Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Review

posted 1/30/2004 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
When we last left Max Payne, he just racked up a body count equal to a small third world country and sent Nicole Horne to a fiery death in a helicopter. It’s been a few years but he’s back to create more mayhem and unleash more bullets into bad guys. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne continues the bullet time action goodness and this time, the sequel does outdo the original. The version I am reviewing today is for the PlayStation 2 and what you’ll read here about the main game pertains to all versions of the game. I’ll get into the specifics of the port in a little bit.

The second game has come out with a lot less hype than the first one. In fact, it was pretty late in the game when it was announce at E3 and showing up on store shelves. To Remedy and Rockstar, I give them much credit for not making a big deal about the game long before it was finished. If you played the original, then the second game isn’t that much of a stretch. What Remedy did though was produce a very stylish game, refine the engine, and great levels. It is a very, very short game though and you can beat it in around six hours. But for those six hours, it’s a very enjoyable game.

Like the original, the game unfolds in a somewhat non-linear fashion. You’ll start out waking up in a hospital in a less than tip top shape. From there you’ll relive the past leading up to your current state and then finish in a stand off against the main bad guy. In between missions, you’ll be treated to the nicely drawn graphic novel cut scenes like the first one. This time around, you’ll also be controlling Max’s love interest Mona Sax. Mona’s a bad girl and she’s not shy about taking out anyone that gets in her way. Max, of course, is drawn to her naughtiness and spends most of the game chasing Mona around while uncovering twists and turns of the story. All the while, you’ll be unloading a small armies worth of lead into, well, a small army of bad guys.

Bullet time has some improvements in that you’ll be normal speed while everyone else slows down. The more you kill, the faster your bullet time reserve refills. Max and Mona do have this bullet time spinning dance that reloads your weapon quickly. I’m sure you’ve seen movies where a character decides too do a backflip or spin around for no apparent reason other than to look cool. Well, you get the same here but at least it reloads your weapon and it can be cool looking in the right situations. The bullet time dive is also back and will take out of bullet time when you land. It takes a little time to get up so if you have some bad guys still alive and gunning for you, you’re pretty much toast.

From the beginning, you can tell the graphics engine has gotten a nice upgrade. Gone is the annoying smirk on the face of Max. In place is a lot more realistic version with facial movements and realistic modeling. From the close-ups during cut scenes, you’ll see the impressive job Remedy did in improving the look of Payne. The improvement in Payne also translates to every other character in the game. Each model has greatly improved detail and better modeling when compared to the first one making them much more lifelike. The motion capturing also enhances the lifelike appearance of each character. The graphics on the PlayStation 2 is the worst of the three versions. Heavy jaggies from the little or lack of anti-aliasing makes the characters seem less lifelife. Along with the weaker graphics come a lot of slowdowns and bad frame rates even when no action is going on. It’s not all the time but there are more instances of it than there should be. The PlayStation 2 doesn’t have as much power as the Xbox or a PC and without heavy optimizations, you’re going to have a lot more instances of slower gameplay.


A major addition to the engine that greatly enhances the way the world and characters interact is the Havok physics engine. If you saw the E3 presentation of Half-Life 2 and how physics in every object make the world much more realistic, you’ll be able to experience the cool effects in the world of Max Payne 2. Objects and bodies react to other objects and bodies with impressive effects. One example of this is on one of the levels there are some painkillers that are high up out of reach on top of some boxes. Taking out a gun, I took aim and shot at the boxes. Each bullet caused the boxes to move until the stack finally tumbled in realistic fashion, reacting to other objects on the way down. Once the stack fell, I now could pick up the much needed painkillers. Some of the greatest moments in the game involve going into bullet time, unleashing a barrage of bullets at the enemy, and seeing him flip over a stack of barrels behind him. You’ll get into more than a few instances where you’ll want to turn on bullet time and witness the impressive physics display of a body being sent backwards in slow motion over objects as you unload on them. During a shoot out with a camping bad guy, I saw a toolbox through my gun sights that was blocking the person’s head. With a well placed bullet, I knocked the toolbox off revealing a nice clear view of the enemy’s head in which I promptly placed a nice single bullet for the kill. The Havok physics engine really helps make the world come alive with realistic interactions.

