Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Review by Steerpike
Surprised by Joy
So rarely in this business does a sequel live up to an original.
When a game is a hit, especially a surprise hit, it goes without
saying that a followup will be rushed onto store shelves as quickly
as possible, usually full of half-baked ideas and clumsy design.
Worse still, the gamers who loved the original race out to buy the
sequel only to be disappointed, almost without fail. Then a sequel
becomes a series, a series a franchise, until suddenly we're off
to the store to buy Sword of Destruction 9 even though we
didn't care for the last seven.
Max Payne was years behind schedule when it was finally
released in 2001, and a chorus of voices expected it to be little
more than a sloppy and bug-ridden kludge from the largely untried
developers at Remedy Entertainment in Finland. Instead, it was an
enormous success and deserved the vast critical and audience acclaim
that it got, so no one can be surprised that a sequel was inevitable.
But where so many developers hurry to make a game that capitalizes
on the name of a predecessor, Remedy instead made a game that expands
the creative horizons of the mediumjust as the first did.
Max Payne 2 is a breathtakingly good game. The beauty of
the engine is an embarrassment of riches glittering on our monitors.
The writing deserves awards we haven't invented yet, given at swanky
awards shows that aren't yet aired. It tells a tale as heart-searing
as the one in the original. It is loyal in its design, courageous
in the lines it crosses and decent in those it doesn't. It is ridiculous
in its quality, and it shows a degree of respect for the feedback
about the first Max Payne that we rarely see in sequels,
because for most studios, sequels aren't about reexploring a world
that gamers loved, they're about selling more games.
Is anything wrong with this game? Where and how did Remedy Entertainment
fail us in producing a sequel to a predecessor that was itself Game
of the Year and a runaway hit? Well, Max Payne 2: The Fall of
Max Payne is a dumb title. See, it uses the phrase "Max
Payne" twice. It doesn't trip off the tongue. The title is
graceless and inelegant. Had it just been called The Fall of
Max Payne, it would have been fine. So they really screwed the
The Usual Word of Warning
I wrote a review of Max Payne ages ago for another site
and, there as here, I must do my duty in case the "Mature"
label on the box isn't clear to parents:
The world of Max Payne is so grim and dark, so rife with
depravity and awfulness, so horrific and unflinching in its portrayal
of nearly everything that is cruel and monstrous in the world, that
it should go without saying that this is not a game for children.
This is an unapologetically adult-themed game. Language stronger
than "fudge" is used effectively and often. As Max Payne,
you will kill people, including cops. You will take pleasure in
the suffering of others. You will engage in fornication without
the sanctity of marriage. So if you're buying the game for your
seven-year-old (or if you yourself are seven), think again. This
game was made by grownups, for grownups.
No More Putting off the Upgrade
Max Payne 2 has pretty devastating system requirements,
including a 1 GHz processor and DirectX 9compliant
video that also supports the complete pixel shading spec. This is,
however, one of the earliest examples of what the power of pixel
shaders will do to the graphic future of games, because Max Payne
2 is visually astounding, taking full advantage of a very cool
realistic physics model and excellent graphic design.
The world looks genuineno more repeated textures or bland
environments. Everything is unique, as it is in lifedoodles
on a whiteboard, Post-It notes on a desk, graffiti in an apartment
building hallway, adding richness and depth without clobbering us.
You'll see reflections in rain puddles and multi-angle shadows cast
based on environmental light sources. If you've been considering
an upgrade (now's a good time with Half Life 2 and DOOM
3 coming up), you won't be disappointed if you spend the cash
Max Payne 2 also does wonders with environmental audio.
EAX and a Dolby decoder bring out the sounds of the game world brilliantly,
and an event-driven soundtrack builds suspense in this cinematic
experience. The voice acting is top-notch, like it was last time,
and I was very pleased to see that Remedy was able to get nearly
all of the original talent back to reprise their roles.
Once again, the story in Max Payne 2 is told mainly through
still "graphic novel" scenes, which are either photographed-then-Photoshopped
or hand-drawn by some very talented artists. Actually, the whole
presence of Max Payne 2, including the box design, theme
music, and menus, show beautiful quality and attention to detail.
