Max Payne 2 Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 10
Gameplay : 9.5
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 9.5
Review by Kurt Knudsen

Sequel to one of the most intense third person shooters created, this game offers what the first did, and more. A captivating “Film Noir” story that can rival Hollywood blockbusters. A better looking graphics engine, even if still based off the old one. Unbelievable physics that rival Half Life 2. Not to mention the incredible gameplay the first game offered. This game series has definitely lived up to the hype that preceded it.


Graphics:

When you go game hunting the first thing you look for are graphics. If the graphics are sub-par, chances are you won’t purchase the game. As biased as this is, since a lot of games have poor graphics but still offer incredible game play, most people shop this way. Well luckily for them, this game has graphics that will knock your socks off. While they are nothing revolutionary, the graphics do appeal to everyone, and don’t require a beast of a machine to see them in all their glory (As a matter of fact the game performed admirably on my old Athlon 1 Ghz+GeForce 2 MX 200+512MB RAM machine, with framerates of over 30fps at 640x480 with all details on max, which rarely happens nowadays – Editor).

The models, much like the first game, are quite well done with a few extras. The faces have been redone; gone are the days of the constipated look on Max Payne’s face. Finally he shows off a ton of facial expression, most of which are seen in the cut scenes. Although the models’ clothes could have been done in higher resolution textures - in some cut scenes they don't look entirely attractive. At the same time from afar the models look stunning and almost lifelike.



The animations of the models have been improved a bit. They move more realistically, it looks like motion capture, but I’m not too sure if they used it or not. The animations flow very well from one to the other, although there are times when you can see one end and the other begin. One example would be if you kill someone while they are diving: it switches to a diving death animation instantly, which jerks the body a little.

Bullet time returns in all its glory. This time it is a little different, though. Instead of starting off incredibly slow, you start off somewhat slower than normal. As you kill people your bar increases, while time slows down. It almost slows down to a complete stop, but the chances of running into that many enemies to do that are very slim.

One extra animation has been added to bullet time, I think most of you who have seen the trailers have seen it. The instant reload animation is raw. As you are in bullet time and you reload, you spin around and your gun reloads much faster than normal. Not only is this good for attacking faster, but it looks amazing. Also to note: as you kill more enemies and you reload, the camera does a 360 degree spin around you, and this looks even better. The only gripe I have about the reload animation is it is the same for every gun, and there is only one animation in total. While it looks amazing, it can get a tad redundant.


The level design, just like in the original Max Payne, is exquisite. A lot of effort has been put into recreating realistic environments in the game, and it has obviously paid off. Each place you visit in the game looks unique, with its own style and “small” but noticeable things like graffiti sprayed on the wall, that make each one unique and distinct from one another. Generally the environments are dark and urban, which makes the whole “Film Noir” concept even more believable. The world models look real as well, although in the same situation as some of the human models, they can look pretty bland up close. The world objects vary from books to milk cartons to explosive barrels. There is a lot of variety, so you don’t see the same things all the time. Also when you shoot them, they all react differently. Spraying a desk with bullets you can see wood fragments and possibly paper fly all over the place. (Tip: gas canisters or ammo boxes are deadly effective in eliminating the enemy. And of course create a nice explosion. - Editor) This effect definitely adds to the realism of the game.

The weapons in this game have been improved from the times of the original Max Payne. They look a lot better and have a lot more detail to them: M16, M4, AK47 and the Dragunov sniper rifle, amongst others, look like their real life counter parts, and have their sounds as well. As well bullet casings fly everywhere, the clips bouncing off the ground as you reload.


Other particle effects, such as bullet sparks and explosions, are superb. The fire from the Molotov cocktails is amongst some of the best I’ve seen. Watching the enemies run around screaming while they are on fire brings back fond memories of Postal 2. The bullet marks left behind look as good as one would expect. There are various bullet marks depending on the material you are shooting at, of course this is nothing new, but it adds to the realism.

The cut scenes in the game are basically identical to those of Max Payne 1. They took the same idea and ran with it again; this was definitely expected. The comic style cut scenes look exactly the same and tell the story of betrayal, death, pain, and madness very well. This idea was fairly unique to Max Payne 1, at least for a shooter. The artist renderings of all the areas and people match the game, so you don’t think you are seeing completely different people.

