The human brain is a complex organ, filled with many widgets and doodads that all have to be firing all the time for everything work right. The reality of the situation is that, as you grow older, say way up near 37, there are going to be occasion misfires. I’ll walk into the grocery story, my wife having told me to buy panty hose and orange juice, and yet somehow I’ll end up walking out with tampons and oranges. Or I’ll stick the Visa bill to the fridge intending to pay it, and then be surprised when the next month’s bill comes with a finance charge, the previous month’s still on the fridge, albeit under a pizza coupon and a Chinese take-out menu. Or take for example the email I received yesterday from an irate reader who pointed out, correctly I feel no shame in admitting, that I identified the GLA hijacker as new in Zero Hour, when in fact that same creature appeared in the original Generals. There’s an inherent risk in writing a review for an expansion pack, even if you wrote the original review (which I had for Generals). My memory, worn by 37 years of use, damaged by probably 50 liters of vodka, and diluted by more than 70 videogames a year, is not best of recording media. What’s new, what’s old? I’m lucky to remember the titles of most of the games that I’ve played, let alone any great collection of specifics. And as I came to write a review of Max Payne 2, I was all but certain that I had written the review of the original. Surprise, surprise, that’s not the case at all – I’m sure I played the first one, all the way to the end and lord knows where I found the time, but the review was not mine.
So, given all that caveat emptor kind of crap, you’re going to have to take with a certain grain of salt a statement like “Max Payne 2 is a heck of a lot like Max Payne 1.” That’s the recollection of my diseased mind, a brain incapable of remembering my cable channel lineup, and yet unable to forget the lyrics to “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys. It seems that they’ve really changed very little in Max Payne 2. The hero of sorts is once again the titular Max Payne, hardboiled NYPD cop, frequent vigilante, and suave rogue who seems to have no trouble getting women, but seems to have an almost pathological problem keeping them alive. The game appears to have a new physics engine, which allows bodies and objects to fall with great realism – try kicking a can down a staircase and you’ll see what I mean – but otherwise the overall mechanics and gameplay remain the same. The major hook of Max Payne, duplicated in this sequel, is that, way before The Matrix, Max had bullet time. In bullet time, Max moves super-fast, and his opponents move super-slow. The bullets themselves move a little too fast to dodge, but otherwise Max can definitely hustle, shooting a number of enemies before they can even get their guns up. The amount of bullet time you have is limited, indicated by an hourglass in the corner of the screen, but it recharges pretty quickly, and can get you through many a tight spot.
The plot this time around felt more than a little forced in some spots, and Max is maybe a little over hardboiled. He wanders around saying deep philosophical artsy things like “The past is a gaping hole.” Another thing about Max is that he’s seriously hooked on painkillers, which form the basis for health packs in this game. In fact, the entire town is seriously addicted, and you often find bottles of them lying around in apartments, offices, and at construction sites. The story is told using frames of a graphic novel between missions, and some small engine-generated movies salted throughout. While I didn’t out and out skip them because I did have a slight curiosity as to where the story was going, my attention wandered considerably, and by and large the good guys and bad guys are entirely forgettable. It’s all an excuse to go to various locations and blow people away, and a fairly thin one at that. However, to give kudos where due, I have to say that the missions in the carnival fun house form some of the most tense and amazing missions I’ve ever played in an FPS. Sit back and really look around this fun house, the little dioramas you go by, the scenes that are placed before you. Some great writing there – some seriously dark humor.
The single player story spans 3 chapters, each with 8 missions and, like the first one, Max Payne 2 is a single player only affair. Once you’re done with that all that remains is to go through it again at a higher difficulty level, or a few little gamelets to try and stretch the playtime. Gamelet 1: Dead Man Walking: The game throws bad guys at you set in some location (say, the construction yard or and office) until you die, and you’re trying for the longest survival time. Gamelet 2: New York Minute: This is simply a race to see how fast you can get through any given mission. None of this is really going to hold your attention for very long, and the result is that about 10 hours or so of play is about all you’re going to get out of Max Payne 2. Like the first one, I feel that Max Payne 2 has some serious gaming value problems. And while I’m on the subject, I have to say that the final “boss” of this one and the final “boss” of the last one, despite the fact that they occur in very different locations, kind of feel like they’re the same in that they have very similar solutions. Maybe that’s just me.
The graphics are great. Dark, well textured, and the levels are cleverly laid out with moody, atmospheric lighting and a basic kind of gritty feeling that you can taste, though they remain pretty much linear. You can interact with just about everything, like knocking over boxes and lamps, though I wish there was some way to use like a chair as a weapon. The music is fine, but the sound effects, especially the weapons sounds effects (handguns, shotguns, rifles, and a collection of automatic and semi-automatics weapons) all sound a little flat to me.
Max Payne 2 produces a great, no, an outstanding single player experience, but I have trouble recommending a game with so little game for like $40. If you buy it, you’re not going to be playing it two weeks from now, you’ll be selling it on eBay. I’m not sure you’ll be awash in regret or anything, but months later I’m still playing Warcraft 3 and I’m still playing Grand Theft Auto 3 like a year after I first finished it, and after 2 marathon days Max Payne 2 is already off the hard drive and onto the bookshelf. If that doesn’t bother you, then by all means, climb right on board, but I think a lot of gamers would feel a little shorted.