By Tristan Mayshark
Max Payne, as in the first Max Payne, was in development seemingly forever with so many new screens, engine updates, and et cetera, that before it shipped people were starting to make vapor wareŁ jokes. For the release of the sequel, Rockstar used the exact opposite tactic, just making a quiet announcement to the public a couple months in advance of the game and then hitting the target date on the head.
Those of you familiar with Max Payne's controls will be able to jump right into the sequel, as the basic third-person controls have not changed. In fact, aside from absolutely stellar graphics and sound (which I'll get to later), very little has changed from the first game except for a much greater emphasis on story. The story is told as before through in-engine cut scenes and out-of-engine comic book , format screens. The psychedelic states of altered consciousness that Max stumbled through in the first game are here, too, although they serve only to move the plot forward, instead of being mini gamesŁ, a change that suits me fine. What this means is that while the dream sequences are extremely dramatic and pretty to look at, they're only interactive to a minimal degree: you run through terrifying environments in a linear fashion, without having to worry about jumping puzzles or death (as in the infamous red lineŁ dream sequences from the first game which annoyed PC and console gamers alike.)
Bullet Time, or the relative slowing down of your environment while still allowing you to aim your gun(s) in real time, is still the basic draw of the gameplay, and like everything else, it's been improved from the first game. In The Fall of Max Payne, the bullet dodgeŁ works just like it did in the first game: press a direction, press shift, and watch Max do a slow-motion dive in which he can aim in faster-than-real time to take out enemies in a brutal, John Woo like fashion. However, unlike the first game, there is no limit to the number of times you can make this move (the hourglassŁ returns, but only for Bullet Time, as discussed below), giving players very little reason not to soar around every corner and take out baddies on the fly. Another improvement I enjoyed has to do with frustration encountered in the first game after completing such a dive: sometimes the player would complete the dive only to get shot to death trying to stand back up. While this can still happen, Max Payne 2 allows you to continue to lie on the floor and fire shots after you've finished a dive, until you run out of ammo in the current clip, giving the player a chance to eliminate anyone they may have missed in their dive.
As I mentioned above, the hourglass icon from the first game makes a return, but it functions rather differently. When you enter Bullet Time, the hourglass slowly starts to drain, and when it's empty, you'll find yourself back in real time. However, the Bullet Time in Max Payne 2 doesn't initially seem as slow as the Bullet Time in the first game, and this is because it's not. Instead of a fixed slow the game x percentŁ modifier, as in the first game, Bullet Time in Max Payne 2 has different levelsŁ of slowness. After entering Bullet Time, anytime you re-fill the hourglass meter to its top by killing people, it will turn a brighter shade of yellow, and the rest of the world will slow down even more. On top of that, these transitions into deeper levelsŁ of Bullet Time allow Max himself to move faster. The newer, more dynamic bullet time means more fun in killing hordes of mobsters.
Remedy licensed the Havok 2.0 physics engine for this game and it shows. The ragdoll effect used on all the enemies means you'll never see the same death twice (indeed, more than once I found myself reloading just to see what that would look like if I shot him in the head instead of the chestŁ or something similar). All the environments are littered with various objects and debris that you can knock around, and exist only to make the environments more believable. However, this isn't to say that the crafty player can't find a way to use such objects for cover, or distraction, or any number of other things.
Graphically, the game looks fairly similar to Max Payne, but it has been necessarily brought up to date with the latest in shaders, higher poly-count models and environments, and a host of new graphical effects. In higher resolutions, and with all the detail cranked, the game looks at least as good as anything else I've seen this year, if not better. And the amount of scalability included, in terms of turning effects on or off, means that the game will, in theory, run on a 1 gHZ machine with an 32 MB Direct-3D card. The box recommends nearly twice that amount of horsepower, and twice that amount of video memory.
The sounds are similarly excellent. The voice acting is, for the most part, convincing, and moves the very linear story along nicely. Dynamic music and environmental noises (televisions, raindrops, cars, etc) add to the believability of Max's world without distracting the player from it. People who enjoyed the in-game soap opera Lords and LadiesŁ in the first game will be glad to know The Fall of Max Payne features a new seasonŁ, as well as some other shows I won't spoil for anyone.
I realize that for a game that I have described as so thoroughly story-driven, I haven't said much of anything about the story. This is intentional; the first eight to ten hour play through this game is something special I won't ruin for anyone. I will say, however, that the story is (although not faultless) much more concrete and less ludicrous and meandering this time around, possibly as a result of the shorter and apparently more directed development time.
Some people are invariably going to fault this game for its violence. I do not because I think the violence is extremely fun, albeit to a degree that's mildly disturbing. Also, this game carries a Mature rating with a note of intense violenceŁ, an impressive pedigree for a game that doesn't even feature gibbing or corpse desecration (as in the Soldier of Fortune games). The ragdoll engine combined with the new bullet time and better looking models just necessarily seems to give birth to gameplay that's just as visceral and violent as any Hong Kong cinematic bloodbath, and also just as gripping. Needless to say, however, people who prefer their violence to be cartoonish or absent entirely are not going to want to descend into Max's world of nightmarish killing.
The brevity of the game is in some ways compensated for by the modes which become unlocked as a result of defeating the game; a single play from beginning to end will unlock everything except for the hardest setting. The New York Minute mode, also seen in the first Max Payne, returns here. In this mode, the player has a single minute to complete each level, adding seconds to the clock with each kill. New to Max Payne 2 is Dead Man Walking, an arcadeish mode in which death is inevitable, and the goal is to prolong Max's life as much as possible.
In conclusion, Max Payne 2 is a an absolutely killer title that any action gamer should play. At the time of this review, unfortunately, there was no demo available, but I highly encourage anyone who goes for this sort of thing to just go buy this one, it's a keeper. I don't feel like I can convey in text the feeling one gets by steering max in uber , slow motion into an intense firefight, shooting mobsters in the head with unreal precision. Like all the best things in life, it has to be experienced to be understood.