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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Rockstar Games
GENRE: Action
November 25, 2003
Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3

Max Payne

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on January 23, 2004

Full Review: Woohoo, no more blood trail nightmares!

The original Max Payne was a nice success story for Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment. The small studio turned the PC gaming sector on its ear with Max Payne, thanks to awesome action and the use of Bullet Time to slow down gameplay and let you aim with more precision and knock down a horde of mobsters at the same time. Conversions to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox were just as successful, leading to millions of copies sold and a much bigger budget for the sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The result is a game that feels very much like its predecessor ? only bigger, with more explosions, more?well just imagine your usual summertime movie action sequel and you'll get the idea. It's not a game for those who didn't like the original, but on its own Max Payne 2 is a fine game with an awful conversion, mixing great gameplay with horrific graphics to offset the quality of the game. It's still a great shooter, but someone should be smacked for allowing a game this hideous looking to hit store shelves.

The story of Max Payne 2 picks up not too far from the events of the original game. Thanks to the convincing of US Senator Alfred Woden, Max is pardoned for all the killing he did in the original game, and allowed to return to his job as an officer of the law. Leaving the DEA behind, Payne instead returns to the NYPD beat as a detective, washing his days away in his usual melodrama and bizarre similes. One night, Max gets a call for some disturbances at a warehouse, taking the case, Max winds up on an adventure to unravel the case, and once again, the actions Max takes wind up becoming difficult and not-so-law abiding. It doesn't help that Max winds up in a heated romance with Mona Sax, a beautiful assassin who he should be using handcuffs to put her in jail, not as a form of bedroom entertainment. Along the way, Max encounters many characters from his past ? no Jack Lupino though, which is probably a good thing, since 1) he's weird, and 2) he's dead. As always, the story is told in graphic novel format, with pages popping up on the screen as dialogue is narrated by Max, with the proper artwork matching the situation. There's quite a bit more of these this time around, as the story has much more meat to work with compared with the original.

Those who played the original MP will be right at home with the sequel. This is either good or bad, depending on perspective, as the game plays exactly the same with some small exceptions when you team up with Mona in certain levels. The exact same format of controls and pace remain ? run through building, shoot baddies, find next door, collect painkillers, weapons, etc., kill more baddies, watch story scene, rinse and repeat. It still works very well thanks to the good, tight controls and challenging action, but it's a definite warning that if you disliked the original, you might not as well bother playing the sequel.

Bullet Time is back, and it's been adjusted a bit, but still it's not totally revamped. It's still necessary to use often, activating to kill bad guys and then turn it off just as fast to conserve. Now though, Max can use it to run up walls and avoid fire, he can do a super-fast reload, and now, as an added bonus, the screen changes to a pee-colored tint, which is always fun. Still, it's fun to click on the Bullet Time, rush into a room of soon-to-be-deads, and send them all to hell.

As mentioned, the level structure is mostly unchanged, with some differences. A few areas have been re-used (Ragnarok for one, Lupino's bar that Vlad is turning into his own place now), but there's lots of new areas, including even Max's precinct in the city. Thankfully, there are zero blood trail nightmare levels this time around, which was a major turn-off in the original MP. There are dream sequences, but those are much better handled this time around and more fun to play through. The strongest asset in the level design though is Mona's funhouse level, which may not be as scary as, say, the funhouse of hell in Silent Hill 3, but it's amusing and clever, and you even get to play in it more than once. With these exceptions aside though, most levels don't break far from the Max Payne tree, so it's up to you to decide whether or not it's a good thing, depending on how much you enjoyed the original Payne.

One drastic change in Max Payne 2 is the saving system. In the original, you could save after each section of a chapter, and not save anywhere. In this game, you are allowed to save anywhere, but there is no autosave after each section, nor is there any kind of autosave anywhere. You have to save when you want to, and if you forget, you're out whatever progress you had before. It doesn't matter either way to me, but as it's barely mentioned at all unless you read the manual, you might run around wondering where the hell a save point is, when the saving system is all done on your own. If anything, this system helps you through tougher levels that give you trouble.

Like before, MP2 uses an adjusting difficulty scale ? that's the claim anyway. Supposedly, if you perform poorly, the AI adjusts itself to make it easier for you, and if you're running through like a hot knife through butter, it makes it more difficult. However, when playing through, I pretty much breezed through and the AI never really got too challenging until very late in the game; just like how it was the first time around. Granted, the higher difficulty levels present much more challenge, but it seems the AI adjustments aren't much at all.

No matter though, as even if you played the first, the sequel is a fine action game that's decently long for its genre; nobody wants a 25-hour action shooter, do they? It's very exciting all the way through with few moments of quiet time, lots and lots of weapons, and a very good, if a bit weird and cryptic story to press you along. The whole Max/Mona love affair is a perfect display of watching Max again descend into the depths of the dark side, and his world unravels bit by bit, in sometimes uncomfortable ways. They say is a film noir kind of game, and Rockstar isn't lying.

Unfortunately, the visuals of Max Payne 2 take a serious hit in the PC conversion. Ugly, bland locales and textures are the norm, along with nasty looking character models appear more often than you'd like. Mona looks like a zombie half the time, and Max comes close. Max is so different looking than before; all the stress has aged him 20 years, and it shows. Most of the animations are ripped right from the original MP, with the lone exception of the use of the Havok engine that has ragdoll physics when you kill enemies and they flop around depending on where you hit them with firepower. There are more facial expressions this time around too ? no more Max's lone constipated look this time around. Otherwise, this is one ugly looking game that barely looks 1st generation on the PS2?the porters could have done much, much better given that the PS2 version will probably outsell the others by a longshot.

The audio isn't much far off from the original, with most voices returning to the party with that trademark Max Payne style. Max returns with his absurd phrases that are more amusing than anything (though, they aren't quite as funny as the ones in the first game), making the graphic novel segments quite interesting. The usual screams of the enemies return, as they shout Max's name out when they spot him as a tipoff that he's coming for them. Many times, you can sneak up on them and overhear a conversation that may be about him, setting up perhaps a sniper shot or a fun grenade to clear the air while they're talking. And yes, the ?lords and ladies? television segments return, meaning it's still cool to waste a bullet shooting out the TV. The sparse soundtrack echoes many familiar themes from the original game, but you hear music so rarely that there's not much to talk about.

Bottom Line
Effectively, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is a game that you'll like or dislike depending on your perspective of the first. As the game is effectively a revamped version of the original, those who enjoyed the first will be right at home?but if not, it's really not worth playing as you'll be disappointed. That said, Max Payne 2 is an enjoyable action shooter that is extremely ugly (if you have multiple consoles and are anal about ugly games, just get the Xbox version and save yourself the agony of it), but full of mostly pretty gameplay and loads of action along with a solid, if not extremely dark, storyline that mixes love with violence and tragedy. In other words, a perfect video game version of the film noir.

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