[REVIEW] Max Payne 2

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Release: Fall 2003
Reviewed Version: Original Xbox disc used in Xbox Series X
Environment: Large room. 5.1 Audio. 55" HDR/4k TV, sitting 5-6 feet away from the screen. 
Developer: Remedy Entertainment • Publisher: Rockstar Games • Director: Markus Mäki • Designer: Petri Järvilehto • Programmer: Kim Salo • Artist: Saku Lehtinen • Writer: Sam Lake • Composer: Kärtsy Hatakka, Kimmo Kajasto

My review method is simple. Ten categories guide my thoughts. Each category is on a 1 to 10 scale. Add them up for the final score.

STORY - 10
This is a game that surprises you once you start getting into it. It shouldn't, of course, because it is Remedy. But it does. It plays exactly the way it should, as "Noir York City." The sense of place in this game is strong. Backtracking to Max Payne 2 after nearly finishing up 3 last year was like expecting to find coins and junk metal detecting on the beach and find a gold ingot. The game crisscrosses Payne's drug-aided physical and mental world in a fun, understandable way. It also works due to hindsight. The creators of the game were young (around my age at the time) and it comes out in the story. In a way, 20-somethings trying to write a story about their hardboiled 40-year-old uncle. Seeing the seams does not take away from the adventure now that two decades have passed. It's easier to see where it pulled its influences from, however (Matrix, Sin City comics), but keeping it simple is how games make it to the finish line.

Plugging along to your next quicksave, collecting pills and weapons never really gets old and keeps your attention. The dialog that pushed the story along during gameplay was a special treat. It is fun winding your way around (in and out of) buildings. The designers of the game got it right in that you never get lost or confused as to where you are going yet it feels like a massive labyrinth.

The textures stand out in this game. The entire disc is less than 3 GB so the really worked well within boundaries. Back in 2003 and on the Original Xbox, the load times might have been a bit of a chore, but on the X it zips along perfectly. You do feel as though you are in NYC somewhere as you can see the skyscrapers in the background, but again, you are stuck inside so much of the time. 75% of the game is in hallways and rooms that look good from an art and design perspective, but not sure how you can get that wrong. The comic book cut scenes grow on you and start to come alive after a few hours of playing. The use of heavy Photoshop filters and lower-resolution image files cloud up the images. Perhaps in the remaster, we will get hand-drawn artwork instead of filtered photos. Grading this category is always tricky when it is an old game. I'm not judging it solely against its contemporaries at the time, nor am I comparing it to games today. Design and artwork can look and work well no matter the year.

I played it on a 5.1 setup in a large room and it was clear and crisp. Max and his monotone voice droned on without any level issues. Composer Kärtsy Hattaka music sets a moody tone that is a game highlight (a "10"). If you go back and listen to all the tracks it makes you wonder why the decision was made to use the main theme so much. Jumps, gunshots, falling debris are all (probably) on a budget, but it doesn't take away from things. The voice acting is top-level. 

The pinnacle of capital "G" Gameplay. Every new situation is like being born again. The ability to slow down time and then dive over boxes while taking down bad guys never gets old. It is such a contrast to the dark story unfolding and it works. It's even more fun on a modern controller. Knowingly or not, part of the fun I found here is because it behaves like a coin-operated machine. Had this game been 15 years earlier it would have been a big quarter-munching hit.

The relationship between Max and Mona heats up around the midpoint of the story and colors much of the 2nd half. Max feels guilty about it, I think and Mona never really answers Max when he wants to talk. Their relationship feels "real" in a way that relationships in games like Uncharted do. As a player you are invested in them. Playing AC: Vahalla recently is an example of no investment in characters. Max and Mona felt so much better than Eivor and whoever. It was like real people vs robots. Anyway - The impact of what would now be called opiates hits differently now than it did then. It was tackled again in MP3 when Rockstar leaned into it. 

I'm still enjoying it 20 years later. It's got a movie. There is a remaster on the way. Perfect 10.

Max Payne 2's impact on gaming is significant. It wears its influences on its sleeve but there is nothing wrong with that. Games are in love with innovation and breaking new ground, but more often than not a great game fine-tunes and works with what is there. MP2 still resonates because of this.

This category is one I inserted to weight the overall rating towards the "fun" factor. Games can miss the mark on several categories but still be fun to play. MP2 is very fun.

I didn't particularly like it at the time, still don't. The Frank Miller, Sin City has a knockoff look to it and doesn't do the game justice. Again, a remaster that actually is Frank Miller's artwork would be fantastic.

The small development team feel of this game is a real treat for me. They used what they had and kept it simple. Games like this tend to "feel" better than gigantic thousand-person teams for AAA games. There's magic in games like this one.