When you kill someone, there might be an instant replay of his or her death. Sometimes they are scripted, to show off some of the new engine's powers, but sometimes you have to hit the enemy at the right part of the body from the right spot in order to get a cinematic slo-mo view of the action (e.g.: headshot made from a long distance). Most of the time you just see the enemy fly backwards and fall to the ground, but it's amazing how important are the physics in the game – the enemies fall accordingly to the direction from which you've shot at them, or e.g: fall tumbling down the stairs. Havok 2.0 does an excellent job of portraying real-life physics – it goes as far as if you hit a dead body it will jerk, and one box that you've pushed can cause all the others to fall in a realistic manner. Grenade explosions lift your enemies above the ground, together with surrounding objects (part of which can be destroyed by the blast as well). In short, the physics implemented in the game are unrivaled to anything seen in other games before (HL2 and Painkiller don't count, as they're not available yet). While there are some bugs, usually involving doors, boxes and dead bodies, essentially they're pretty rare.



In general the graphics are much like Max Payne 1. They have been improved quite a bit, so they are definitely competitive with today’s standards. The game doesn’t require a lot of processing power for you to play, so even people with dated hardware can still enjoy the game. When everything is put together it creates an incredible atmosphere and a graphical experience that you will never forget.

Sound:

If you played Max Payne 1 you should know what to expect. The same quality voices and music has returned. The sound effects are outstanding as well.

The music score is, to state simply, amazing. This game has some of the best music I’ve ever heard in any game (and once again, can rival most Hollywood blockbusters' scores). When you hear the music start. you know something is going to happen and it draws you in incredibly fast. The music follows the game amazingly well; it definitely helps with telling the story as well. If they sold the sound track to this game I for one would definitely buy it.

The voices in this game are on the same level as the music, and are cast by the same actors that worked on the first game. Every character, big or small, has amazing voices. Even their death screams are recorded very well. Walking into certain scenes you can hear a few guys chatting away, either about you or some useless stuff that makes you laugh. But voice acting done in the cut scenes is where it really shines. The emotions, the hate, everything comes out when you see the story pass. The voice of Max Payne is dominant throughout the entire game; you can hear him thinking to himself during the game. He tells the story from his perspective incredibly well.



The sound effects are almost true to life. The report sounds of gunshots in the distance are really great. All of the guns sound pretty lifelike, and even though sometimes it can sound tinny and hollow, but most of the time they sound perfect. The sound is based on your surrounding as well. If you are in narrow hallways you can hear it echo, if you are out in the open you just hear the loud pop. EAX support does wonders for this game.

The sounds of bullets hitting walls and books and such are realistic as well. You can hear the papers scatter and the thud of the bullets hitting wood, or a clang if it’s metal. Also if you knock stuff over, you can hear it hit the floor. Simply put, everything you do has a sound, there is never silence.

As I said before, this game has incredible sound. This is definitely above anything anyone expected, at least above my expectations. They took what they did in Max Payne 1 and ran with it, and kept on going. If there was a standard for music and sound in a game, this would definitely be it.


Gameplay:

Let me put this blunt: if you played Max Payne 1, and enjoyed it at all, then you will love this game. It takes what Max Payne 1 had and improved upon it. The game plays much like the first one did, same style of game play just a different story, or rather continuation of the same one. While there are a few new characters, you will easily recognize Mona Sax (the professional killer Max falls for), Vladimir Lem (the sneaky Russian mobster), Alfred Wooden (member of the secret society), Deputy Chief Jim Bravura, and others.

The story that follows the game is told remarkably well. This is what made Max Payne 1 such a great game. Graphics can only hold you for so long; it is the story that keeps you playing. This game has one of those stories that captivate you, which makes you want to keep playing. The story of an officer's family murdered and him framed for murder. A man looking for answers and revenge. A man that has nothing to lose anymore. Max Payne 2 is like a book you just can’t put down. The comic book style cut scenes tell the story as the game progresses. There are engine rendered cut scenes that tell the story as well, but it is the comic scenes you see most often. Max Payne 2 pretty much starts off where Max Payne 1 ended except that, thanks to Alfred Wooden, Max is back in NYPD, and the rest is for you to find out...

Probably what separates the gameplay in Max Payne 2 most from the original, is that this time around the story is told from the perspective of both Max and Mona, so as you keep playing what you've just seen is complimented by a different point of view from another character. Oh yes, and it does mean that Mona became a playable characters in Max Payne 2 – you will play as her through a few levels. Another noteworthy invention is that while there are still some “solo” missions for Mona, in quite a few of them you'll find yourself covering Max with a sniper rifle from the top – here you'll have to keep an eye on his health bar, and provide as much support as you can – if he dies, game over. Also new are some “selectable” NPC characters, that you can basically get to fight together with you, a-la Half-Life.



