Friday, May 22, 2015

VGR Max Payne 2

I lied to myself that it was over.

I was still alive, my loved ones were still dead. It wasn't over.

VGR: Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne aka simply Max Payne 2
From Remedy Entertainment/3D Realms/Take-Two Interactive/Rockstar Games
Played on PC
Also available on Xbox & PS2

Type "Noir" Third person shooter
Year 2003

If the first Max Payne managed to do one thing right, it was surprising everyone who just expected yet another bland third person shooter game with just how good it really was.

Sure, the entire game seemed to just stand on its "bullet time" slow-mo feature gimmick, but the actual gameplay was so simple and refined, and the plot so mature, well-thought and captivating that just like that - Max Payne became a well-established name on its own. And that was the early 2000s, when PC gaming was already starting to get over-satured with countless action games.

Naturally, Remedy Entertainment came back to Max only a couple years later. With bigger ideas and wanting to not simply offer a similar experience but simply redo everything from scratch.

At the time Take-Two Interactive had just bought the rights to Max Payne from Remedy and 3D Realms, who was only consulted on level design.

Gone was the harsh and rebellious spirit of the first Max Payne, the atmosphere was also completely upgraded to a much more adult tone. Rebranded "A Film Noir Love Story", Max Payne 2 promised a much more "grown-up" protagonist, storytelling and game.

The story was written once more by Sam Lake, who wanted to explore a love story angle and a more film noir-approach. He felt that would be fitting for another Max Payne game, as the team wanted to give more importance to the direction of the story.

This time Max was modeled after an actual actor instead of Sam Lake, Timothy Gibbs, with James McCaffrey returning as the voice of Max.

The game itself runs on the same engine as the first game only with a lot of new added features, such as complex reflection, refraction, etc. Which all get to come to play during Max's weird dream sequences.

The story is set a two years after the events of the first game, which saw former DEA Agent Max Payne framed for the murder of his best friend. Facing a corrupted police. His name is now cleared and he has become a NYPD detective.

Hitmen have been hitting New York City, "The Cleaners".

One day Max encounters the enigmatic Mona Sax again (or should I say, "MonA saX") whom he assumed dead. She's arrested and brought into custody at the New York City Police Department. Max overhears his new partner talking about this mysterious "Inner Circle" that was involved in the murder of his family. Suddenly the hitmen attack the station and all hell breaks loose! Mona escapes. Max and Mona are hunted down and this leads them to a nearby construction site. Max decides to help Mona escape. This leads Max into getting shot for helping a fugitive. He wakes up in the hospital. Max runs out and tries to solve this mystery.

Turns out this whole conspiracy is connected to the Russian Mob. Which has ties with this "Circle", and at its head a corrupt Senator.

The game also features a (non-canon) alternate ending if you complete the game on the highest difficulty setting.

The story is once more told through the game's cinematic presentation and the comic book-style cutscenes make a return as well. Max does his internal monologue through the game, as he makes the player aware of the known current objectives that way.

As for the gameplay itself, it didn't change that much between two games. It's entirely based on the same third person shooter-formula, with some obvious improvements.

You assume the role of Max for most of the game, but also get play as Mona Sax for a few levels. There's a wide variety of guns of all sorts, ranging from your typical hanguns, shotguns and machine guns to snipers, and even get to play with a few very useful hand-thrown weapons like grenades or molotov cocktails.

You also have the ability to use two different weapons at the same time now. A CPU-controlled Mona will join Max a few times.

Unlike other similar contemporary games, the game starts with no difficulty levels. Instead the game adjusts itself automatically in-game as you play through it. If it gets too difficult for you, for example if you just keep dying too many times, the AI will get lowered down and made less effective, and more painkillers will pop up. Though once completed, you will unlock the option to select some actual difficulties.

The bullet time is, of course, back as Max Payne 2's Bullet Time 2.0. Giving you a Matrix-style slow-motion to aim while the time meter decreases. It replenishes itself when not in use. This time it will also increase as you get more combo-kills. The bullet time is used to dodge and shoot. All in all, the combat feels a lot more organic and natural this way, improving the cinematic feeling of the game.

Finally the game also includes two additional modes you also get to unlock. The "New York Minute" is a score-based time attack. While "Dead Man Walking" offers a few survival scenarios where you will face endless respawns.

Max Payne 2 is an outstanding game. With a much better atmosphere and gunplay.

The music simply does the game a great justice. It was composed by returning composes Kärtsy Hatakka and Kimmo Kajasto. Without it, I don't believe it would have even been the same game. In a few words, it's grand, epic and beautiful. And heavily relies on cello and electronic sounds.

The game also features the song "Late Goodbye" by Poets of the Fall, with a poem written by Sam Lake as lyrics!

Just like the 1990s classics, Max Payne 2 has known its fair share of MODs during its lifetime. Entire communities let Max Payne 2 take over Max Payne 1's duties. All thanks to Remedy making this new episode extremely modder-friendly like the first one.

Max Payne 2 is such a fantastic game!

No wonder the game received so much great praise at the time. Thanks to its much better focus on action and story.

The game doesn't even look that dated, thanks to a great direction (minus lacking shiny modern effects and higher "HD" resolutions). If I have any issues with the game is how short it feels compared to the first game, despite it being honestly the exact same length. It's a breeze to play through it, call it a drawback from such an engaging story and cinematic presentation

Sadly like a lot of highly praised games at the time (Shenmue, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts or Beyond Good and Evil to name a few), it didn't sell a lot...

Overall, I believe this is easily one of the best PC games of all-time out there. (Yeah, I know, the game's been ported on home consoles as well, more on that below.) 

This simply comes Highly Recommended for any gamer worth his or her salt. And through its great narrative and cinematic presentation, it's even a great title to suggest to newcomers as well to the medium. It's a great experience!

Compared to Max Payne 2, the graphics as well as the story just feel more thought of and refined. The gunplay action is better spread and contained through the levels, and slightly less chaotic. And overall it's just an equally great and memorable game!

As for the console ports, while not as sluggish as Max Payne 1's PS2 port, Max Payne 2 was simply better ported. But like I said, it's a "port" and not the best version of the game out there, the controls loose some of the precision on gamepads.

This wouldn't be the last we would see of Max Payne despite the sequel not selling that great. A film adaptation would follow in 2008 by some hack, some "nobody" director named John Moore (whow for some reason would go on to directed the infamous Die Hard 5!!), featuring Marky Mark himself, Mark Wahlberg as Max!

With Remedy entering an exclusivity deal with Microsoft shortly after, they would ditch Max Payne to start working on a Twin Peaks-inspired/Stephen King tribute Alan Wake in 2005, which would be released in 2010, a sort of spiritual successor to Max Payne in gameplay experience only. Retaining the rights to the franchise along the distributor Take-Two, Rockstar Studios would develop a Max Payne 3 entirely in-house, released in 2012.
I give it:
3 / 3 Quacks!

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