Review by Rottenwood

Reviewed: 02/03/05

Blood And Guts

A lot of games like to advertise themselves by their length. For example, a role-playing game might suggest that it offers "over 50 hours of gameplay!", although it doesn't comment on how one measures such a thing, or how much fun that gameplay actually is. Never the less, we here in America are suckers for the concept of "value," and more is seen as better. I can't even count the number of times I've heard people say that wouldn't buy a game because it was "too short."

I just hope these poor souls didn't miss out on Max Payne 2.

Yes, Max Payne 2 is pretty short, and it'll seem even shorter because the addiction will cause you to burn through the game like a fiend. But which of these is more worth your time and money: a long slog through mediocrity, or a short but highly enjoyable and memorable bloodbath? My vote goes with the bath, baby, and I'll gladly bring the rubber duckie.

When we last left Max, he had shot a whole lot of people on a mission to avenge his slain family. Of course, guys who blow away half of New York tend to get into trouble, and even as Max tries to become a normal cop again, he'll soon find himself in that most noir of circumstances: the web of intrigue. The game has plenty of plot twists, so I won't get into the game's story and ruin them here. Just be prepared for lots of dialogue and Max's usual mumblings and grumblings. (Alas, no line in this game can match that classic from the original: "the sun went down with practiced bravado...." Man, that's some terrific bad writing.)

Of course, the big hoopla regarding Max Payne 2 is that it's essentially a love story, which is a gutsy move for a bloody action game. Sure, Max isn't exactly a prime candidate for a tale of romance. He's violence-prone, talks in bad poetry, seems to be addicted to painkillers, and he carries about ten different weapons on his person at all times. But beneath the drugs and ammunition is a regular man who needs lovin' like anyone else. Enter Mona Sax, who shares Max's love of gunplay and pill-popping, and seems to understand Max and his madness. Their bizarre courtship is surprisingly well-scripted, and provides the heart of the Max Payne 2 experience.

But don't worry, true believers: ol' Max hasn't gone all pacifist on us. You'll still spend most of your time firing countless rounds into all manner of criminal scumbags, carving your way towards the truth of the latest criminal conspiracy Max finds himelf embroiled in. Of course, the 'truth' in a Max Payne plot changes every five minutes, but still, the narrative is good fun and is a nice framework for the game's action sequences. Even the dreaded 'dream' chapters are fun this time, as they've been made much more user-friendly, and there's no wailing baby on the soundtrack.

The action itself hasn't changed much, although there a few new wrinkles. Bullet-time - that magic trick Max can pull to slow down his enemies and give him an edge - works a little differently now. You can still do the ol' shootdodge with it, but if you manage to slay enough foes before bullet-time runs out, the hourglass meter will change colors, and the enemies will slow down even further. At peak bullet-time, you can pretty much walk at full clip while your enemies are in slow motion, and gun them to smithereens. This is a heck of a lot of fun, and it's occasionally even necessary when you have to battle a small army of thugs by yourself. Of course, smart gamers will also perform all of the other tricks needed to stay alive, like taking cover, lobbing grenades at entrenched foes, and picking off your enemies from a relatively safe spot. Enemy A.I. is pretty respectable, and the bad guys have no problem with using grenades and cover themselves. And thanks to the top-shelf ragdoll physics, blowing guys away has never been more fun. Watch them crumple over stairs or bounce off of walls - it's sheer, gory goodness.

That other Max Payne tradition - bizarre, noir-ish dialogue - is back again too, although it's not quite as God-awful as it was in the first game, for better or worse. The series' sense of humor is still in full effect, too: be sure to enjoy the many comical T.V. and radio broadcasts throughout the game. You should check people's answering machines, too, whenever possible - the conversations within can often fill in a few details in the game's rich story.

Max Payne 2 looks pretty darn fine. The character models - particularly Max himself - look much better this time around. Explosion and fire effects are quite vivid, and the bullet trails and trick reloading during bullet-time look as nifty as ever. And best of all, Max lost the 'slightly constipated' look he had in the first game, much to everyone's relief. (No pun intended.)

People tend to get on Max Payne's case when it comes to voice-acting, and yes, the delivery tends to be overwrought and hammy. But that fits the style of the game, and for the most part, the actors play their outlandish roles well. Max Payne 2 isn't rich with music, but there are some nice melodies, including the game's professionally-done love theme. (Watching one of the game's thugs playing said love theme on a piano is one of the game's laugh-out-loud highlights.) Try to take the time to listen to the bad guys and broadcasts as you play - there's some funny stuff to enjoy.

Besides the main game, there's some other stuff to enjoy. The best of the side game is Dead On Arrival, where you're placed into a fairly open area with some weapons, and basically left to fend for yourself as swarms of enemies come in from all angles. The object is to last as long as you can, which won't be long if you're not handy with headshots and bullet-time. This is a great mode, though, especially if you just want some Max Payne action for a short while without the story getting in the way.

While the first Max Payne was quite good, this one's even better. The gameplay engine is more refined, the story is richer and more enjoyable, and Lord help you, you might even find yourself getting caught up in the drama. I've played through the game three times on the various difficulty settings, and enjoyed each time thoroughly. Sure, it's not a long game, but if it were twice as long, the pacing would probably go way off and the game would lose its thrill. We all need a little action now and then, and Max Payne 2 delivers some wonderfully intense action and a good story to boot. If you like seeing quality kick quantity's ass, dig in to some Max Payne 2.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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