GVN Review: Max Payne 2 - The Fall of Max Payne

With the critical and commercial success of the original Max Payne, Remedy had some big shoes to fill. Everyone clamored for another game, and with how loved the original game was, expectations were set high. Two years later in 2003, Remedy obliged with the release of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Did Max Payne 2 live up to the expectations and hype established by its predecessor, or did it truly fall in slow motion?

Once again, players find themselves as the titular Max Payne two years after the events of the first game. After leaving the DEA, Max finds himself back in the NYPD as a detective. During a routine murder investigation of a group known as the Cleaners, Max has a run in with Mona Sax, an assassin who was thought dead during Max Payne 1. Her appearance triggers questions in Max’s mind and some inner demons return. As he tracks her down, Max finds himself wrapped up in yet another conspiracy.

The most notable thing right off the bat is how Max Payne 2’s narrative is greatly improved over the original game. While it still retains the graphic novel presentation, the story it presents is far more serious and darker in tone. While there’s an overall murder mystery involved, the real highlight of the plot is once again focused on Max. His motivations, thoughts, and emotions in reaction to what he encounters is very well presented and shows players that he is human like all of us. He comes across as a protagonist with inner demons that we can relate to.

Beyond the presentation via the novel panels, the narrative is woven into the actual game nearly seamlessly. Max narrates the events of the game as he witnesses them in a way that gives the player insight to his own character while almost never making the player give up control. His interactions with other characters, major or minor, occur in such a way that it really sells everyone’s distinct personalities. The interactions between Max and Mona are especially memorable and thoughtful. You can really feel the tension building between them as they are reluctant to work together, but they are also slowly falling for each other. Everything as a whole is presented in a smooth, clean fashion while not impeding on the player.

Once again, the famed bullet time mechanic makes its wondrous return in Max Payne 2, but slightly modified. While it still slows down time while letting Max aim in real time, the amount of slowdown is initially not very much, but with each kill it will slow more and more. The slower it gets, the easier it is for players to react to enemies attacking Max. It gives off a unique feel that Max gets more into a zone with each bullet fired. It still emphasizes making multiple sequential kills, but rewards the player more for doing it. With fully powered bullet time, Max becomes an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, and that empowerment makes the game a blast to run through.

Also while Max still slightly refills the gauge that meters bullet time with each kill, bullet time will also slowly regenerate when he is not actively killing. This results in the player very rarely running low on bullet time unlike how it was in the previous game. This large change to how bullet time works ends up allowing players to use it much more freely. It allows them to be more creative with how they clear out a room, and creative, stylish killing leads to lots of enjoyable and memorable moments throughout. It promotes an unrelenting pace that urges players to keep moving forward.

It is a great thing that bullet time and the advantage it grants is more freely useable because Max Payne 2’s difficulty will still keep players on their toes. Max’s enemies are still as accurate as ever, and will quickly put him down if underestimated. They come at him in numbers attempting to overwhelm Max, and they can be put down just as quick as Max himself can. Max Payne 2’s difficulty is easier than it was in the last game, but not so much that a player can carelessly throw Max into the middle of a crowd without dying.

When it comes to the selection of weaponry, Max Payne 2 still features a typical suite of firearms that is not much different than before. There is the usual armament of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and the like; but there are a couple of new toys like the MP5. However, there is nothing particularly fancy to drool over this time such as the grenade launcher from the first game. Still, the weapons that are in the game are fun to use. The game also supplies ample amounts of ammo for everything; so players really have a choice with how they clear out a sequence of rooms with whatever implement of death they wish.

With all of the options available to Max, it matters little if there are not great set pieces to shoot mobsters in. Max Payne 2 most certainly does not falter in this department; it actually provides more variety in the environments than Max Payne 1 did. Whether in a high-class apartment building, a construction site, or an abandoned funhouse, each area of the game felt distinct from each other. Even the rare few times that the game returns to a building or area, it changes things up to keep it from feeling too derivative. Fighting through each area is a joy when each area provides ways to kill with style. There is nothing quite like diving across a spiral staircase to a lower section while raining hell on anyone trying to climb up or using a funhouse prop to temporarily scare a few guys while you drop a grenade at their unsuspecting feet.

Then there are the dream sequences that occur throughout the game. These moments once again dive into the thoughts of Max as he deals with his guilt and really give the player another view to how he feels about current or recent events. It really displays just how close Max is to losing his mind at times. Thankfully, these sequences will not make players lose their mind with atrocious level design like in the last game. Gone are the obnoxious mazes and silly platforming in darkness of before; Max Payne 2 provides a much more straight forward sequence. It streamlines the experience while not losing any of the narrative intent.

Once again like its predecessor, Max Payne 2 provides lots of care and detail in its world. The level of interactivity is still impressive, whether simple as opening cabinets and containers or using explosive canisters to take out enemies. The most noteworthy details are the television shows that can be seen on various TVs throughout the game. Whether it is Captain Baseball Bat Boy, Lords & Ladies, Address Unknown, or any of other shows, each one is actually a mini side story that acts as a sort of metaphor for parts of the main narrative. All of them are actually rather entertaining, and like a real life TV show will keep you tuned in to see what happens next.

Beyond completing the story, there are few options for enticing players to keep playing. There are the usual unlockable difficulties, and the New York Minute mode makes a return though it has been tweaked to be more like a time trial rather than a survival. The new survival mode Dead Man Walking pits Max in arena-like fights. This mode really tests player skill with surviving as long as possible against endless waves of enemies that randomly spawn around the room. Taking down nearly a dozen enemies in a row in a slow motion hail of gunfire does not get much more thrilling than this.

In the audio department, Max Payne 2 provides a competent experience. Gunfire sounds as powerful as it should, and explosions provide a proper sense of impact. Spoken dialogue is once again done very well, and conversations between enemies still provide amusing moments like in the first game. All of the voice work by the main cast is performed well enough to sell each character.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is quite simply a brilliant successor to a great game. It improves upon all of the faults of the original game, while also taking everything else to the next level. The narrative is tighter, cohesive, and presented stylishly as ever through both graphic novel panels and in-game dialogue. Bullet time infused fights mixed with the distinct environments and variety of weapons provides an intensely fun thrill ride that many games strive for. The ride may be over before you know it, but it is enjoyable enough to replay multiple times even years after the first time.

+ Serious, well written plot is engaging
+ Bullet time tweaks make Max nearly god-like in combat
+ Environments largely varied and provide memorable set pieces
+ Captain Baseball Bat Boy!
- The game ends

Final Grade: A

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