To some, the hype behind Max Payne 2, the sequel to one of the most creative shooting games available, originated from the implementation of one of the most revered special effects in the movie industry: bullet time. Created and first executed in "The Matrix," who would have thought that watching bullets fly by at incredibly slow speeds could receive so much hype? The popularity of Max Payne can also be attributed to its quality character development and storyline. You wonder how Payne end up this way, and more importantly, how an NYPD cop who fires so many bullets and kills so many villains can still be allowed on the force. As you play, you'll find yourself questioning whether or not Payne is a dirty cop.
After watching several police movies, we have a faint sense of how a good cop/bad cop relationship works, but in Payne's case, it's difficult to ascertain. Usually, a bad cop would give the bad guys hell regardless of the situation, never discovering the root of the matter. On the other hand, a good cop may seek legal methods to assist him in his quest for the truth. Payne, however, has a single thought process: shoot first, think later. For some odd reason, Payne is always in the right place at the right time, getting this much closer to solving his case. I would like to say he is a cop who does whatever needs to be done in order to complete his job. This time, he needs the help of a wanted fugitive in order to crack the case.
So what kind of job would require a cop to work with a fugitive? One that forces you to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I shall fear no evil, for you are with me." Boy, does that quote apply in this game! You have no idea how many times I was thankful that Mona was on my side … for now. Her sniping skills are unparalleled, giving cover fire as well as handling Payne's unfinished business. I found that when you play as her, sniping is quite an arduous task so I sincerely give props to the master snipers out there.
The case itself is a puzzle on its own. It all began with Payne answering an APB call to Vlad's warehouse, where gunshots were heard. From there, things just get worse -- call it being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is where Payne's trial begins: a never-ending nightmare in which you constantly worry about staying alive. The warehouse was filled with cleaners who were tying up loose ends and eliminating the opposition. Thus, your main objective is to find the mastermind behind it all.
The story is divided into chapters, slowly leading you closer to the answer. However, rather than animating the story, the developers of Max Payne decided to adopt a comic book approach. At first, I found this disorienting, but after a few chapters, I eventually adjusted to the narration style and started to understand the story somewhat. Max Payne 2's story consists of four parts, and each is separated into several sections. Between certain sections, you will be treated to the comic strip informing you of what is occurring or what already happened. During this time, you will be able to observe the development of affection between Payne and Mona. In addition to the comic strips, the story is also told through in-game graphics which are triggered by specific events.
There are several ways through which you can initiate these events, including killing the enemy in the section or clearing that part of the chapter. This is no Splinter Cell; you lack the option of sneaking around the enemy and moving on. You must become Rambo, gunning down all obstacles in your path. Equipped with only a handgun at the outset, you pick up new guns as you progress. Thank goodness there is a large variety of guns in this game.
The guns range from semi's all the way to full automatics. My personal favorite is the DE (Desert Eagle), one of the most powerful handguns currently available. When you go John Woo with two of these, you are a force to be reckoned with. Other available guns are: 9mm, Shotgun, Mp5, Ingram, Dragunov, and Molotov cocktail. One surprising feature is that handguns aren't the only guns with which you can act out your John Woo fantasies. You can also employ dual Ingrams -- just imagine a one-handed machine gun -- which are pretty awesome. The only downside is that there is no such thing as unlimited ammo. You will have to constantly pick up ammo inside the level or steal some from weapons that the enemies drop.
At the same time, look for painkillers, items that are required to keep your player alive. Most players would probably know these as med kits, with one major difference: the painkillers take time before you see the full effects. I would love to get my hands on the painkillers that are in the game, since Payne and Mona are able to move after getting shot several times. These must be some good drugs. Maybe we aren't supposed to get hit so many times, but I guess I just lack the skill to keep my character from getting shot.
Rather than a health meter, you're given a pain meter. On the left side of your screen, you will see a replica of your character. Depending on how many times you are hit, the body will fill up. The figure matches the player you are playing, so when you are Payne, you see the back side of Payne, and the same applies for Mona. Next to the health meter, you see the bullet time bar with an hourglass displayed to show how much time you have left. Abuse this ability as much as you can, as it really gives you the upper hand by slowing down the movement and bullets of the enemy. During this time, you are still able to move at your normal speed. If you do run out of bullet time, use your dodge skill.
The dodging in the game is great, and if you've watched action movies, you know what I mean. This effect is just so awesome to observe, seeing the character move in a slightly slower motion and diving left, right, forward, or even backwards. While diving, you can also shoot the enemy, making it appear to be one elaborate choreographed shoot-out.
These gunfights don't arise in open fields; they occur inside buildings where you can use objects for cover like: boxes, bins, ladders, explosive crates, etc. Your character must constantly interact with the background, finding ammunition or hitting switches in order to move on. Unfortunately, you can never use the wall to your advantage. If you have played The Getaway, you will understand what I mean -- leaning against the wall and blindly firing is just a feature that should have been included within Max Payne 2.
Even though some features were missing from Max Payne 2, the audio attribute of the game is superb. The game resembles a movie, and while I was playing it, my roommate thought I was watching one. Sporting a crisp sound and a lot of bass, the music is definitely something you would expect to hear in a mob flick. What's more, the music is not the only part of the audio that stands out. The entire game's audio track is a star, from voice acting to ambient sounds. Personally, the sound of dual Desert Eagles is just more intense than words can describe. If this isn't enough to satisfy you, the voice actors should seal the deal. They are voices you expect to hear in this genre of films. I don't know why, but Max Payne just seems to have a voice that you can't help but get attached to.
You may enjoy his voice, but you will probably dislike his facial appearance. A person who is covered with blood and wounds isn't an appealing sight to behold. Well, this isn't the only thing you might complain about. The background graphics and comics aren't very detailed, which is probably the biggest flaw on the PS2 version. Other obvious weaknesses in the game were that the ladders have an invisible metal railing, and the sheer number of objects on the screen may result in some processing delays. If you want more polished graphics, I suggest playing the PC version.
One thing that most people will also hate about the game is the platform portion. I died numerous times trying to jump from one ledge to another. The developers either need to overhaul this segment or just remove it altogether. There is a slight lack of variety in the missions, as the game requires big shootouts in order to reach the next level. Despite these problems, I still liked the game, thanks to the bullet time and dodging effects. As for replay value, the game is rather short and only has five modes of play (Detective, Hard Boiled, Dead On Arrival, New York Minute, and Dead Man Walking), so there is little reason to play it more than a few times. Except for the last two, these are just the same levels with different degrees of difficulty. New York Minute is where you try to beat the levels within a time limit, and Dead Man walking is similar to a survival mode in which you must continue taking out enemies that respawn. Another thing that may get on your nerves is that the controls are inverted. I am certainly not used to playing with these types of controls and really wish they allowed for alternative button mappings. Inverse controls are only good for flight simulators, in my opinion.
Overall, I believe the PS2 port of Max Payne 2 is very well done, with a few flaws in the graphics and some skipping and repetition in the audio. I definitely think that the decent story and fun shooting effects make this game a good contender in the shooter market. Go rent it, and decide if this game meets your expectations.
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