Max Payne 2 came out in 2003, two years after the original game, for PC, Xbox and PlayStation 2 (the GBA had to sit this one out I'm afraid). Critics and players loved the game but it didn't end up selling all that well and with Remedy Entertainment moving on to making Alan Wake the series lay dormant for almost a full decade after this before Rockstar Vancouver stepped in and gave it a big-budget blockbuster makeover with Max Payne 3. Whether it stayed true to the tone of the franchise is debatable, but critics and players agreed that it was a hell of a lot better than the mid-budget Max Payne movie released four years earlier.
But I'm meant to be talking about Max Payne 2 right now, so... uh... what about this theme tune huh? Pretty awesome and haunting right? Oh, here's a link so you can listen to it yourself while you read: youtube link. It's basically the song from the first game, except a bit slower, a bit sadder, and the piano has been replaced with violin.
(Click the pictures to inflate them to 1280x1024 resolution if you want a closer look at anything.)
This particular scene takes place in hospital earlier that same night and Max ain't looking so good. Getting shot is nothing new for him (the guy must be addicted to painkillers at this point), but this time it seems really serious.
He tears the IV needle from his arm, drags himself out from his hospital bed, and crawls over to his trademark leather jacket in obvious pain. Guess I'm not going to be doing any slow-motion bullet time gymnastics for a while.
To say this is a little bit like the first game would be an understatement. This basically IS the first game so far, with the same third person shooter gameplay, the same narrator, the same slow-motion powers, and honestly from the back Max himself doesn't even look all that different. Though he does have ears now.
The biggest change I've noticed is that his walk cycle looks slightly jerkier than it used to. Oh also my bullet time hourglass gauge is filling back up over time now instead of only after a kill!
Max Payne 1, showing the day he returned home to find that his wife and child had been murdered by junkies.
He actually coped with it reasonably well for the first three years, until events conspired to send him on a three night killing spree against everyone involved in their deaths. I'd say 300 is a low estimate for the number of people he killed during that first game and judging by the state of him now it's possible he's been trying to break that record in the meantime.
You know, this is just like how I ran into Max's friend at end of the train level in Max Payne 1, except Bravura hasn't been gunned down from behind mid-cutscene.
This dumbass can't shoot straight though, so Max is able to duck back into the elevator and escape. He doesn't get far though, as a stray bullet hits the gas tank on the left, sending it flying off like a missile right into the elevator next to him. Hey you asshole, shooting gas canisters to blow shit up is my trick, I used to do that all the time in the first game! Well, twice maybe.
PART 1, CHAPTER ONE: ELEVATOR DOORS.
Vladimir Lem is an old associate of Max, a Russian mob leader who helped him out a little during his revenge rampage three years back. He also made me do a whole lot of running around dodging explosions and falling ceilings after rigging a building I had reason to visit.
By the way, Max seems to have gotten himself a new face since then, and I'm not sure it's a change for the better. Sure his new model is easier to take seriously and is a better match for Max's voice, but that's kind of the problem, as he's become as dour and expressionless as his narration.
|The many faces of Sam Lake.|
Also he's changed his shirt! Plain white is so dull.
Incidentally both faces and lines were provided by writer Sam Lake for the first game, as he wrote the script and posed as a model for the character. This time around though he's mostly stuck to writing.
I am kind of in a hurry though as someone's screaming for help from somewhere up in the top floor. Enemies in Max Payne start shooting immediately after catching sight of you and they're (usually) very good at it, so I need to be ready to react the second I enter the building.
Though Dick really does have some awesome lines:
"The rain was coming down like all the angels in heaven had decided to take a piss at the same time."After that had clip had finished it was followed by adverts for other series like Address Unknown and Max Heat, plus Vladimir Lem's new bar 'Vodka'. It's just a slideshow of images with audio over the top by the way, no video, though it's enough to make me feel like I should stay here watching it instead of running to the rescue of the person in immediate need of saving. These TVs are really screwing with the pacing.
"In a situation like mine, you can only think in metaphors."
Scenes between characters like this were almost always presented with graphic novel cutscenes in the first game (as the 3D models weren't even able to open their mouths), but this game likes to do them in-engine instead when possible. The graphic novel scenes have been reduced to bookends for each chapter.
It's a bit of a shame really as Max Payne 1 uses the graphic novel scenes all through the level, appearing whenever you interact with certain objects. They help flesh out the world a little, describing the place you're in and showing what Max is thinking.
Here, have an example:
|Three Max Payne screenshots I've cunningly assembled to look like graphic novel panels.|
- In the first image I've just walked over to a desk in game and Max mentions that there's a note on the table. I choose to read it, bringing up a graphic novel scene where Max explains a bit about the mob-boss who wrote it, what the letter says and why I should care.
- The second image is a panel from these comic book pages showing that Max actually still had a sense of humour back then, as he takes a moment to throw a couple of darts at a photo of the note's author.
- Then in the third image I'm back in the level again afterwards, looking at the darts sticking out of the dartboard exactly where his comic book doppelgänger threw them.
I really have to get out of the habit of sending a single shot towards someone's head, then turning around to look for another target under the assumption that it was enough to kill them.
Sadly Max tries to handle it himself in a cutscene and totally fails to rescue her. Ooops. This was pretty similar to how his wife died as well, which I'm sure isn't lost on him. He's supernaturally talented when it comes to killing people, but his track record at saving the day isn't so great so far.