Max Payne 2 is intense, mainly because of how the story is told. It could also be that as you progress things unfold that you wouldn’t expect. I won’t ruin anything, but there is always a surprise to keep you on your toes. In short there's always an incentive to keep playing – just like watching a good movie. The enemies that come at you also make this game intense: as you go from one room to another you run into a ton of enemies that just want you dead. Bullet time definitely helps in pinches like this, without it the game would be a lot more difficult than it already is. Generously in Max Payne 2 directional jumps in slo-mo (as opposed to “controllable” slo-mo) don't cost any bullet time at all, making every gunfight seem like a scene from the Matrix.

If you throw a grenade the enemies run from it. Sometimes the enemies throw grenades at you, and depending on your position they might miss and hit a wall, which in turn will blow them up – this sort of adds to the feeling that the AI can make mistakes just like the player does. For the most part the AI in the game has been improved since the previous game. They will take cover from you and try to ambush or surround you. At times they will even retreat, call for help and reorganize. They have some great dynamic tactics to take you out and work as a team, and it shines most of the time. If you take aim at one enemy he will try to dive to take cover behind a barrel or car. Other enemies will peek behind walls and take aim at you, but once you spot them they will go hide again, it’s great. Not only they use cover appropriately, but they know which weapons are best at the moment – using sniper rifles from far distance, or throwing Molotov cocktails from close, the AI knows how to handle weapons.



The accuracy of the gun depends on it and your movement and position. The Ingrams have horrible accuracy, while the dual desert eagles have incredible accuracy and power. The cool thing they added to this game is a secondary weapon. This would either be melee, hitting someone with the butt of the gun, or a grenade or a Molotov cocktail. Basically you can equip a hand gun and still throw a grenade without having to switch to it. The game automatically switches when you run out, so you don’t have to worry about it too much.

The main difference in the game is the physics, as noted above they are absolutely incredible. Everything in the game has physics, enabling it to be shot at and tumble down stairs, or be blown 50 feet into the air. The physics add to the realism more than anything else, since the game objects act like real world objects you feel that you aren’t in a game. The rag doll physics on the human models is marvelous; they roll down stairs and hang by limbs. You can shoot an enemy in the leg and watch it get blown backward. It is very difficult to explain how wicked these physics are, you really have to experience the game for yourself.

There are a few game modes to play, as was in Max Payne 1. The default mode is Detective, which is the story mode that plays the game. It has been enhanced in that it now continually adapts skill level according to players’ actions, while in the first Max Payne the dynamic skill levels changed only between levels. It should also be worth mentioning that the “psychedelic” levels that we've encountered in Max Payne 1 have been toned down, and became a sort of an 'enhancement' for the game and the story, unlike in the original game, where the incredibly hard “trippy” levels weren't liked much by the gamers.



New York Minute returns from the original Max Payne. This is the hectic mode designed specifically for speed-running. Each map starts out with a timer ticking, but you can take out enemies to reduce the time. The times are saved and you can review your record runs - the faster you are, the better. This has been improved from the original Max Payne. A timer will not run to zero, rather it will count up. This way gamers can objectively compare their reflexes and tactical wits! There's also no longer a Save option during a New York Minute session which makes it a true test of skill and provides a lot more interesting tactical angles for game play.

Dead on Arrival and Hard Boiled are back as well to offer the challenge to the hard core gamer. In Hard Boiled mode, play though the game just like in Detective mode except the enemies are always set to their toughest level. In Dead on Arrival, the enemies are just as deadly as in Hard Boiled mode, but now the player also has a limited number of save games available to them per level. This is unlocked only after completing Hard Boiled.

With abundance of different game modes comes replayability, which would otherwise be shattered due to lack of multiplayer and... short playtime for the main story (Detective mode). With the game being so intensely addictive play time of anywhere between 15 to 20 hours (according to the skill of the player) keeps the player hurting for more. Max Payne 2 is definitely one of the games that will leave the player waiting for the next installment of the series. Hopefully Remedy will release a mod toolkit for all the modders out there, so we could see at least the return of the infamous Kung Fu mod for Max Payne 2, and hopefully it will make our wait for Max Payne 3 shorter.


Conclusion:

Max Payne has returned... This series has been one of the most intense and best played games ever. I have never felt the same about a game since Half Life 1. This game sets the standard of what any shooter game should be – it's A+ quality, inside and outside. It offers a great graphical experience as well as a story that will stay in your mind forever; remember those nightmare sequences from Max Payne 1? Thought so.

This game has what it takes to become GOTY 2003. Of course it has a lot of work to do if it can compete with the big boys, but from what we've seen until now it holds its ground very well. Probably the only minuses are the lack of multiplayer and rather short main gameplay mode – but we've already encountered the same things in the original Max Payne, and loved it dearly nonetheless. Must buy for every self-respecting action fan, Max Payne 2 has definitely made itself a spot in the history of videogames as one of the few sequels that has surpassed an already excellent predecessor. So what are you waiting for? Go get it!