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Developer:
Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: PC. PS2 (Reviewed), XBOX
Release Date: December 2, 2003

by Nicholas Bale




The bullet-time bad-ass is back to fight off hordes and hordes of bad guys, armed with an arsenal of weapons and a box of painkillers.


The first Max Payne introduced the revolutionary concept of "bullet-time": the ability to slow down time, in a sense, to a point where bullets will become visible as they whiz by your face. You can dodge to the side, firing your gun as you pray that the badguys will be too slow to shoot you.


Max Payne 2 keeps the dark, noir-like dialogue of the first. It's a little drawn out of course...I mean, if you asked ol' Max what kind of drink he would like from the bar, he would likely say something like "A beer, amber as the sun as it descends, setting the city on fire before plunging it into an eternal darkness." It's a little cheesy, sure, but it adds such a level into what could just be a shooter + bullet-time.


From time to time, you will be treated to story progression in the form of comic-style story panels, complete with voice-overs and sound effects. Like the dialogue, the artistry is dark and brooding, adding to the dark atmosphere of the game.


The game itself is quite fun, although perhaps too short. Much of the game is like the first, however, due to the inclusion of Mona Sax, more gameplay is included now that you can play as her. That's right, tough-talking, rough-walking, carry-a-big-stick Max now has a partner. You'll take control of Mona only at certain points of the game, like when you must cover Max as he runs across a construction site. Take down all the enemies with your sniper rifle, or else Max will die. I think it would have been better to include her at more intervals, as there is many a time that you hear her having a merry shoot-out with other enemies behind a wall, or on another level.


Also new to the gameplay is the inclusion of a secondary weapon. At first you'll only be able to smash the butt of your gun into your enemies, but as you pick up grenades and molotov cocktails, you'll be able to equip them along with another gun, allowing you to quickly take out a group of enemies without clumsily searching through weapons. It definately made some enemies easier to deal with, as molotovs will quickly dispatch a group of them.


The story itself, however, is an aspect of the game that I didn't find too appealing. It moved too fast, with too many explanations at random times, and not enough pauses to explain what the hell was going on. The game starts with Max waking up in a hospital bed. Then he's in a mansion. Or was it the other way around? Then it goes back some time to where Max investigates a warehouse, sees some bad-guys (I figured it out when they shot at me for no reason), kills 'em all (of course), and then stuff happens. Suddenly he is swept into some sort of gang war complete with old friends; Vladimir Len, the russian mobster; old enemies, like Vinnie Gogniti, the Italian mobster; and old relations, Mona Sax, the semi-love interest from the first game.


This inclusion of Max's past in all three characters did interest me, but like I said, I had no idea what was going on. What made it worse was the relation between Max and Mona. While they are supposed to fall in love throughout the game, they showed a relationship that had all the realism and warmth of a digital rock. There just isn't anything besides one love-making scene that shows any warmth between them. And even that lasted all of five minutes for them. Max says that he loves her, but he covers it with so much of his dark-brooding-talk, that it's near impossible to believe it.


Okay, before I continue, I want to make this clear: I played the first Max Payne on the PC. So I was surprised (not exactly pleasantly), when I received it on the PS2. However, I discovered that first person shooters are much, much tougher without a mouse at hand, and thumb-joysticks just don't help at all, even with auto-aiming. Not to mention that with my precious quicksave function gone, the game became a very tedious process of loading my memory card, loading my save file, loading the level, and then dying again. And since saving is so inconvenient (I miss my precious quicksave/load), I rarely saved at all. And I discovered autosave was nowhere to be found, which led to a lot of replay.


And for some reason, no one decided to optimize this game for the PS2. It constantly slowed down at many parts, the game took forever to load, and it just felt very unpleasant for me. But enough of console troubles.


The game is tough (at least on the PS2). Bullet time no longer slows time to a crawl, it only slows it down slightly. With each kill while in bullet time, you become faster while the rest of the world becomes slower. This is referred to as entering 'the zone'. Also, with each kill, bullet time is increased. This means that with a steady supply of enemies, you can keep your bullet-time going for much longer than usual, which is really great because the last thing you want is for your bullet-time to run out in a room full of bad-guys.


The graphics are definitely improved over the first. Gone is Max's constantly-constipated expression. Oh, and his hands are no longer frozen in trigger positions either. The physics engine is also greatly improved. Max Payne 2 uses the Havok engine, the same one used in Deus Ex 2. Nothing says technology advancement like being able to shoot someone with a shotgun and watch them fly through the air with stunning realism. Oh, and you can push boxes around.


Honorable mention goes to the dream sequences in this game. Never before in any game have I seen sequences that so resemble the dreams that one might have. They're disorienting, dark, confusing, and wonderfully creepy all at once. Imagine shooting yourself in your dream, then accusing yourself of dying. It's really, really well done.


Max Payne 2 is a definite improvement over the first in all technical aspects, but I find it hard to say the same for the story. If someone is going to play this, go easy on yourself and get the PC version. It makes it so much more enjoyable. Bottom line: It is short, but sweet. A few extra game modes add much to the replayability. A good game for any action gamer!


Final Grade: 89%


Max Payne 2 Official Website




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