Home Reviews Third Person Games Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Monday, 27 February 2006 18:00
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Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Official Site and Demo
ESRB Mature 17+ (Intense Violence, Strong Language, Blood, Mature Sexual Themes)
PEGI 18+ (Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
"Firing a gun is a binary choice. You either pull the trigger or you don't. As surely as the bullet rips through the victim's flesh, organ and bone, it shatters the image of the man who presses the trigger."

"The past is a puzzle, like a broken mirror. As you piece it together, you cut yourself. Your image keeps shifting, and you change with it. It could destroy you, drive you mad. It could set you free."

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A Film Noir Love Story
Picking up where its prequel ended (and began, technically), MP2 finds Max cleared of all charges from the violent killing spree he went on to avenge his murdered wife and child. Senator Alfred Woden's efforts (blackmailed into by Max) are so effective, in fact, that Max is viewed as a hero. They even make a blaxploitation TV show and videogame about it all. But Max, glutton for punishment that he is, suffers from a guilty conscience and leaves the DEA to return to the NYPD. He has also developed an unhealthy obsession for a dead femme fatale he encountered during his rampage.

When an APB goes out on a warehouse owned by Russian gangster Vladimir Lem, Max makes sure he's the first to investigate (their past cooperation no doubt a potential issue). What he finds threatens to unravel his tenuous existence: a group of hitmen posing as a cleaning company (they waltz right in, take out their target, and use the cleaning supplies to remove all the evidence), and none other than Mona Sax, the supposedly dead woman he'd fallen hard for. There may be a bullet in her head, but then again Max isn't in exactly the healthiest of mental states, either. Maybe they're perfect for each other.

The plot, told mostly in the classic graphic novel style cutscenes, is actually one of the weaker elements of the game. There's really only one new character of any significance, so the story tries to surprise us by twisting around what we know about preexisting characters. I feel this tends to harm the storyline of the original game, and results in a less than compelling narrative for the sequel. To its credit, however, Max seems to have toned down the metaphors a bit, which makes for a less overbearing narration. And you've got to give them credit for making this a love story, even if it is noir...

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The Monster's Grave
Graphically, MP2 is what you'd expect: similar in style to the original, but even further refined. It does a good job of capturing the feel of the streets beyond the boundaries of the levels, but where it excels is in capturing the seedy underbelly of the city. The textures, as before, are all scans of the real thing, so the game does a wonderful job of attaining a gritty, lived in feel. Voice acting is solid and well suited to the grim world the game portrays (particularly Max himself), but on an odd note virtually no one outside of our hero has the same voice actor as before. Strange.

MP2, unlike MP1, makes use of the Havok physics engine, the same as used in Half-Life 2 (it was originally supposed to premier in the latter, but we all know what happened there...). Combined with the bullet time effects and occasional cinematic camera work, the physics really add to the enjoyment of the game. Granted, because of the third person perspective you can't really interact with the objects in the world like you could in Half-Life 2, but there's just an undeniable pleasure that stems from blasting a thug into a stack of boxes and watching them come tumbling down in slow motion.

To deal with the various goons that come gunning for you, you'll wield an arsenal similar to that of MP1 but with a few alterations. Of particular note is that there are no melee weapons anymore. Instead, a secondary attack has been incorporated. Basic melee, along with throwable weapons, have been rolled under this heading, with mostly positive results. It's always nice to chuck a grenade without having to otherwise disarm yourself, but it can get confusing when you go to club something and wind up smashing a Molotov cocktail on your shoes. Hot feet indeed.

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Trembling in Dark Nests
The original Max Payne nearly perfected bullet time, and of the slew of imitators since then none have been able to do it as well save for the obvious: Max Payne 2. The system is further perfected this time around, with a few new additions that make Bullet Time 2.0 the key mechanic of gameplay. For starters, simply activating bullet time will turn the world sepia toned. The more enemies you kill now, the faster you will be able to move, meaning it's entirely possible to walk into a room of a dozen heavily armed men and utterly school them.

Furthermore, if you run out of ammo while in sepia land, Max will perform a fancy reload that takes a fraction of the time the normal sequence would. Since kills add to your bullet time meter, one could theoretically never leave it provided there are enough baddies around. And if you think shootdodging (diving with a momentary bullet time edge) couldn't improve, think again. Now you can stay on the ground afterwards as long as you're still holding down on the trigger. This is an incredibly useful addition, keeping your profile reduced as much as possible.

While I ragged on the storyline of Max Payne 2 earlier on in this article, I have to give the gameplay proper kudos. The additions to the bullet time mechanic, coupled with the more refined engine and Havok physics, arguably make for a better experience than in the original game. Throw in a few other gimmicks such as playing as Mona for a few levels and fighting alongside some fellow gunmen (at one point, a prostitute and wino in what is either an inspiring or just plain unsettling situation), and MP2 has done a good job of expanding upon the framework of its predecessor.

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Streets of Noir
While the levels aren't all as exciting as in the original (due in part to the weaker narrative), there are several notable examples. Stalking cleaners through a posh apartment sky rise, for instance, ducking out onto the balconies in the stormy night, or visiting Mona's hideout in an abandoned but still functional funhouse. Like MP1, the game also features a few exploding building levels and dream sequences, but both are infinitely superior to their predecessors. The former are much more forgiving, while the latter are no longer aggravating puzzles but solely glimpses of Max's fractured psyche.

Also well done are the little touches to the game world: the humorous overheard conversations, the ability to interact with a plethora of objects (painkillers are often realistically stashed away), the fictional television shows that you can follow throughout the course of the game (one of them, Address Unknown, is the basis of the funhouse, and frankly has a pretty damn cool storyline itself). What is a little odd is the shift from the pop culture references of MP1 to the entirely fictional creations of MP2.  In doing so, the series has taken a small step away from the real world.

Music, so intricately linked with stimulating emotion, is well handled here. It adds to the experience if you bother to pay attention to it, but isn't so noticeable that those immersed in the moment can't tune it out. The title song is back, now played as a mournful violin number that suits the love theme, and the credits feature a song from the Poets of the Fall specifically written for the game. Titled "Late Goodbye," it wasn't released as a single until a few years after its debut, which is pretty cool when you think about a videogame having such an exclusive at the time.

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Conclusion
The technology is more refined and the gameplay even more enjoyable than the original, and had the storyline been stronger (and therefore the level design more cohesive) Max Payne 2 would probably have surpassed its predecessor.  It's still a good game by any means, just not quite on the level of MP1.  The narrative there was compelling in and of itself, how it all tied together, while here it's merely an excuse to visit familiar faces and blow away bad guys in a ballet of bullets and blood.  But if you don't care about that kind of thing, if gameplay is the only thing that matters to you, by all means make the plunge.

Note: Originally posted at Hangar16.com on 11/21/05
 

Game Rated 7/10
 

 

 

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