success. The game was a fun little action game, hosting a renegade cop, Max Payne, with an eternally constipated mugshot and a license to kill, and dozens of bad guys waiting to get filled with tons of bullets. Max Payne 2 brings back our hero (this time, he remembered his laxatives) in an eerily similar game.
The two key features of this game, much like the original, were the inclusion of Bullet Time and the unique Havok game engine. When you think of Bullet Time, think the Matrix. Yeah, Max is a bit like Neo, including the monotone voice, but without the wall kicks and the agents. Whatever. Bullet Time simply slows the game down for you, allowing you to pop off shots more effectively and also take down legions of soldiers without taking a scratch. As for the Havok engine, quite simply it makes almost everything in the game manipulatable in some way. Foes use ragdoll physics, allowing their bodies to get flung into boxes, hung up on shelving or bouncing down chasms when they're slain. Boxes can be kicked, barrels rolled, items shot around, etc. It's a fully immersive game with a light overlay of humor and a heavy dose of (slightly creepy) Film Noir-style gameplay, including the gritty graphic novel method of storytelling used in its predecessor.
The story is fairly basic, and it's almost a complete replica of the original's story. A quick rundown of the story goes something like this, although it's given to you in a disjointed, jumpy method in the game (to seem more like someone actually retelling the tale): In the previous game, Max's family was murdered, so he ventures into the criminal underworld to take down the people that did it, and also (in unusual circumstances) finds a new woman, a killer. In this edition, one of Max's previous criminal ''allies'' appears to be having trouble with another mob, and Max is dragged into it by the report of a homicide (he's a detective). It eventually leads up to the beginning of the game, where he ends up killing another cop and then has to go kick some ass, not to make it right, but because he can. Well, something like that. At any rate, it's not a fantastic or deep story, but the film noir style of storytelling, in addition to the ''graphic novel'' version of cinematics, form a great way of explaining what's going on, even if what's going on is horrendously cliched.
Simply astonishing. With the aforementioned Havok game engine, things go flying when you dump grenades into piles of boxes and tires, or other various objects. The graphic novel looks incredible, as it gets the dark overlay of the game down pat. Surfaces, objects, people and items all have an outstanding level of detail put into them - for instance, Max's leather jacket actually waves around as he's running, rather than being firmly pressed to his torso, something that's seen frequently in previous games. Even the Painkillers (great pun, isn't it? ''Payne''killers? Heh heh), which are the little health powerups, clearly display the brand name and information on the cap, even though it's a very small bottle. The rain looks like rain and splatters on the ground. Mouths move when people talk, bullets leave holes, fire burns like fire. Even the bullets have individual models, rather than little yellow lines. It all looks absolutely fantastic and definitely makes you feel ''in'' the game. The level of attention brought to the models is so great that, unlike in most other games where, say, a lattice fence is solid (even though you can see through it), holes in grilles, fences, planks of wood, etc. are actually holes for you to shoot through. The only obnoxious thing is the occasional mini-cinematic when you kill an important enemy (such as the last one in a room packed full of them) or fire a sniper rifle round, which goes into a Bullet Time movie. It's cool the first time, but quickly gets obnoxious. Minor gripe, the game still looks fantastic.
It couldn't have gotten much better, in all actuality. Wait, yeah, it could've been longer. The original Max Payne had somewhere in the neighborhood of 70ish levels, although they were short runs that took only a couple minutes to clear. This one has longer levels, but there's only about 25 to 30 of them, and it still feels shorter than the previous game. In addition, the levels are thoroughly straight-forward with few places to change your path. However, the levels you do get are typically filled to the brim with action, with almost every room or area stuffed with bad guys whose asses are free for you to kick. Enemies themselves are pretty intelligent, running from the grenades you throw at them, or ducking behind corners to reload, diving out of the way as you throw bullets at them, etc. There's a pretty good list of weapons featured in the game of various types, and although the Grenade Launcher didn't make the cut, it didn't belong in the game to begin with, and there are more machine guns to make up for it, and some of the weapons are handled differently, the main point being the throwing weapons. No longer are they their own weapon; instead, you carry them in addition to whatever active weapon you hold, allowing you to use both without switching (for instance, you can be carrying a shotgun, and then quickly whip a grenade around a corner to get things going), which streamlines the game a bit more. Bullet Time, however, is what keeps the game fun, as you can either do the super slow Shootdodge (slow-motion dive) or you can go into regular Slo-Mo, which gets slower as you kick more and more asses before your time runs out. It's cool and fun, and makes you look much more badass. The levels, in addition, are fairly diverse, including the return of the Nightmares from the original game, although they're no longer maddeningly difficult platforming levels, just creepy, well, dreams. All in all, it's immensely fun to play through the game.
It could've been better, definitely. There's occasionally background music during the levels, but it's sporadic, and there's only like three or four different soundtracks. In all honesty, the game is better without the music on, as it's distracting and slightly irritating when it plays. The sound is definitely a lot better, as the enemies like yelling things out at you. The problem with that, however, is that no matter who they are (Russians, Italian mobsters, janitors, etc.) they say the same things, only with different accents (such as ''Coward!'' or ''Fire in the hole!''), so that gets old too. The only reason the score here is so high is because often times, you can sneak up near rooms where guards that are supposed to be doing stuff are usually chatting instead, and often-times it's humorous, especially with the Italian mobsters or the other cops. In addition, there are a few mini TV shows that last about thirty seconds each on most levels, featuring one of three series (Address Unknown, a horror thriller, Captain BaseballBat-Boy a cartoon, and Lords and Ladies, a drama), which are usually mildly entertaining to listen to for a bit, so you have enough to keep you entertained on the side, while also kicking asses.
Replay value: 8/10
The big thing is the additional game modes that unlock upon completing the normal game, although some of them are a bit pointless, especially the higher difficulties of the same version, as there's no real discernable difference in the difficulty, making them a tad pointless. There's also a time trial mode where you try to blaze through individual stages as fast as possible, and an outstandingly difficult arena-type mode. The game's amusing enough to play through several times, which is good because the first playthrough is only a few hours of actual ass-kicking, so hopefully you can enjoy it long enough to make it worth the purchase.
Thoroughly fun. Obviously there was room for improvement, but they were all minor places, and the game overall is a solid (albeit short) adventure with much ass-kicking. Notice I've said that numerous times throughout this review? That's because there's tons of ass-kicking, which is what made it so damned fun to begin with. Definitely worth a purchase if you can find it for maybe $30. It's exciting and entertaining for quick fixes of violence.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/29/04
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