The graphic novel looks and sounds great and tells the story very
well, narrated again by Max himself throughout. Also, since the
game engine is so much better, the cinematic game scenes are far
less jarring than they were in the original.
One strange item is that a few of the characters don't look at
all like they did before. Max, especially, doesn't just look like
he's got more polygons or has aged a year, he looks completely different.
It knocked me out of the story a few times, because I played through
Max Payne a few weeks ago in preparation for this piece and
I'm very used to his old "look." The same differences
are apparent in other leading and supporting characters, notably
Vladimir Lem and Jim Bravura. The former has lost twenty years and
gone blonde, while the latter seems to have gotten gastric bypass
surgery and been on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It's
no big deal, but the change just struck me as weirdI wonder
why they did it.
Folk who do meet the system requirements will find the game very
smooth. Big props to Remedy for developing an engine that is clean
and tight, with no apparent bugs or shortcomings. It is solid, stable,
and performs well if you've got the system to run it.
Somebody's Going to Emergency ...
The original Max Payne told the story of the eponymous protag's
vengeance-fueled, blood-drenched rampage through the streets of
New York during the worst snowstorm in a century. This time around,
Max is back on the NYPD, having been cleared of the six thousand
murders of which he was certainly guilty thanks to the auspices
of an enigmatic politico with serious pull in the criminal underworld
and legal system alike. Max is not out for revenge this time; instead,
a routine "shots fired" call draws him into a mysterious
and intricate criminal conspiracy involving a lot of shady characters
from his past.
Everything seems connected but nothing adds up, especially when
stone-cold hottie/stone-cold killer Mona Sax reappears unexpectedly
at the center of his investigation. When we last saw Mona, she was
bleeding her life out in an Aesir Corporation elevator, having taken
the bullet meant for Payne. Some folk are hard to kill, though,
and the two find themselves irresistibly drawn to one another over
the course of the tale.
More congratulations to Remedy for writing a script that explores
something we rarely see effectively performed in a game: the love
story. And this is no unwashed geek's embarrassed giggling fantasy,
it is a graceful and superbly crafted narrative at the heart of
which thrums a deeply powerful emotional core. Last time around
we identified with Max's torment, his anguish, his desire to end
his own misery while making the world pay for the godawful life
he's led. Further demonstrating their narrative chops, the writers
of Max Payne 2 now make us care deeply for a character confused
by what he's feeling for a woman he scarcely knows, plagued by loneliness
so deep as to be palpable, and resignedly coming to terms with the
sad truth that revenge doesn't ease suffering or bring back the
lost. This is going to be a wildly popular game, and I think Remedy
deserves thanks for crafting something that will encourage emulation
by other developersthereby enhancing and deepening this medium's
capacity for narrative depth.
Max Payne 2 brings back all the charm of the original. The
hard-boiled pulp writing style, the film-noir look and feel, the
deep and engaging protagonist and supporting characters. This game
is a real interactive movie, which isn't something all games should
bebut "interactive movie" is as integral to the
nature of Max Payne as the firefights and comic book cutscenes.
As always it is the characters that make this game shine. Max himself
is superbly crafted and played. The complexity of this man is apparent
from the outset, from the fact that players identified with him
in the original game even though he was a compulsive murderer with
a shattered moral compass. His depth is increased in this sequel,
as much through anecdotes as through the story arc. At one point,
desperately lonely and just wanting someone to talk to, Max calls
a phone sex line and pours out his heart only to see it blow up
in his face like so much else around him. Ultimately Max is a supremely
unhappy and unlucky man who deserves better. We play his games because
we want to be part of improving his life.
Gamers who don't like cinematic titles or prefer pure action to
lengthy storytelling may find Max Payne 2 boring; there is
plenty of game but a whole lot of narrative. Also, this is a very
adult gamenot "adult" in a pervy sense but in that
it deals with love as well as sex, grief as well as violence. It
is also grimmer, darker, and more harsh than the original. It may
not be for everyone.
... Somebody's Going to Jail
The much-anticipated Bullet Time 2.0 doesn't disappoint. I was
concerned that the developers would make the mistake of adding a
bunch of new maneuvers and requiring a more complex control scheme,
but that fear was ungrounded. Bullet Time's simplicity is what makes
it so thrilling, and the additions in the sequel make it cooler
and more enjoyable, not harder. Max's Bullet Time capability now
has varying levels of strength: the better he's doing in the game,
the more effective his actions when Bullet Time is activated. Great
new visuals like the awesome snap-reloading and bullet cameras enrich
the experience without adding overhead.
