Realistic physics lend inherent replay value to the battles in Max Payne 2. They'll never blow up the same way twice!
Max's arsenal of weapons hasn't changed much from the first game. He largely uses the same types of pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, and shotguns that he used extensively in the past. The main addition here is the MP5 submachine gun, a mainstay in any shooter with real-world weapons. An AK-47 and a Dragunov sniper rifle are also available, but, by and large, the weapons in Max Payne 2 are just what you'd expect if you played the first game. Max now has the ability to use any of his weapons as a bludgeon, though this is a throwaway feature that's useless and lousy-looking. This is too bad, since Max seems like a guy who'd be more than willing to use the butt of his gun if some scumbag wasn't worth the lead. He's still got access to grenades and Molotov cocktails, and one nice change from the first Max Payne is that he can have these equipped at the same time as his primary weapon. Much like in Halo, a secondary fire button lets you chuck a bomb at the bad guys even when you're firing away. The flame and explosion effects unfortunately don't look very good in the Xbox port of Max Payne 2, but the way the blasts tend to send enemies flying is still as satisfying as ever.
As in the first Max Payne, the sequel features a self-adjusting difficulty level, which tweaks the enemy AI as well as the quantity of life-restoring painkillers you'll find in a level. Enemies are pretty smart, in general. They use cover and mostly behave in a plausible manner--for guys who are trying to shoot you to death. In a nice touch, some of them will call you a coward if you run for cover, and they'll even toss a grenade your way to keep you moving. If you die a lot, you'll run across more pills to keep you alive, and your enemies might be a little slower on the draw. This works reasonably well, insofar as no part of Max Payne 2 is liable to have you stuck for very long. If anything, the game is a little too easy, especially since the Xbox version includes an "auto-aim" feature that is toggled on by default, which makes your aiming reticle automatically snap to any nearby enemies. Of further note, and as in the first game, the sequel features a few sequences that take place in Max's mind, as well as in some other surprising locations. Many of these sequences, however, are analogous to those found in the original. For instance, there are a few parts that require some careful maneuvering, lest you plummet to your death. While these tightrope acts really aren't the best parts of Max Payne 2, they do break up the pacing a little and aren't very hard.
The storyline breaks up the pacing, too. There's a lot of story throughout the game, and, though it may be slick, it's time you spend passively rather than time you spend actively by shooting thugs in slow motion. All the game's cutscenes may be skipped, though there's a brief loading time when you skip them. In any case, it's not like the game is about wall-to-wall action, unless that's what you want it to be. You'll probably find yourself pausing to watch some of the goofy television shows playing in the background or paying attention to some other peripheral details, of which there are many. One of the game's mock TV shows is particularly good. Dick Justice is a '70s-style cop drama that happens to be a rather scathing parody of the original Max Payne storyline. These and some other bits add a refreshing bit of absurd levity to the proceedings, thus proving that being clever is working out great for the developers at Remedy Entertainment. In fact, it bears mentioning that Max Payne 2 is indeed a very cinematic game: Don't let someone spoil the plot for you if you can help it! The story and some of the gameplay sequences are that much more effective if you experience them on your own terms and at your own pace.
The body count is high. The newly enhanced bullet time effect lets Max Payne deal death faster than ever.
Even if you stop and smell all the roses, Max Payne 2 is short. It's shorter than the first game, which lasted about 10 hours from beginning to end. That may sound weak, but the core action is dynamic and enjoyable enough, and the story is twisted enough to where it's definitely worth playing through the game more than once. Two higher difficulty settings are available, which become unlocked after you finish the game at the previous difficulty setting. As an added challenge, the highest setting limits the number of times you can save in a level (and you can save your progress instantly at any time). Also, once you've finished the game, you can go back and replay any of the individual levels that compose the storyline. The first game's "New York minute" mode is back, but now it's just a simple time trial. You no longer lose if you aren't fast enough in a level, though, implicitly, you're trying to get through it as quickly as possible.
A new mode, called "dead man walking," has been added, and, in it, you're trapped in any number of the game's more spread-out environments as enemies start spawning in. It's a question of how long you can last until they finally gun you down, and it can be quite fun. Since Max Payne 2 is, nevertheless, a short, single-player-only game, you could certainly get by on renting it for a weekend rather than keeping it for posterity.
Like its predecessor, Max Payne 2 looks impressive, for the most part. Max's character model--his face, anyway--looks completely different than it did in the first game, though the character models aren't really the strong point of the game's presentation. On the PC, it's the razor-sharp, photorealistic texture maps, the excellent special effects and animation, and the incredibly detailed environments that are the stars--though none of these things are as remarkable on the Xbox, as they've lost some of their luster in the translation. The bullet time effects still look great, though. Bullet time now causes the game world to go into a sepia tone, and you can still make out individual bullets or shotgun pellets as they whiz through the air when time's slowed down. There's a fair bit of blood during the firefights (though still no visible damage to the character models) and some debris from background objects that are struck. The game runs smoothly on the Xbox, and, all in all, Max Payne 2 looks great. It's certainly a lot better than what you'd get on a PC that just meets the original version's minimum requirements. The rare clipping issue or other small blemish in the look of the game is outweighed by the overall style and artistry of the game's visuals. And, despite some of the predictably mundane settings of a game set in the real world, you can expect to see some very unusual and interesting places and characters during the game.
The first Max Payne is a tough act to follow, but the sequel delivers an experience that doesn't disappoint.
Max Payne 2 sounds a lot like its predecessor. The sound of bullet time, which was so remarkable in the first game, is largely the same here. The rush of air and the sound of Max's heart pounding in his chest are the telltale signs of the effect. Then all the gunfire becomes muted and distant. The weapon effects are very loud and clear. The game's soundtrack is limited but outstanding. The title theme for the game, a beautiful and melancholy cello solo, is downright moving. You won't be hearing much music during most of the action scenes, though. What you will hear plenty of is Max Payne's internal monologue. He may look different, but thanks to the voice of James McCaffrey and a script by Sam Lake--both of whom reprise their roles from the original project--Max sounds very much the same: He's as brooding and monotone as ever. Some criticized Max Payne for its ham-fisted storyline and performances, but, by now, these elements seem perfectly intentional. The game's attempts at being melodramatic are, by all means, successful, and the over-the-top dialogue is the perfect counterpart to the over-the-top action.
That's a style of action that no game since Max Payne has managed to deliver with nearly the same level of greatness--though a number of games have tried. As such, the fact that Max Payne 2 essentially provides more of what made the first game so outstanding--but with a fresh, new coat of paint and an intriguing, new storyline--makes it a must for anyone who liked the original. Like its predecessor, and in some ways even more so, Max Payne 2 is a remarkable production, and what it lacks in length or volume it more than makes up for in quality and density.