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The original Max Payne is an awesome game. It’s a love letter to classic Hong Kong action movies like Hard Boiled, it has an engaging story, and it’s fun to play. Who doesn’t like blowing away bad guys in slow motion? Developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Rockstar Games, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne was released for PC in October, 2003. It was released for Xbox in November of that same year and PlayStation 2 that December. For this review, I played the PC version and used the Widescreen Fix to run it in a proper widescreen resolution. I also installed the Bonus Chapters which add two additional chapters or levels to the Dead Man Walking mode. They can be downloaded directly from Rockstar’s website.
The story is set years after the events of the first game and follows Max Payne who is back working for the NYPD. While investigating the sounds of gunshots at a warehouse, he encounters a group of hitmen called the Cleaners who he discovers are trying to wipe out anyone with knowledge on the Inner Circle. Max also runs into Mona Sax and while they work together to find out whose behind the Cleaners, they develop a romantic relationship. The game is presented in a neo-noir style and primarily uses graphic novel panels to advance the plot. There are multiple endings and, overall, I didn’t think the story was as engaging as the story in the first game but the writing is accompanied by solid voice acting with an excellent performance from James McCaffrey who returns to voice Max Payne. I did not think Max’s dialogue and melodramatic inner monologues were as humorous as those in the first game and the overall serious tone remains consistent throughout the entire game. I didn’t think the game was as atmospheric as its predecessor, either, but its got solid world building which does help immerse you into the experience.
The story plays out in parts with multiple chapters per part and most of the time you’ll get to play as Max but in some chapters, you’ll get to play as Mona and both characters feel the same. You can run, crouch, jump, and perform melee attacks. You can interact with things in the environments and the bullet time mechanic returns and has been refined. When entering bullet time, time slows down allowing you to easily dodge bullets and kill enemies. You can enter bullet time at the press of a button and you can also perform a shootdodge where you dive through the air in slow motion and when you land, you can remain on the ground and keep firing. When in bullet time, your bullet time meter is drained but unlike the first game, time will slow down further with each consecutive kill and kills during bullet time replenish some of the meter. When not in bullet time, the meter will slowly refill over time. Also, performing a shootdodge does not drain the meter this time around. When Max has to reload during bullet time, he spins around which gives you a chance to view your surroundings. Needless to say, bullet time gives you a serious advantage in combat and it’s a lot of fun running and jumping around in slow motion while blowing away enemies. Using it properly is the key to getting through firefights relatively unharmed but you don’t have to worry too much about wasting it this time around mainly because of the automatic refill. This allows you to utilize it more often.
Max Payne 2 is a challenging game but feels a bit more fair than the first game. If you don’t utilize bullet time properly or have slow reaction times, you’re going to die easily but I would say the game is much more forgiving. Many encounters are trial and error and you can still get blown away only seconds after entering a room but I felt less like a bullet magnet compared to the first game. There’s three difficulty modes and the game does put up a decent fight even on the easiest difficulty, Detective. You’re always outnumbered, if enemies see you they immediately start shooting, and if you don’t utilize bullet time, there’s a good chance you’ll die quickly. Enemies do drop weapons and sometimes painkillers when killed and these items can also be found scattered throughout the environments. Painkillers replenish a portion of your health it wasn’t often that I found myself stuck with no painkillers and little-to-no health. I would quicksave often and had to repeat several encounters but if you utilize bullet time properly, you can easily get through an encounter without losing any or much health. You always need to keep moving. Remaining in one position during a firefight for even just a few seconds can result in you losing a lot of health, especially later in the game.
Max and Mona will get to use a variety of weapons to combat foes including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, submachine guns, molotovs, and grenades. Some weapons dual wielded and you’ll want to explore the environments for additional ammo. Acquiring ammo from fallen enemies is another reason to always keep moving. Most encounters include multiple enemies gunning for you and you’ll need to have quick reaction times if you want to take them out quickly without activating bullet time. I found that headshots are the fastest way to dispatch foes and during bullet time, you can easily take out an entire group of foes in seconds with well placed shots. Enemies aren’t too bright but can be accurate. They run around, jump around, shoot at you, and some throw grenades. You’ll go up against thugs, the Cleaners, and Commandos later in the game. Enemies can come from any direction and all it takes is one to kill you so you should always be aware of your surroundings. Although, it can suck when you’re getting shot from a distance and have no idea where the enemy is until it’s too late.
