106th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/PS2/XBox
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Remedy Entertainment and Rockstar Vienna
Publisher: 3D Realms

In the previous installment of this series, we learned that Max Payne became an undercover agent, was accused of a murder he didn’t commit (although in the course of the game, he commited a fair few before and after this one), got chased by cops and caught up in shady dealings, but in the end saved the day. As it should be.

A few years later, the sequel to the game came out, which is what we’re playing now. Max Payne is a detective once again, and gets caught up in all sorts of shady mafia dealings. The game mostly continues the previous gameplay mechanics and general aesthetics… how has it moved on?

Our Thoughts

So here we are 11 games later and we are back in the warm noir bosom of Rockstar’s Max Payne. Not much has changed in terms of overall gameplay but boy does everything feel very different from the original.

The game starts off a bit vague, with you waking up in a hospital, having partial amnesia and trying to figure out what went on as bits of dialogue from Max’s part play (including a quite nice callback to the start of the first game). Soon, however, you get involved in busting up a gang’s dealings, which is where we go back to the Max Payne loner against the world type shoot ’em up gameplay.

It isn’t all just gunslinging however. There is a level where a lucid dream is the focus which is followed by plenty of balcony hopping and scaffolding climbing. Also this is the first time, for me anyway, that the trademark Rockstar humour was allowed to shine through in between the noir musings and espionage. A scene that is at the forefront of my mind involves an overheard discussion in a police station where a man pleads his innocence after he was found burying piece is of his wife and her lover in his garden. Apparently it was all a set up…

While Rockstar’s involvement was mostly in the port, their cooperation in the game was obvious here, and the writing certainly feels improved over the first game. The general trends of writing and story are still there, with the same themes and inner monologues, but it expands to not just be critical plot scenes, but also a lot of background material – the aforementioned conversation, but also phonecalls and innocents you encounter. Aside from adding a bit more humour to an otherwise dark game, it also adds more life to the world. While it’s still as linear as the first game, with plenty of locked doors, it makes the world seem a bit more alive and a bit more realistic.

It also feels a whole lot more unstable which aptly reflects the psychology of the central character. An entire level is set in an abandoned funhouse where instead of there being enemies to fight the point is exploration of the building and of the character. The fact that a funhouse containing elements of a mental asylum would be a very bad idea just adds to the fun.

The events of the first game clearly aided Max’s instability, which is further emphasized by the unordered way the story is told in – we start in a hospital, jump back a few years, go back a bit further, and it takes some time to mentally work out the crinkles and tie all the threads together. Even so, while the characters have gotten a lot less balanced, the game itself has become sturdier than its predecessor. First of all, the graphics have improved a lot. Where Max had only a single expression in the previous game, he can now show several different emotions and looks better while doing so. The environments look a bit better and are a bit less repetitive from before, making it a bit less likely you’ll get lost.

As we mentioned earlier the gameplay has not actually changed much but it has been incredibly well polished. No longer are jumps from beam to beam a leap of faith that relied too heavily on luck as well as aim, now you feel far more in control of your movement. Shooting feels a bit more solid, with you getting more guns (and hence options) earlier on, making it easier to adjust your style.

In the end, it’s hard to say anything new about the game without referring back to our earlier Max Payne discussion. This is a sequel to the first game, using what’s there and improving the things it has, with better controls, graphics, bullet time and so on. It’s not as groundbreaking at the first game, but if it wasn’t for the story (where knowing the first game certainly helps), this would be the game you could just as well start with.

Final Thoughts

This isn’t as much of a landmark game as the first Max Payne was, it relies far too much on the first game for that to be true. But when playing, this is the superior entry, improving on all aspects on the game, making it more playable and more fun. It takes a bit more of an investment to understand it, but it’s certainly worth that time.

Max Payne 3 is expected to be released soon, but without much involvement of the team that worked on the first two entries in the game, so don’t hold your breath for that just yet. That’s okay so far however, if you can look past the graphics, both older games are still great shooters, the sort of games you’d want to play.

  1. […] for about half an hour each, we actually played this for nearly as long as the previously discussed Max Payne 2, which feels like an incredible […]

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