Level design is top notch in the game offering some well rendered real life environments. The one level that I think that really shines out is the Funhouse. Walking through the Funhouse, you’re treated with various sites and sounds of a real funhouse that are impressively mimicked in the game. The rotating stars room actually made me a little motion sick. All the other levels in the game feature very realistically modeled locations. There are plenty of objects to interact with and plenty of areas where you’ll witness the Havok physics engine in action. From buildings to the streets, Remedy did a tremendous job at providing fun, realistic environments to wreck havoc in.

The levels wouldn’t be impressive if it weren’t for the texture quality. And make no mistake about it, Max Payne 2 has some very realistic textures that make the game look great. From the incredibly detailed brick wall textures to character maps, all the graphics are clean and crisp giving you a very beautiful picture.

If you were frustrated with the dream sequence or the exploding level from the first game, well they’re back in Max Payne 2. Thankfully, this time around they are a lot less frustrating. The dream sequences are done a lot better and the wavy graphical effect that is prominent in the level makes it very stylish. There are no blood trails to follow this time around and no dying from falling short of a jump. The exploding levels, yes there are more than one, are also a lot less frustrating and I found myself only needing one or two restarts to get though them.

Some levels need you to jump onto small beams or thin ledges. With the control of Payne, it can get rather tough and there were a few times I misjudged the jump only to have Max fall to his death. Using the PlayStation 2 controller also made the jumps a little more difficult as it does seem a little harder to produce smaller movements.


I did wonder why the game didn’t include the ability for Payne to climb ladders. Just like the first game, all the areas reachable through a jump, ramp, stairs, or elevator. I’m curious as to why the ability to climb ladders weren’t included in the sequel. Not that it’s that big of a deal, but many third person games allow for this.

You’ll be reloading often and it’s not that quick to reload saves. The game is tough with the AI doing some better tactics to try and take you out. There are also a few surprises that will cause Max to be blown away and have you waiting on the load screen. A few areas you will probably need multiple tries to get through and after the fourth time, it does get tiring. Unlike the PC version, the game doesn’t auto save after chapters so be sure to save often and especially after a load of a new level. And a nice thing about this console port is there are no save points and you are allowed to save whenever you want as long as you have room on your memory card.

Speaking of load times, the game seems to take the longest of the three versions to load. There’ll even be times where you think the game has crashed as nothing will happen on screen for a long time. You won’t get any indication something is loading except you’ll hear the DVD accessed in spurts. Trying to skip some of the cut scenes or comics will also cause some long waits.

Moving from mouse and keyboard to console controllers is a little bit of work but there are some in game help such as auto-aim and quick aim. The game is a lot more lenient on where you place the reticule and will usually hit the enemy if it’s near. Using the right analog stick to aim and the left to move should be familiar if you play a lot of console first person or third person games. After about 10 minutes of playing, I felt pretty comfortable and was able to go through the game and not worry about being off on my aim. If you are not happy with the controls, you can assign buttons to certain actions easily.

Improved graphics, great gameplay, and fun levels make Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne a great PC game but an average PlayStation 2 port with the problems it exhibits.. It is an incredibly short game and I feel should’ve been available to consumers at a more reasonable price. But then again, I felt the game would’ve dragged if it was too much longer. If you own all three systems or a combination of a PS2 and another, I’d highly recommend purchasing Max Payne 2 for one of the other systems as you’ll have a more enjoyable experience. If you only have a PlayStation 2 and want to experience Max Payne 2, be prepared for some long waits on load times and some low frame rates.





C+
A good game but an ok port, Max Payne 2 is best played on either the PC or Xbox.