Review by Andy787

"This is love. Love hurts."

I still have a hard time believing that the disc resting in my CDROM drive is indeed Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Not only because it comes just two years after Max Payne (which itself became widely known for it's long development of more than three years, suffering many public delays), but also because it has only been a few short months since the game was announced.. What's even more amazing, is that not only is it a similarly excellent successor to the original, it surpasses it on many levels.

Max Payne was an extremely story and style-driven affair, so it is no surprise that it is the aspect Max Payne 2 strives to achieve in most, and it uncompromisingly succeeds. Bringing to the table what is quite possibly the most mature, adult, story and gritty sense of realism and style that I have ever experienced in a game (one that could only be challenged by the original). During the adventure I've often just stopped and stood in awe of what was happening on the screen, amazed at the kind of content that videogames have matured to support.

The game again follows our friend Max Payne, as we once more find him in an utterly hopeless, utterly horrible situation, lead on by a constant trail of death. And again he is constantly struggling, on the verge of insanity, at war with his very mind. Through the madness, Max happens upon a familiar face --one of the few that has managed to consistently surprise him by just staying alive-- of a woman named Mona Sax, and through the adventure they begin to form a relationship, which unravels deep and untold implications for Max, and Max's sanity.

Developer Remedy has also put a lot of effort into rewarding fans of MP throughout MP2's at-times unusual narrative. While the primary story of the game is once again told with (much improved) graphic novel-style art and speech, and in-game cut scenes, Remedy has also added an entire second layer to the story via televisions that are found in conspicuous locations within each level. Through several episodic, fake television shows, Remedy not only pokes fun at itself, with a humorous spoof of many of the original game's cheesier moments and some cute commercials of fictitious products, but adds another level to the main plot as well, with a cerebral parody of the events that take place, that seem stripped right from Max's brain.

Max Payne 2's gameplay, though still very much like it's predecessor's, has been given a nice shot in the arm as far as presentation is concerned. The game is still by all means a straight up action game, there are no puzzles or find-the-key fetch quests, thankfully it is just pure, thrilling, action. The game's unique gimmick, bullet time (i.e. The Matrix-style slow-mo) is still the focus, and by and large where the gameplay is most improved. The presentation of bullet time is so much more fully realized in MP2 than the original, with the entire picture color fading when bullet time is initiated, the thundering noise of the guns warping in and out, their muzzle flashes exploding in slow motion.

However, while those changes are largely cosmetic, the most significant improvement to the gameplay are the enhancements to the bullet time combo (which is essentially just a continuous slow down of time, until your bullet time meter runs out). Not only has the overall pacing and feel of it been vastly improved, but now you are properly rewarded for stringing multiple kills during the combo, via bonus time tacked onto your bullet time meter with each successive kill, as well as your enemies becoming increasingly slower. Another addition to the gameplay, is the ability to recruit computer-controlled allies to your side. Though to be honest, the capability to do so only surfaces a scant few times, and their AI is rather paltry. It is nice to sometimes have a bit of company during the game, but it really doesn't add much to the overall game.

Also new to the series, is an interesting little mode called Dead Man Walking, which has been tacked on to provide a bit more replay to the game. The idea of the mode, is basically just an excuse to give you a scenario with non-stop action; essentially you are able to pick from a half dozen isolated locations from the game, in which there are ample guns and health pickups littered throughout, and several circular warp pads that constantly throw out enemies at you. The objective is to just survive, and survive as long as possible, under the grueling difficulty of dozens of enemies constantly swarming around you. Though not revolutionary by any means, the mode can certainly be a lot of fun (especially if you've got a few buddies to compare times with), and provides a great way to just have some instant gratification whenever you're in the mood.

When Max Payne originally came out, it was fairly unmatched as far as graphics are concerned, and likewise, Max Payne 2 is easily one of the best looking games currently on the market. Most of the character models are fairly standard (Max aside), but it's the environments that really take your breath away. Every scene in the game is just astonishingly realistic, featuring easily some of the best texture work to ever grace a computer monitor. Some of the effects are down right amazing as well, for example, during certain points in the game (without going into detail and revealing any of the story), the entire screen warps up and down, in and out, blurring and clearing all in real-time, almost as if you were on a lethal dose of cocaine.

Another one of the game's most impressive features, is the integration of the Havok 2.0 physics engine, which is by far the most remarkable physics engine I've ever witnessed in a game. Not only is the engine incorporated in the rag-doll physics of the characters, but also on a huge variety of objects strewn throughout each stage. For instance, just wandering the environment, you may happen across a stack of paint cans, and by just walking into them, each can will realistically topple on top of the other, and swivel on the ground exactly as it would in reality. And depending where you walk into the cans, the way they fall is dynamically changed.

The same realism is applied with the very sophisticated rag-doll physics (the term for the way that a fallen character's limbs and body go limp) of your enemies. For example, shooting an enemy in the shoulder visibly knocks him aback, and killing him would cause him to fall to the ground, head and limbs turning docile to the rules of the human body. What makes it so impressive is, they've finally made rag doll physics follow a realistic standard of the human body (as opposed to in previous games with limbs contorting to all kinds of impossible angles), so if an enemy falls backwards into a corner, his body will fold at the waist and his head and arms will fall down toward his chest. Perhaps not the most brilliant in mere text, but to witness it in action firsthand is an impressive site.

In line with the fantastic gameplay and visuals, Max Payne 2 continues on an extremely high note (pun horribly intended) with it's audio. Lead by a truly haunting main theme, the score is largely slow paced, visceral accompaniments to the overall sound, which is primarily composed of in-game sound effects, whether it be chatter from enemies, a TV, gusts of wind or rain, or just your footsteps on the pavement, all of which sound absolutely perfect in their intended sound. The sound effects for the guns are all very genuine and powerful as well, from pounding shotgun blasts to chain-like sub-machine gun patter.

Perhaps just as well done as the music and sound effects, though, is the game's voice acting. James Mcaffery, the unmistakable voice of Max Payne, thankfully returns along with a host of other superb voice talent, who all perform their lines with the utmost passion and professionalism. The voice acting just adds so much personality to the characters, from their tone and demeanor, their emotions, to many with perfectly spot-on accents. The only real complaint I can possibly fathom, however small, is that with all of the amazing attention paid to the voice acting, it's strange that they still haven't managed to get the lip synching done right. That aside, however, there is literally nothing to complain about.

Now the category Max Payne 2 is by far the weakest in, is it's length. To put it bluntly, the game can be pretty easily finished in a weekend. That said, MP2 is one of the very, very rare titles of recent memory that has instantly made me want to jump right back in and play through the entire game again. The whole package is just so cohesive; from the superb action, the brilliant story, and graphics and sound that are almost unmatched, and given that it doesn't rely on any kind of silly pretenses like puzzles or key-quests, plowing through more than once never, ever feels like a chore. Luckily, the game is really built for just that, with several more difficulties to play through, that really make you use vastly different tactics and play much more intelligently. So while it is certainly a short game, the quality of the game alone is really enough to hold it's own weight, not to mention the inevitable mod community that will grow from the game (and considering what had been done in the MP1 mod scene, that is a very, very good thing).

All things considered, Max Payne 2 is a more than worthy sequel to an already fantastic game. By all means, do not let the length influence your purchase in the least, because while the game is admittedly short, it is an oh so sweet, incredibly intense rollercoaster the entire way through, packed with some of the most sophisticated dialog and artistic style in any game, bar none. Combined with it's excellent graphics and sound, Max Payne 2 truly is a showpiece of what videogames are capable of, both on an aesthetic level and a psychological level.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/05/04

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