Review by horror_spooky

"Payne Rises"

Max Payne's saga of having life crap all over him continues in the noir thriller Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. In this installment, Max has returned to his duties as an NYPD detective, but he is once again caught in the middle of a massive conspiracy and surrounded by death. No, it's not fun being Max Payne, but in this game, it's a bit more fun to play as him.

Max Payne 2 on the Xbox looks great. The character models are well designed and very impressive for the time. The environments are even better looking, even though they are generally dull in general. Max Payne 2 features a lot of cliched, boring environments that are recycled from just about every other third person shooter ever made, but these environments look best in Max Payne 2. The level of detail here is truly and impressive, and a few levels that are just brimming with personality make me sad that the rest of the game's level couldn't have achieved the same success.

Gameplay in Max Payne 2 is largely the same as the first game. It's a third-person shooter centered entirely around the concept of "bullet time". Payne is able to dive around all over the place, activating a slow motion Matrix-like mode that makes the shooting easier. Combat in Max Payne 2 is more refined than the first game, and is overall just tighter, with more responsive controls and no slowdown when the battles get too hectic. The automatic switching to different guns is a bit of an annoyance, but it can sometimes be a convenience at the same time, so it's like a necessary evil. Kinda.

More weapons, more varied objectives, and other improvements makes this Max Payne a much more enjoyable adventure, though it's not without its flaws. There are escort missions that are just dreadful, and platforming is still not quite there. Levels based around forced gimmicks are far more frustrating than they are fun, and a few puzzle elements feel out of place in the otherwise fast-paced game. There is a lot of trial and error when it comes to the game, but the annoyance of this is alleviated at least thanks to the new checkpoint system which is controlled entirely by the player.

Instead of instigating its own checkpoints, Max Payne 2 leaves it up to the gamer to decide when and where to leave a checkpoint. This has both advantages and disadvantages. Due to the style of Max Payne, in which you could potentially have to restart an entire chapter due to running out of pills because of a bonehead decision, having the game employ its own arbitrary checkpoints is no good. By having the player simply quick save, it fixes this problem, as the player can quick save whenever they are fully healed or have a reserve of healing items. At the same time, it's a little annoying to have to remember to quick save all the time, and it can also cheapen the game and make it feel much less challenging when it can be quick saved after each confrontation or challenge.

So, I think that Max Payne 2 is better than its predecessor in nearly every way, but it still doesn't make that good of an argument for the series. I loved the graphics, the story, and little details in the missions, however, and if it wasn't for a few design flaws, Max Payne 2 could've been truly spectacular. The story can be a little confusing due to the unorthodox noir storytelling the title uses, but the dialogue and writing here is much sharper than the previous game. Payne still sometimes sounds like a coked out philosopher in his narrations, but he is much less irritating. The supporting characters are all much more interesting than in the first game and everyone gets more screen time, which in turn results in more character development, and a deeper investment in the plot.

The quieter moments in Max Payne are actually the more memorable. And no, I'm not talking about the contrived puzzles that they try to force into the game in the middle, but I'm talking about the moments like when Max is able to freely explore the police station. There is also a level taking place in Max's apartment building that sees players go through the rooms of various tenants, and each apartment building feels very unique, coming across as though individual people with individual tastes and personalities truly live there. In that same level, Max can optionally acquire two partners to help him fight his way through the complex, and I found myself honestly caring about these characters and doing my best to make sure they lived, regardless of their small roles.

Another way Remedy and Rockstar attempted to shake things up in this sequel was by making Mona Sax a playable character. Her missions are okay and don't really differentiate from Max's, except she has a sniper rifle and there is, of course, a level that requires her to protect Max from enemies using it. This is one of the more frustrating missions in the game because it's entirely possible to reach this point with little to no sniper ammo, which basically makes the game impossible unless you restart it. This mission also requires backtracking through areas already explored as Max, which is a bummer and messes with the pace. However, at the same time, it's cool to see the events through Mona's eyes, and it offers a different perspective for a change.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is of decent length for a third-person shooter. The game itself is an improvement over its predecessor in every category, but it's still not quite there in terms of being a truly classic game or a game that I feel everyone should experience. As an action game with a noir theme, Max Payne 2 is pretty good, but it doesn't live up to the hype.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/27/13

Game Release: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (US, 04/27/09)

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