Max Payne 2 will take you to a decent variety of locations and you’ll traverse through several of them multiple times. You’ll get to blow away enemies in a hospital, fun house, apartment buildings, construction site, and manor, among some other locations and then there’s the dream sequences. While I don’t really care for these all that much, they are better than the dream sequences in the first game. They’re less tedious. Exploration will usually reward you with resources like weapons, ammo, and painkillers so you’ll want to interact with everything. There are several areas where you’ll be accompanied by NPC’s and they’ll shoot at and kill enemies which can be helpful. There’s a cool chapter where you play as Mona and get to cover Max with a sniper rifle as he runs through a construction site. The environments are filled with plenty of rooms and objects to use as cover but also hazards like fire, explosive barrels, and ammo boxes so you need to be careful.
Max Payne 2 does not include any multiplayer modes but one of the more unique modes is New York Minute. However, unlike its counterpart in the first game, the goal is to simply try and beat a level as fast as you can instead of having to do it within the allotted time. Dead Man Walking is additional game mode where the goal is to survive as long as you can against endlessly spawning enemies. You can choose to play through any of the chapters or maps available which are based on locations in the story mode and a limited amount of painkillers are scattered around each one. Enemies will spawn all over the place and each kill rewards you with extra time.
Max Payne 2 includes a physics engine which does help enhance the combat. Things in the environments can be moved around, glass will shatter, and little objects can go flying through the air and scatter during firefights. Max Payne 2 does look better than it’s predecessor. The character models are less blocky and Max is now modeled after actor Timothy Gibbs instead of Sam Lake. Muzzle flashes look great, bullet impacts on surfaces result in smoke puffs, blood puffs fill the air when enemies are hit, and some blood will splatter on surfaces during combat. It’s a shame the gore effects aren’t more graphic but the ragdoll animations look great and make the combat feel more immersive. The game does look dated now but I think the weapon models look good, textures look sharp and crisp from a distance, and the reflective surfaces still look great. I thought some of the weapons fire could have sounded better but most weapons do sound good, explosions are loud, and enemies will scream as they die which does sound satisfying. The soundtrack is filled with plenty of dramatic tunes that compliment the game’s serious tone nicely and the iconic Max Payne theme is present. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter any major issues but I believe the widescreen fix cuts off the bottom portion of the graphic novel panels where the stop and play controls are.
I love Max Payne 2 and while I don’t think the atmosphere is on the same level as that of the first game, I do think the gameplay is an improvement. It’s challenging but rarely feels unfair or downright cheap. You can still die quickly but I feel like the game gives you more room for error. The first game felt like it would destroy you for any mistake made, forcing you to repeat an encounter over and over until you get it right. Max Payne 2, on the other hand, can kick your ass but also lets you make mistakes and the challenge ramps up nicely as you progress. Max Payne 2 is an action game presented in a neo-noir or film noir style with action sequences that are fun, hectic, and intense. The game is shorter than that of its predecessor, you can probably beat it in under six hours. The addition of a chapter select is really nice, I prefer the New York Minute mode in this game compared to its counterpart in the first, and the Dead Man Walking game mode is a fantastic addition. Plus, the game is moddable so there’s numerous reasons to keep coming back.
I would absolutely recommend Max Payne 2 to fans of the first game, action games, and/or action movies. It’s got fun gameplay, a good story, and a unique style. I thought the plot in the first game was better but the plot here isn’t bad and is accompanied by great writing and voice performances. The gameplay was refined, the physics engine makes the combat and world feel more immersive, and the changes to the bullet time mechanic are certainly welcome in my opinion. Definitely check out Max Payne 2 if you haven’t already.