I like a good story and I like a good game, when you can combine story and game into one big package you're bound to get a winner with me. The first Max Payne laid the foundations for a gritty, twisted descent into the film-Noir inspired world that Remedy had created. Their grasp of storytelling and visual imagery has still really not been bettered in a third person shooter yet, and with Max Payne 2 - Remedy once more proves without a shadow of a doubt - they are becoming the Kings of Noir.
Remedy have even gone to the trouble of putting a nice little, previously on Max Payne, into the game this time around, bringing new players up to date with all the antics that Max got up to in the last game. The story for number 2 takes place after Alfred Wodan has managed to get the ex-cop cleared of all the charges against him and Max goes back to working his old detective pitch.
It's not long before Max is 'both guns' blazing into a hellish conspiracy that threatens to consume him and drive the poor guy mad. Add to this the appearance of a woman that he thought was dead, and it's a sheer cocktail of visual and story delight, it never lets up for a moment and is masterfully told.
Max is back, that's for sure and he's got a few new tricks up his sleeve, apart from that...the game really has not altered all that much, it's still Max Payne and it feels refreshingly similar in gameplay to the first title. It's a third person shooter and there's not much to really say, apart from the fact that they dropped the silly idea of those awful jumping puzzles and you can always save anywhere.
There's far more action in the sequel and it feels more immediate, the detail that Remedy have gone to with the control of the character, is excellent - the system has been refined and it's even easier to use Max now. There are also more scenery specific features, like ammo boxes, which can be used to cause devastating explosions and empty a room of mooks in seconds. And without breaking the story too much, you also get to play with another character for a couple of scenes...which is good fun.
Bullet Time 2.0
Max Payne was the first game to successfully implement the idea of Bullet Time into the world, Max can dodge in slow motion, while you aim in real time, getting the drop on the enemies and with a careful usage of the feature - you can become an unstoppable gun-toting killing machine - you can dive into a room, circle around as you're flying through the air in slow motion and nail the bad guys before they can shout - waste im!
Now it's even better with 2.0, the visual effects have been increased and the duration of Bullet Time has gone up. Now Max's BT meter refills not only from enemies dispatched but also over time, meaning that if you time your killing sprees just right, you can almost remain in BT until the fight is over.
There are a number of new tricks for 2.0 as well; Max can now lie upon the ground as he dives around, shooting from the floor until his gun runs out of ammunition. If you're in BT and Max runs out of ammo, you'll get a cool reloading sequence that makes you grin bigtime when you first see it. Essentially though they have left Bullet Time and the moves largely the same, which to me is a good thing, too much change and it wouldn't feel like Max Payne at all.
It's no secret, everyone should know by now that powering the physics engine of Max Payne 2 is HAVOK and this engine is absolutely gorgeous to watch in action, not surprising that it's also used in Half Life 2 as well. Bodies fly back with such ballistic savagery as they are peppered with round after round, limbs flailing realistically. Colliding with the scenery, bottles fly off shelves, cans fall over and everything interacts gorgeously with everything else.
Add to this the special BT cameras that often go off when you manage to perform a cool shot, or you kill the right mook in the correct manner, you'll get a neat slow motion show of said victim falling to their doom, bouncing off poles or knocking shelves and their contents flying. Hollywood eat your heart out!
Havok makes things like grenades fun, bodies don't fly apart but if you're in BT you can really appreciate the interaction between the various impacts.
Graphics, Models, Level design
Gone is Max's old constipated look and all the models, features and designs are much crisper and even more detailed than before. There's a proper lip synching feature with the voices and the whole thing fits together like a pair of perfectly warm gloves. The early levels are gritty and dingy, it's proper Noir stuff, the set pieces are utterly capable of dragging you into the actual story and world - you feel part of this game, and you can almost smell the rank sense of decay about some of the locations.
The same can be said about the high profile locations, they are quite impressive and the feeling is of luxury, the penthouse areas of the rich and famous, the massive plasma screen TVs and the whole design is pretty much flawless.
Texturing on Max Payne 2 is excellent and the art to the levels has a number of nice little touches, in jokes and just plain clever additions. If you know anything about the Max Payne Mod scene you'll know the name Kenneth Yeung as the creator of Kung Fu 3.0 - in Max 2 there's actually a homage to Kenneth on a small poster.
Spotless really, I can't say that I didn't enjoy a single moment of the various in-jokes and subtle digs at the first game even. Remedy is a company that deserves greatness for their flawless execution of certain jokes and the blatant disregard for the stereotypes of the genre. Lords and Ladies makes a welcome return, and we even get a number of highly amusing adverts - like Dick Justice, which is just comedy gold.
The actual voice work from the various characters and supporting roles, mooks and the like is great. It has a feel to it, that is Noir and it's gritty, their dialogue is a gorgeous narrative that must have taken their script team a long time to create - it's well worth listening to everything, every TV and radio that has something on it, it's all so wonderfully written.
Sounds and Music
I can't fault them on this area either, the guns are nice, the way the BT 2.0 filters sound and the actual sound of the impacting rounds is all perfectly reproduced in the game. There's not much that can be said on this subject, I have no real complaints and the Music is likewise, excellent, haunting and it's nice to hear they remixed the old Max 1 tune. Gorgeous stuff, and it's a game like this that makes it a true pleasure to review.
A supposedly bad thing...
Some people have criticised the game for being short, well yes, it's short and it's sweet, you shouldn't be put off by that, not since we know the MP community has some highly talented modders out there who're already making headway with MP2. But if you think about it, Max Payne 2 is not that short, not if you take your time and explore every avenue and every location thoroughly...looking for secrets and easter eggs.
Props go to Remedy for the shrine room too, nice thought guys, well done.
Max Payne has Bullet Time 2.0, which makes the game even easier in the hands of a skilled player, it has a gripping story and narrative, you don't want to put the damn thing down - I can say that I spent my time playing it from start to finish - I had to, there was no choice. It was as though Max put a gun to my head and said, keep playing, you must find out more. So it's really not that short, it seems to have the same number of chapters and so forth as MP. I for one highly recommend it to old and new Max games alike, it's a great addition to the series and I think in this case the sequel is much better than the previous game.
My eyes are firmly now on Remedy to see what else they can produce...I want...MORE!