"One of the best games available for the Xbox thus far"
For those of you who don't know, 2001 marked the beginning of this franchise. After four long years of development, Remedy had finished the game. With this in mind its almost hard to fathom that here we are only two and a half years later, reviewing the sequel. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is best described as a fitting sequel but it still has a few minor problems which can be overlooked as it is such a superb game.
Once again you take the role of Max Payne, although not all the time. At the end of the first game we saw that he was headed back to the DEA but it turns out he left this job and is now back on the beat working as a detective in the New York Police Department where he becomes infatuated with a female murder suspect, Mona Sax. From here the story twists, turns and grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won't let go until the bitter end.
Like the original, the start of the game is actually the end of the game. All the moments featured in the middle of the game build up to the climax where you will completely understand what the first graphic novel is demonstrating. This can be confusing but due to the fact the storyline is so strong and involves so many characters you will find this game hard to put down.
Max Payne 2 like the original is a third person shooter. For most of the game your task is to get through each level, taking down the enemies you come across in various ways. If you have played the original game right through you should be right at home with the game play in Max Payne 2, and also understand most of the storyline. Whilst for the most part, the game revolves around itself, at times it makes small subtle references to the previous game such as his wife and child being murdered by junkies. For those of you who haven't played the original, an option on the menu called previously is included which features a graphic sequence portraying all the events from the original game.
Bullet time and the shoot dodge manoeuvre have both returned. We found ourselves using bullet time much more then the original title, whilst shoot dodge was used less. Bullet time slows gameplay down to allow you to take multiple enemies down in quick succession. Obviously your rate of fire is reduced during this, but the enemies take longer to respond. It is probably possible to complete the game without using bullet time at all, but it would make it significantly harder then it has to be. Bullet time is accumulated by defeating enemies, or you can let it slowly build up during time it is not being used.
One significant change is the fact that occasionally during the storyline you will control a different character to Max. At times you will take control of Mona Sax, Max's love interest and one of her levels is played retrospectively. You will complete a level with Max and then the next level is played as Mona behind the scenes. Like with Max your main task as Mona will be to traverse the environments taking enemies down but during one crucial mission you will have to give an AI Max cover whilst he tries to find a means to escape. During this time you have to keep an eye on more then just Mona's health, and this occurs more then once during the storyline.
The main problems we have with the game are some that were also faults in the original game. If you set your mind to it, the game can be completed in a day quite easily. However the fact is the game play is so good, you will probably find yourself going back and playing your favourite missions again. The linear style of the levels also contributes to this and whilst it lessens and even eliminates frustration you may feel throughout this game, it does contribute to the games short length. These two problems didn't stop people playing the original game and enjoying it and the same should definitely apply with Max Payne 2.
As well as the main characters such as Vladomir Lem and Vinnie Goggnitti you come up against, you will also encounter foot soldiers such as the cleaners and commandos. Early on in the game you will face the cleaners who are basic schmucks with pistols and aren't to hard to defeat. It's once you reach the levels with the commandos (who seem awfully like the commandos in Max Payne 1) that you will start to encounter problems. The strength of the AI is definitely their number and not their brains. On the lowest difficulty level most should be taken care of easily, but as this goes up they become harder to take down and the game becomes more of a challenge.
Max and Mona have a variety of weapons they can use throughout the game and picking up enemy weapons and ammunition is encouraged. By default Max has a pistol and Mona has a long range sniper gun but over the course of the game you will find weapons such as an MP5, a Colt, Shotguns, Uzis and others. Knowing when to use each weapon and being aware of the surrounding environments is a key element. Do not shoot weapons in rooms full of explosives, or rather if Max happens to ignite them, run!
Max has undergone a facelift and total make over since we last saw him and its fair to say that he now looks a bit more like a man with nothing to lose. His animations have improved and his looks change over time with cuts and bruises appearing. Mona is the new playable character and animates just as well as Max. In some of the missions you play with Mona, you won't encounter any enemies, that is unless you count structures falling apart enemies.
During the storyline you will visit around six or so different environments. The game is divided into three parts, with each part being divided into chapters. There are prologue levels which give a background to the storyline and in most of these Max can't be killed. One such prologue shows Max in his NYPD office trying to find out information about Mona Sax and other criminals. Each of the environments are highly detailed but some may be disappointed that you visit a few of them more then once such as Mona's hide out in an amusement park. You may find yourself looking at a guide or FAQ to get past an area, and then wonder why you didn't think of that.
One thing which is impressive about the Xbox version is the visuals. They are crisp and clean and as mentioned before the playable characters animate really well. The frame rate remains stable, not once did we encounter slow down and given the amount of action which can be happening on the screen at once, this is quite astounding. The saving system used is also good with a quick save option available, and this option makes three saves thus not getting you stuck should you happen to save just before an enemy hits you.
The physics featured in Max Payne 2 are some of the best seen in a game so far. Utilising the now famous Havok engine, the developers have really been able to put in some realistic effects. If you shoot an enemy into a wall or pile of objects the objects will react to that. It is a shame that they didn't take this to the next level and allow Max to attract enemies by kicking objects, perhaps for Max Payne 3.
The sound of Max Payne 1 was one of its better elements and again they have come up trumps here. The voice acting is nothing short of superb and paired with the sequences shown between levels really brings the storyline to life. A cinematic soundtrack is featured as well as the famous tune from the original game. Weapons are fairly generic but do have unique sounds and during bullet time everything slows down even enemies yelling as they are taken down.
Max Payne 2 is definitely one of the best games on the Xbox thus far and if you're a fan of the third person shooter genre a must own. It is true that the game can be easily finished in a day, but even so you will go back to your favourite missions or try a new difficulty level. The game is highly addictive so don't be surprised if you do manage to finish it in one sitting, because the storyline always leaves you wanting more, even the very end. Highly Recommended.