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M (Mature)



October 14, 2003



- Great visuals

- Some neat physics features in the game engine

- Quality voice acting

- Some decent dark humour

- Does a good job of revisiting levels



- Too short

- A terribly contrived story

- The game would feel empty without the bullet time



Review: Max Payne (PC)

Review: Max Payne (Playstation 2)

Review: Max Payne (Xbox)



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Max Payne 2:

The Fall of Max Payne

Score: 7.7 / 10


Max Payne is back, right on time, with another tale of sad, lonely vengeance in the night. Only, this time heís not so lonely, what with his sexy love interest, and heís not so sad, what with time being a healer and all. Itís still a bleak game though, without a shaft of daylight running through it.


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Max Payne 2 is a straight sequel, with an improved engine, but little else changed. Ergo, if you liked the first Payne, youíll be hard put to find fault with the second. But hereís one right now: Itís too damn short. Itís not that itís too short to be a satisfying experience, you understand. Itís just that itís too short to cost what it does. You can play it from start to finish in a few hours and, whilst there are some imaginative difficulty levels that open up after the first run through, thereís not all that much replay value. If youíve played the first Max Payne as well, youíll probably be tired of the formula by the time the closing credits role, even given the gameís short span.


The dark humor of the first game has been maintained, and thereís a ton more in-jokes, where Remedy laugh at themselves without having to force it. Good on them. The awful metaphors have been cut right out, as well. They gave me a few cheap laughs in the first game, but I credit their dismissal as a good move, because it does keep the atmosphere consistent. The comic strips are back, with merging game-engine cut scenes. Both are integrated perfectly throughout the game, with top grade voice acting.





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The graphics are lovely Ė particularly the character models, and the filthy, dirty hotels and apartments of Payneís world, which are rendered beautifully. Notably, it runs with all the options turned up on a machine thatís hardly entry level, and it doesnít slow down until you push the bullet time button and kick some ass in ethereal slow motion, where everything is slightly browner and filthier, as if Payne has been infused with the ghost of the original Quake.



The storyline itself is a mess, which is roughly as expected; Max Payne is a pretty strong character, and heís a damn mess, so why not? The problem is that this time round, the storyline seems more like a contrived mess. Everythingís a MacGuffin or a fresh excuse to shoot up some place, and thereís no resolution to about half of the plot directions. The various self-deprecating TV miniseries that youíll catch episodes of through screams, falling cartridges, and the blast of gunfire are sadly more coherent. Yes, even the one with the flamingos.


MP2 has a pretty decent villain, Iíll say that much, and the love interest is not handled badly. Itís not handled particularly well, either, but itís all in character and thereís better chemistry there than in a ream of recent blockbuster movies, which is novel for a video game. But without the story to back up the characters, all Payne can fall back on is the atmosphere, which has also lost some of its impact. Max Payneís quest for fiery retribution has somewhat deflated over the last two years, and Iíd now place him on the Thirst-For-Vengeance chart at Ďsomewhat irkedí. In short, it feels like Max is on less of a quest, altogether.


So how does it play? Solidly, at least. Thereís not a lot of clipping (just a bit with Max), and it seemed pretty stable on my machine, with no crash outs or other screw-ups. Load times were a bit longer than I would have liked, but nothing hair-pulling. The levels are, for the most part, more imaginative than in the first game, and there are tons of scripted events with deforming levels and landscapes Ė whether you like that sort of thing is a matter of opinion, but itís certainly done quite well in MP2. The sound effects are consistent, with nice booms and gunshots, and the transitions to and from bullet time are atmospheric and involving; they seem immediately realistic, which is an achievement, given that thereís no such thing. But, then, we said the same thing about lens flares, and they became a gaming staple.


Despite all the good points, Max Payne 2 doesnít feel like the game it could have been. Itís a game that fatigues quickly. Thereís nothing wrong with the gameplay, per se; it just feels a little bit empty. Try playing through the game without using the bullet time feature, and youíll see how bland it really is. Donít get me wrong; in a world of gimmicks, bullet time remains a strong favourite, and it has probably never been used to better effect. But itís still a gimmick and, for all the attention to detail, the game wouldnít hold up without it.  


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Max still runs everywhere, and seems more glued on to his environments than a fluid part of them. Even with the introduction of some neat physics in the engine, that doesnít change too much. Itís sometimes wonderful to watch a chair bouncing downstairs, or a pile of boxes tipping over, and donít even get me started on the rag-doll effects - but you can never escape the conviction that somehow everythingís weighted wrong, relative to Max. The ill-fated game Trespasser remains my personal benchmark in pretty physics, and only the Source engine seems likely to challenge it in the near future. Trespasser was a bad game, that had something about it, some quality that drove me on. Max Payne 2 is a good game, but it just doesnít seem to have that magic. Thatís a real shame, because the level of detail in MP2 is out of this world Ė Remedy have poured themselves into the game heart and soul Ė but it just doesnít carry them over the finish line, this time around.


Oh, and Max gets in the way. Thatís often a problem with 3rd person games, but I never noticed it to such an extent in the first Payne game. Try shooting upwards during a slo-mo dodge move, and youíll see only Max, obscuring all possibility of aiming at the bad guys above. Itís a frustrating experience because, once youíve launched into a dodge, youíre basically stuck in it until after youíve landed, recovered, and probably been shot half to death in the process. Thereís more than one occasion that shooting at balconies is necessary, and I found myself using the dodge button less and less, and sticking to plain digestive bullet time. Thatís a shame, because the dodge has been improved Ė to make it more useful, you can now shoot off a few rounds from your prone position, after the move has finished. Thatís still no good, if all you can see is the inside of Maxís coat.


There are moments in the game, great ideas that shine through and captivate, but even in a game so short, theyíre just too far and few between. I know that a lot of reviewers are probably going to wail on how often levels are repeated during the game. They are. Although Iím pretty sure that I never want to see that damned funhouse again, I donít count myself amongst the crowd. I admired the diversity in the reused areas, in fact. What you got were different levels, different crisscrossing routes, that played in different ways, but were set in exactly the same part of the game universe. Thatís a nice angle. It wasnít often a matter of simply retracing all your old steps, Halo fashion. Sometimes the differences were as simple as following a different path of unlocked doors, which is a little bit trite, I suppose, but sometimes there were some great scripted events to waltz through. The levels where Mona is with Max are particularly interesting in this respect; not groundbreaking, you understand, but interesting, certainly.


So this game works, but not as well as you might have expected. It does what it says on the box, however, and you canít fault Remedy for trying. It has to be said that if more developers thought like Remedy, Iíd probably be doubling my videogames budget and cutting back on the already trifling quality time that I spend with the outdoors. Max Payne 2 is a dark, gritty game, mature without gratuity, like a good novel or a classic film, itís made with all the right intentions and most of the right attitude. Next time it might be perfect.


- Matt BLB

(October 26, 2003)


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