She disappears back behind the elevator doors before he has a chance to question her about that though. Hey, 'elevator doors' is the name of the chapter!
A WHOLE LOT OF DEAD CLEANERS LATER.
Sadly I wasn't able to kill them all, as they had black escape vans outside ready to go. Max ran out and tried to shoot at a van while they tried to run him over, but neither of them got what they wanted as another detective came and dragged him out of the way at the last moment.
Mona doesn't count, seeing as she did get shot in the head in the last game; she's just too stubborn to stop living I guess.
PART 1, CHAPTER TWO: A CRIMINAL MASTERMIND.
This building made an appearance in Max Payne 1 as well, though back then it was a mafia owned club called the Ragna Rock. A whole lot of shooting took place in there back then and from the sounds of gunfire it seems like they're back at it again now without even waiting for me to turn up.
Here's a new feature for the game by the way: bullet time reloads. Max spins around 360 degrees in slow motion to scope out the room while changing magazines. I'm using up precious bullet time by doing it, but the stuff recharges now so what do I care?
Incidentally, never try what I just did here. Sure epic bullet time dives are cool, but poor Max ended up in a bloody mess when he finally made it down to the floor.
Man, I know this is supposed to be the same place as in Max Payne 1, but it's barely recognisable to me. I keep looking for recognisable landmarks but I'm coming up empty. I guess half of that is because they've got the lights on this time though.
|Max Payne (PC)|
PART 1, CHAPTER FOUR: NO 'US' IN THIS.
Of course before Max could say more than three lines to the woman he's obsessed with, a sniper starts taking shots at him from the apartment opposite and Mona bolts for the door. These two are not going to get a happy ending.
Anyway I killed the sniper and now I get to snoop around Max's apartment. I wonder if his old photographs from Max Payne 1 are around here.
At least his old friend Alex was left alone (no need to recast a dead character).
|(Cropped a bit for clarity.)|
Fortunately quick saves sure take the sting out of it.
Enemies are blessed with fast reflexes and deadly precision, so this really isn't the kind of game where I can stand in front of them and expect to last more than a second. It's inspired me to quick save after every encounter.
PART 1, CHAPTER FIVE: A SIGN OF HER PASSAGE.
If you're wondering why it says I have 8 painkillers left in every screenshot no matter how injured I am, that's because Max Payne 1 has gotten me into the habit of not bothering using healing items until I find more than I can carry.
Death comes so fast in this if I screw up, no matter how much health I've got left in the tank, so I've been mostly getting by with the tiny slice of regenerating health they've given me. Basically the health gauge automatically recovers to his shoulders, similar to what you see in the screenshot above this one, and anything after that can only be healed by painkillers.
PART 1, CHAPTER SIX: A LINEAR SEQUENCE OF SCARES.
Honestly, the way this game is I was almost wondering if the last two levels were some kind of meta-commentary on all the hallways I had to walk around in part 1 of the first game.
Also I haven't found a single person to shoot yet. I know all my screenshots have been pretty empty of gunplay (if you've seen one shot of Max jumping sideways while firing a gun you've seen 'em all), but I assure you I've been killing dozens of enemies per level. This time though it seems that all the enemies were sent to the wrong address or something.
Also I've been listening to this fake TV series play out in the televisions throughout the game, and I'm pretty sure that the protagonist is actually supposed to be seeing his evil identical doppelgänger, John Mirra, in this, uh, john mirror.
We've already what Max's own evil reflection looks like: floating eyeballs. Scary.
Can't fool me though, this is totally a Havok physics engine play room. The game came out over a year before Half-Life 2 (though five years after Jurassic Park: Trespasser), and it was around this time that developers wanted to show off their brand new physics technology. Finally objects in the level could be pushed around or fall over! Or be shot at by my wooden ball-cannon.
Oh oh, I should throw a grenade over too!
Uh, you're still standing there Max. Waiting for an invitation to come in or something?
I suppose he's probably just trying to figure out how the developers ended up constructing a full nude model of Mona for this one shower scene where you only ever see her back... and yet forgot to change the head to put her hair down. Anyway I could end up playing this game to the end at this rate, so I should probably quit now while these two have a chance to actually enjoy each other's company for two minutes without being shot at or murdered. Even if it is just in a flashback.
Alright, here's my final thoughts on Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. It feels very much like a direct continuation of Max Payne to me. It's prettier, a bit quieter and more introspective maybe, but it's a very similar game.
I still had to lean on quick saves a bit to make progress, but not as much as in the first game. I'm not sure exactly what's been changed (though regenerating bullet time certainly helps), but I found it easier to get the drop on enemies and my shots seemed to land on target more often. It seems fairer basically, and that definitely helped me keep my momentum up and my frustration down. I can see how this could annoy more talented players though, especially considering that the harder difficulties are locked until you've finished the game.
Storywise, I've had a better grasp on what was going on this time so far, maybe because the game doesn't set up as many characters, or maybe because Max's obsession with Mona gets more focus than the hierarchies of mob families this time around. Not that I found it a particularly enthralling tale but it's... interesting. Which is a good thing really considering how much focus it gets.
I could very happily keep on playing this, so it gets a shiny star:
Well I've said my bit, but if you've got anything you want to add then go ahead.