Game physics are greatly enhanced, resulting in a beautifully interactive
game world. Bump into something in Max Payne 2 and it'll
fall overodd how such a minor thing adds so much depth to
an experience. The physics aren't perfect, seeming a little too
energetic at times, but they're close enough. Also it's now
possible to shoot through certain obstacles, so enemies hiding behind
empty wooden crates aren't nearly as safe as those behind concrete
New weapons and old classics shine. You'll have access to AK-47s,
MP5 submachine guns, and a Dragunov sniper rifle along with favorites
from Max Payne. It's also easier to toss grenades now, since
a clever new addition allows you to use one family of weapons without
actually switching to themnot dissimilar to the primary and
secondary fire in other shooters.
Also, the game features auto-adjusting difficulty. The more derriere
you kick, the tougher the enemies become as you progress. Meanwhile,
if you are struggling, opponents dynamically reduce their difficulty.
As in the original, Max Payne 2 only has one difficulty level,
but when you win the game some others unlock. Thanks to the on-the-fly
challenge adjustment, manual difficulty settings aren't really necessary.
Infuriating dream sequences nearly ruined the first game, adding
ridiculous (and insanely difficult) jumping puzzles to a game in
which they had no place; again conscientiously respecting the feedback
from fans, Max Payne 2 does sport dream sequences but with
a drastic reduction to the frustrating mazes and jumping puzzles.
No one minded the dreams as such, just that they were jarring and
clumsy. The opportunity to explore the internals of Max's mind is
actually kind of cool, and new graphics make the dream visuals very
The major complaint well hear about Max Payne 2 is
the same as the major complaint we heard about its predecessor:
the game is too short. A highly motivated individual can finish
it in as few as twelve hours, though Id say most gamers are
looking at more like twenty hours of play. This is a reasonably
serious offense, because though fifty bucks for twelve hours of
good fun is actually a pretty fair cost-to-enjoyment ratio, its
a heck of a lot less time than most games take to finish and as
such, Max Payne 2 gets bad marks on this. Doubtless Remedy
would say that its as long as is necessary to tell the story,
and while the games length is far from a dealbreaker, its
an issue that I wish hadnt come up. A friend remarked that
she got sad every time she completed one of the chapters of Max
Payne 2, because it meant one more chapter behind and one less
New York Minute
Max Payne 2 is the best game I've played in months and certainly
one of the best sequels ever. As far as I'm concerned it's got Game
of the Year locked up, and it deserves it. It's a fascinating action-adventure
and a beautifully constructed tragic love story, rich with noir
elements, pop-culture references, scintillating characters, and
gorgeous locales. It compellingly evokes a grim world of crime,
violence, and human shortcoming. Frankly, Max Payne 2 makes
me confident that the best is yet to come for gaming, that the awesome
narrative and creative capability of this medium has yet to be explored
to its fullest extent.
Some people, gamers and developers alike, don't like sequels on
principle. They see them as creatively stagnant, that making a sequel
is really just a way of avoiding having to create something new.
It implies fear of originality. But I value sequels not for what
they represent in a business or creative sense, but for the opportunity
they provide to reenter worlds through which we have experienced
countless adventures, to meet up again with characters and places
we have loved and about which we feel extraordinary passion.
Sure, plenty of sequels are just money vacuums designed and intended
to capitalize on the success of a predecessor, but even if that
is their practical application, when well-conceived they do allow
us to return to places and stories that have mattered to us. How
that implies creative stagnation I do not know, but I do know that
the medium of the video game, and my own enjoyment of them, would
be a more hollow thing were it not for stunning achievements like
Max Payne 2.
Release Date: October 2003 (PC); December 2003 (Xbox and PS2)
Four Fat Chicks Links
1 GHz PIII/Athlon or 1.2 GHz Celeron/Duron processor
32 MB AGP graphics card with hardware transform and lighting support
256 MB RAM
1.5 GB hard drive space
Keyboard and mouse
Where to Find It
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