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Max Payne II: The Fall of Max Payne
game: Max Payne II: The Fall of Max Payne
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Rockstar Games
date posted: 12:00 AM Sun Dec 7th, 2003
last revision: 12:00 AM Sun Dec 7th, 2003

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By Shawn Rider

To this day, I have never been as seriously disturbed by a game's opening as I was when I loaded up the original Max Payne for the first time. That opening sequence established my belief in and affinity for the Max Payne character, a tortured cop in a world of chaos. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne doesn't do too much to deviate from the formula of the original, and in many ways it functions as an extension of the first game rather than a new version.

Although the visuals are a bit better and Max has had a facelift (eliminating that constipated look), Max Payne 2 is basically the same game. You play Max as he embarks on another journey to solve another mystery to discover more about the pain he carries within. The hook of the gameplay is the implementation of bullet time, which by now has been used in a boxload of games. But the Max Payne style of play is comfortable. Small modifications have been made to the gameplay to separate the bullet time and bullet dodge functions. Bullet time can be used to get the drop on an enemy without affecting your ability to use the bullet dodge and shoot as much as you'd like. Overall, this just gives the player another reason to create the most cinematically choreographed gunplay possible. Coupled with a blazing fast Quick Save, the system encourages players to replay battles and languish in the action sequences.

The major shift from the first title are several levels that put you in the role of Mona Sax, the mysterious operative from the first game. She returns here as Max's love interest (as if a hardened fellow like Max could ever love again), and her levels provide some interesting play dynamics. This separation of the experience to include different periods of character focus builds toward a much more overtly narrative feel in the game. Max Payne was always about the story and the action. The action is really simple and repetitive, although it has a quality to it that allows it to be repetitive without becoming tedious. In Max Payne, it is narrative that moves the player along, and by incorporating Mona Sax as a playable character, the player is further removed from an experience of being Max Payne. This effect could have been further developed by allowing us to play other major characters, such as the Russian mafia boss and the American mafia lieutenant.

Other elements of the game work to take us out of the more interior mode of the first Max Payne. The ever-present televisions now have much more personality than those of the last game. The new shows include a spoof Blaxploitation series obviously parodying the Max Payne we knew from the last game. The melodramatic monologues have been tempered a bit in The Fall of Max Payne, although the overall effect remains intact.

The story continues almost directly from the last installment. Characters return and the various conspiracy elements are worked out to what at least appears to be their logical conclusion. In many ways the story doesn't take as many chances as in the original game. Elements, such as the playable interior psychology segments, remain intact, but are presented in much more mundane and predictable ways. This is perhaps another aspect of the original that could have been extended to Mona Sax now that she's a playable character.

Really, the original Max Payne took so many risks in combining storytelling and gameplay that it's understandable that the sequel wouldn't be able to feel as revolutionary. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne isn't going to make anyone who didn't like the original want to play. I would go so far as to strongly suggest that, if you haven't played the first game, you should do so before playing Max Payne 2. The overall effect of the two games is very satisfying, and if you enjoyed the original at all, Max Payne 2 is really a must-play. One of the best narrative game experiences of 2003, hands down.