"Short but sweet" is a good way to describe 2001's Max Payne, as well as its newly released sequel, now available for the Xbox just weeks after the PC version debuted. As far as the quality of the translation is concerned, this new Xbox version features the same content as the PC release but loses some of the graphical frills that can be found in its PC counterpart (when running on a high-end PC, anyway). As for the game itself, as long as you go into it without expecting a dramatically different--or longer--experience than the original, Max Payne 2 won't disappoint. On its own merits, it's a stunning shooter that's got a bit too much plot and is over too soon, though it's still incredibly intense and, by all means, worth experiencing.
Max Payne 2 doesn't last long, but the outstanding story and gameplay it provides are still well worthwhile.
Max Payne 2 is a direct sequel to the original and picks up after the events of that game. Max, now a detective and wearier than ever of the world, once again has his hands full as he finds himself hopelessly attached to the lovely Mona Sax, a murder suspect and part of a bigger plot that ties in to Max's own dark past. There are tons of references and parallels to the original story. Fans will undoubtedly be pleased by some of the nudging and winking, though someone starting off with Max Payne 2 would probably feel rather left out, despite the presence of an optional cutscene that summarizes what happened leading up to Max Payne 2. Still, this is a surprisingly complex narrative for a game, irrespective of the genre.
The storyline unfolds in much the same fashion as the original. It uses some very slick, graphic novel-style storyboards--complete with melodramatic dialogue straight out of a pulp detective novel--and good voice-over to go with it. These graphic novel sequences are unmistakably similar to those of the first game, though they are, in some cases, even more artistic this time around. Max Payne 2 certainly isn't lacking in its presentation. All of the game's between-level loading screens and graphic novel sequences are impressive-looking and are often very cool. The plot itself features a number of twists but is rather convoluted the first go-round. Play through the game a second time (perhaps on the higher difficulty setting that's unlocked after you finish it the first time) and you'll likely get a much clearer sense of what's happening.
Mona Sax is Max Payne's love interest, and the two seem destined for each other.
There's no confusion when the bullets start flying: Max can point and shoot, easily, using default controls identical to those found in other first-person or third-person Xbox shooters. If there's any issue with the controls, it's that Max turns quite slowly. By clicking down on the left thumbstick, however, you can make him turn much more quickly. You'll probably end up doing this all the time, since there's no way to adjust the speed at which Max normally turns. Actually, were it not for Max's unique ability to slow down time, he'd be a pretty boring character to play. In the first game, Max's bullet time ability was used primarily while executing shootdodges. Max would launch himself forward, sideways, or backward while blazing away at his enemies. Bullet time slowed Max down--same as the bad guys--but he'd retain the ability to aim in real time, thus allowing him to draw a bead on multiple enemies while in midjump. Bullet time is different now and, for better or worse, the shootdodge has been de-emphasized as the technique of choice. It's still an option--and a good one. In fact, Max can now optionally stay prone, after landing from a shootdodge, for as long as he continues to fire his selected weapon (till its clip runs out of ammo, anyway). Recovery from shootdodging is a little slower than before, but the main reason it's less essential than it used to be is because now Max is so much more effective on his feet during bullet time.
Unlike the first game, Max does not slow to a crawl during bullet time. Now, as he kills his enemies, his bullet time meter not only regenerates, but it turns from white to yellow. As this happens, time moves even slower while Max moves even faster. After you've killed several enemies in succession, and your meter is yellow, you'll be moving pretty much at full speed while in bullet time. Your foes will be practically helpless to stop you. Bullet time was never intended to be a realistic feature, though it was loosely justified as Max's heightened state of awareness, brought on by the intensity of a life-and-death situation. This new bullet time can't be explained away quite as easily, and it's much more akin to a superhero power. Or maybe it's the power of love? In any case, this new bullet time makes Max Payne 2, to some extent, easier and less tactical than the first game. Whereas the old Max Payne needed to shootdodge from cover to cover, playing it safe, the new Max Payne's best tactic is to run straight at his enemies with bullet time toggled on. This may seem like a counterintuitive approach for a man who's heavily outgunned, but it lends itself to some pretty incredible close-quarters shoot-outs and gives Max Payne 2 a different feel from its predecessor.
The souped-up bullet time of Max Payne 2 enables you to take on much larger groups of foes than you could in the first game. The body count here is quite high, particularly in some of the later sequences, which have Max taking on small armies by himself or, sometimes, with a helping hand or two. One of the touted new features of Max Payne 2 is that Max can sometimes fight alongside other characters. This works as expected. The supporting characters follow Max's lead and lend a helping hand, though their assistance isn't all that valuable. Your options in working with these characters are limited to telling them to stay put or to follow you, which is fine, since having to issue complex orders to a squad would just slow things down in a game like Max Payne 2.
He may look like a man who's lost his fighting spirit, but Max Payne is actually stronger in his new game than he was in the first.
Along with the changes to bullet time and the presence of the occasional friendly character, the third main difference in the gameplay of Max Payne 2 versus its predecessor is in the new game's use of physics. The Havok physics engine was put to noticeable, extensive use in this game, as objects from human bodies to cardboard boxes to tires to paint cans all have fairly realistic mass and can be flung and bounced around forcefully--even when struck by a double-barreled shotgun blast. Thanks to rag doll physics (which have been used in other action games, like the Hitman series and Rainbow Six 3), bad guys in Max Payne 2 routinely get sent flying--like the lifeless heaps that they are--when shot by any high-caliber weapon or when caught in an explosion.
Sometimes the results of this look awkward, but much more often, the results are dynamic and impressive--especially when seen in slow motion. Many of Max Payne 2's shoot-outs take place in seemingly mundane locations, like warehouses, but when you consider that most every object lining the shelves--and even the shelves themselves--can be blown around or apart during a firefight, you'll begin to realize that these settings are actually ideal for a game that's all about shooting. Just as with the rag doll physics for the characters, the physics for the game's objects aren't quite perfect. You can bump a box around by running into it, or you can shoot it and send it flying. However, the box itself won't break apart or anything. Some other aspects of Max Payne 2, such as its relatively frequent cutscenes that use the game's 3D engine, can also seem rather awkward. This is mainly because most of the game's visuals are so convincing that the few unconvincing portions tend to stick out. Also, those who've played the PC version of Max Payne 2 on a relatively high-end PC would be quick to notice some of the corners that were cut in the Xbox port. Some details are missing here, like reflective surfaces, and weapon effects and explosions are toned down. None of this matters when you're in the middle of a firefight, though.