Review by nintendosega

"With a very compelling story and exciting, memorable gameplay, Max Payne 2 closes out this memorable story arc with style"

Max Payne 2 is, I'm happy to say, one of the few sequels to really improve on the original and deliver a vastly superior experience. It takes all the best elements of the first game and expands on them, and eliminates many that didn't work. The original was a very fun game, but Max Payne 2 is truly a classic.

Storyline; Picking up pretty quickly after part 1 left off, Max Payne 2 finds our hero back on the police force, his name cleared as promised at the end of part 1, but his own personal mission still uncompleted. He still mourns the death of his family, who were killed at the start of the first game, and he still feels responsible. Max continues to track down his family's murderers but there's a big element here that complicates things a bit; Mona Sax. Ah....Mona; the murder suspect from Max Payne 1 shows up and makes desperate efforts to contact him. Soon, they're both being pursued by thugs known as "The Cleaners," and they must work together to get to the bottom of what's happening to them. Though she played a fairly small role in part 1, Mona left an impression, and in part 2 I'd go as far to say the entire game's centered around her. It's very hard to tell whether to trust her or not, and this complicates both the story and Max's own feelings and pains. Their lives are both so miserable and both so ruined that they don't seem capable of ever loving other human beings, and yet, maybe because they share that common ground, they slowly begin to fall for each other. It's actually one of the more interesting love stories I've ever encountered in a video game and brings a level of humanity, as well as teamwork, to the story that makes it so satisfying. Add to that a memorable villain, a couple great plot twists, and the (once again) fantastic writing and presentation, and you have a story that totally anchors the game and offers surprising depth and character development for an action game. Max Payne's an even more interesting character this time around, and his cynical delivery and dark narration give the game a definite "feeling." The story itself is actually quite a lot to wrap your head around, as it seems to be flashing back from two different points in time, making it a bit confusing at first. But the presentation (through graphic novel panels as well as much more frequent and improved in-game cutscenes) is top-notch. The dream sequences return, as disturbing as ever, (though this time without the annoying platforming, thankfully) and drag us even further into Max's head. The ending, especially the game's memorable final line, provides a very fitting and satisfying end to this story arc that began with Max arriving home on that fateful day that changed and destroyed his life. It's an excellent story and much of it stuck with me for all these years.

Gameplay; Max Payne 2 is, like its predecessor, an action game; these games replicate the feel of John Woo action films. Taking cover is rare and often unnecessary, and you're not meant to plan much strategy. Essentially, you see huge groups of enemies, you run at them, and you trigger bullet time, slowing everything down and allowing you the upper hand in these shootouts. It's incredibly fun and part 2 adds a new element to it. No longer do you have to be diving to use bullet time, you can now trigger a new version of it while you're still running, which ups the pace of combat even further. Max Payne 2 also relies a bit less on trial-and-error gameplay than its predecessor. Yes, you still will be saving EXTREMELY frequently, but luckily part 2 doesn't feature quite as many cheap deaths. The segments when they force you to walk across narrow ledges or beams, too, have been thankfully removed. Also, adding to the fun, is level variety. At times you'll work with Mona, and at times you'll even play as her. You'll sometimes have to cover characters and protect them from enemy fire. Things like this shake the game up pretty dramatically and prevent every chapter from feeling the same. It helps, too, that many areas feel extremely different, from Max's somewhat cheap apartment complex to an extremely trippy indoor carnival funhouse where you can hardly tell what's real and what's in Max's mind. There's also hospitals, dream sequences, the streets of New York, clubs, etc. It's a commendable amount of level variety, which, again, sets Max Payne 2 head and shoulders above its predecessor. The game also pays homage to the first game on several occasions, and also features many returning characters, (including Captain Baseball Bat Boy,) which is pretty fun. Like the first game, this is all about atmosphere. Music's used sparingly, only during intense action scenes and cutscenes. Otherwise, the music's silent, allowing you to hear the pouring rain on the roofs of the buildings you're in and to hear the sound of thunder and the gunshots firing. When barging in on your enemies at their residences you'll often see them watching TV, the sounds of which increase and decrease in volume as you walk closer or further from it. Like part 1, the environments are pretty interactive. You can flush toilets, turn on sinks, open cabinets for ammo and painkillers (the game's health,) etc. etc. etc. It's a lot of fun and the only REAL weaknesses here are a *slight* feeling of repetition towards the end of the game and also a lack of exciting bosses, both the biggest weaknesses of this series to date. Still, what we have here is an incredibly fun game with an excellent story. The action's intense and while not quite as trigger-happy as its predecessor (the game clocks in a bit shorter, though I personally was fine with this,) there are still more than enough gunfights and fun action scenes.

Graphics; In what's easily one of the best examples ever of "launch vs. mid-console gen," Max Payne 2 shows how far video games came in the 2 years following part 1's release. Max Payne 1 looked perfectly acceptable as an Xbox launch title in 2001 but looks very dated now. Max Payne 2, on the other hand, upped the visuals considerably to the point where not only does it blow the first game away, but it still looks nice to this day. Environments here are much more detailed, there's a lot more light, (much less dark, industrial areas, something that really improves the game,) characters look significantly better, and it also happens to run much better when played on a 360. (Though you'll need to update the controls, due to the lack of a "White" button on the 360 controller.) Overall, there's very little to complain about graphics-wise. Some minor characters may not look great but that's just a nitpick. Visually Max Payne 2's very pretty to look at and is a big reminder of how much better games can look in the span of only 2 years.

Sound; As was mentioned earlier, the music's used sparingly but it's very effective. The game also makes great use of its excellent theme song, (created by European rock band Poets of the Fall,) and several characters throughout the game can even be seen singing and/or humming it. Very creative. The sound effects are once again top-notch. The voice acting's an upgrade from its predecessor and while the campiness still remains for many of the mobster villains, it's intended to be that way, so I can't fault it. Max Payne's voice actor returns and once again does a fine job voicing one of the most interesting main characters ever in the action game genre. Mona, Vlad, etc. are also all at the top of their game.

Verdict; Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is one of the best action games I've ever played. It improves in a huge way on its predecessor but continues its great tradition of successfully combining a dark, compelling, and thoughtful plot with amazing action gameplay. The story's so good here and Max and Mona are such interesting characters that it's just sad that the Max Payne movie missed the boat entirely. As of right now, after 5 years, a Max Payne 3 was finally announced, thanks mostly to the box office success of that terrible movie. Part 2 wrapped up the initial storyline, giving the developers of the 3rd one complete freedom to start from scratch. I hope for a bit more gameplay variety in the future of this series and even less trial-and-error gameplay and hopefully some great bosses, but aside from that, I hope this excellent core gameplay remains intact. It's a great game and I highly recommend this series to any fans of action games or 3rd person shooters. Though it would have been a perfectly satisfactory conclusion, it looks like we've got more Max Payne on the way, so let's hope they don't mess it up. Bring on Max Payne 3!!!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/06/09

Game Release: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (US, 11/25/03)

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