Bringing back the Payne.
It's been over two years since we helped Max Payne clear his name and take revenge on those who relieved his family of their right to exist. But like the killer in any slasher film, he's back, with a similar preternatural proclivity for mayhem and wanton destruction.
Max is a hard-boiled NYPD detective, but as a cop he always seems to come up short. In Remedy's third-person shooter Max Payne 2, however, our hero shines like my Uncle Buck's hairless dome under the hot Indiana sun. Admittedly, there are few hurdles along the way - you may find yourself bypassing much of the exhaustive story to get to the bloodletting, - but at the end of the day, this is about as cool as a cop gets.
Unfortunately, he's not cold enough to stay away a femme fatale who has seemingly defied the Reaper's death grip. Those of you who helped our sleepless detective on his last mission will remember Mona Sax, the bombshell assassin who until now was thought to be dead. She returns to Payne's life as a love interest and plot catalyst providing plenty of mystery and intrigue.
Like his previous outing, the drama unfolds in a sequence of clever, stylish graphic novel sequences, with Max himself as the narrator. The seasoned detective will find himself on the opposite side of the law yet again as a one man army against impossible odds.
Thankfully, Max's signature ability evens those odds like a hot iron over a cheap polyester suit. Often imitated but never truly duplicated, Bullet Time is back and badder than ever.
Bullet Time has gone through a bit of a revision. Now with the press of a button time seems to slow, but in reality Max is moving at break-neck speed while the enemies plod along at a snail's pace. Shoot more knuckleheads while in Bullet Time and Max moves even faster while his assailants move slower. This also replenishes your Bullet Time meter.
This new Bullet Time allows Max to more effectively handle the scores of enemies. It was possible to get through the fist game pretty handily without using Bullet Time much at all, but thankfully we no longer have such luxury. You'll need to use it a lot, but that's a very good thing because it's a very cool thing. It's amazing how a feature inspired by The Matrix is better implemented than the video game adaptation of its progenitor.
Also born from the cinema is the shootdodging ability, which is completely unchanged. Press a button while moving in any direction and Max will dive in slow-motion with the ability to aim and shoot in real-time. Handy and damn cool.
A third 'feature' increases the cool to Sean Connery-James Bond status – details. The new Havok physics engine adds the finishing cinematic touches Max has been begging for with an unparalled use of rag-doll physics and a level of interactivity that will leave gamers speechless. It's virtually impossible for Max to kill a guy the same way twice. Everything is taken in to account. Enemies react differently if shot in various parts of the body and/or with different ordinances. A Desert Eagle shot to the arm, leg, torso or head produces a much different animation than an Uzi or shotgun blast to the same locations. Even momentum from running or diving out of the way is accounted for when baddies catch lead. It's incredible.
Plus, everything in the game world can be moved, shot up and destructively disassembled. Death animations include guys flying through windows, over railings into boxes, onto tables (which will buckle under their weight) and so much more. I nailed one poor sod with a shotgun blast so fierce that it sent him flying into a series of shelves which promptly fell apart, dumping their contents on top of the sucker as he slumped over a barrel. Sweet!
The textures and overall look of the game are just as stellar, even more so than the original. Bullets can again be seen in flight, but when they stab into various materials the surfaces behave appropriately. For example, wood splinters and releases dust while metals dent, giving off sparks for a great particle effect. The attention to detail is award-winning.
The texture quality manages to hold up no matter how close you get to objects. The game is also quite scalable for low-end systems without losing too much of the graphical bells and whistles. Moreover, a patch has been recently released to decrease load times on lower-end systems.
But there is no patch to fix some of Max's flaws, including his awkward, jerky running animations and the enormous amount of story that gets in the way of the action. I appreciate the gloomy storytelling, but often you just want to speed through it to get to the more glorious gunplay.
Also, a patch to increase Max's stay would have helped immeasurably (although I guess that's called an 'expansion'). His visit seems even shorter than last time, clocking in at about 10 hours tops, and that's just too bad. This was perhaps the biggest complaint about the original, yet Remedy failed to remedy the situation by adding more replay value. Despite all the slick coolness, Max is still just running and gunning. He's not stat-building, jumping in and out of vehicles, taking alternate paths to right his wrongs or taking his grievances online for any sort of multiplayer. Max is on a very linear, straightforward path, and once you get to the end of it, the only incentive to do it again is, well, to do it again.
In fairness, New York Minute, Hard Boiled and Dead on Arrival modes make a return, so at least you can play through the story with some added pressures. But it's the same plot and the same path no matter how you play.
With that said, Max Payne 2 is still a great surprise all around. Improvements were made to the key aspects of the gameplay with an increased sense of cool. Max Payne 2 is about as slick as they come, with a presentation and verve that supercedes cutting-edge. It's a short one, but good things do come in small packages after all.