Written by  :  Ola Sverre Bauge (241)
Written on  :  Nov 05, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars

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The fall of Max Payne, indeed.

The Good

The first thing they do is ridicule the first game, as if to say that the game is real serious now, honest, we're going to keep the humor tightly packed into these TV sets. Which is true, unfortunately. The "constipated grin stuck to my face," as the TV calls it, is gone from Max; he's undergone plastic surgery to resemble Harrison Ford. As if anything was ever improved by involving Harrison Ford with it.

Payne 2 wants to be a "film noir love story," yet not enough attention is given to developing the story, in or out of the action. At least the unashamedly two-dimensional story of the first game did the job; here, the feeling that the shooting is just more of the same is amplified by the bumbling attempt to craft a real story like wot they have in the movies, man.

More things are now told with longer in-game cutscenes, which lack the attitude and style of the comic book panels; relegated to playing second violin, the graphic novel stumbles and feels more bolted-on than a feature of the game.

The Trainspotting-style establishing characters with a freeze-frame, zoom and name tag doesn't work either, probably because most of the time they introduce a character who will then promptly get shot before a minute has passed, or say hello goodbye. Or first the one and then the other. Though not the other and then the first- um, you get the picture.

The Bad

The fatal flaw is the modification to bullet time: Now it only gives you a slight slowdown, not enough to be useful for much. Killing a lot of people quickly will make the hourglass turn yellow and give you the slow-motion you're used to, as well as faster reloading, but this is fun only when you get to take on a large crowd of thugs with a sawed-off shotgun; it makes everything else dreary.

Diving through a door with Ingrams used to be great, but now it'll get you shot three times out of four, as Max doesn't automatically stand up; you have to release the fire button for a second. I mean, what's this, I have to release the trigger and think for a second in a shoot'em-up, now? Where's the fun in that?

Adding insult to injury, the manual talks about how bullet-time 2.0 urges you to press forward, but the level design doesn't really take it into consideration, rarely giving you more than three enemies at a time and a lot of empty space between groups. Meaning you find yourself running around with an hourglass all yellow and no one to kill far too often. Maybe it could have worked if more slowdown was awarded for shooting someone at close range, or something: As it is, it's a feature that obviously wasn't given enough consideration or playtesting, giving the game a rushed feel. Damn this technology that goes out of fashion after half a year.

The rarity of really slow motion also means you seldom get to see the bullets flying; gone is the fun of diving forward and seeing the shotgun pellets graze Max's head. It's most noticeable when you're looking through the scope of the MP5, and there it looks plain ridiculous, as the back of a bullet is the graphically least interesting part of it.

Max himself is far less interesting in his version 2.0; while you could hardly argue that he at any time had a full set of dimensions, here he seems reduced from a cardboard cut-out to a non-person. You get to see his home and the police station he works at, but he doesn't really seem to be there, somehow.

The more interesting person in the game is his femme fatale Mona Sax, who sleeps in a heap of ammunition round the back of a derelict fun fair. Now that's my kinda girl. You get to play her a couple of times, yet this seems intrusive and less fun, even though she has Max's full set of moves and the same damage resistance. And you get to do a lot of sharpshooting with her, which is usually my favorite thing in these games.

Perhaps it's that she's supposed to be a professional assassin, and when you fail to snipe people effectively several times before you get the hang of it, it compromises her believability. Or maybe I just have trouble perceiving a woman's voice as coming from inside my head - it's not for nothing that voiceovers tend to be so deep as if to emanate from inside your skull.

There are on the whole fewer gritty street environments; especially the half-constructed office building is just too samey. Maybe it could have worked if fighting left more blood stains and such, making it graphically interesting, but "ragdoll" is only too descriptive of the game's handling of bodies. In the first game, the bloodlessness and stereotyped way thugs went flying away from an explosion - it felt like a homage to Hong Kong action, something that Payne 2's ragdoll system takes away with its pretensions of realism.

The Bottom Line

I suppose it does the job, barely, of satisfying Max Payne cravings. Just don't expect the full flavor.