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The GoodThere are several sequels to great games that can be brought as examples of quality sequel-making: Suikoden II, LeChuck's Revenge, Fear Effect 2, just to name a few. Max Payne 2 is a fresh and new member of this unwritten list. It takes all the things that made the first one great, adds to them its own ideas, and concludes the story that was left unfinished in the first game in a very satisfying way.
The narrative is decidedly better this time. In the first game, there were hardly any characters except Max himself; he was totally alone in his fight against the world of crime. The villains were stereotypical and forgettable. The story itself was pretty straight-forward, without any noticeable twists, more like an excuse to Max' actions. In the sequel, the story takes a different direction, it is more personal and involving. The love story between Max and Mona is a cliche, but a cliche presented with a lot of style. The plot twist near the end of the game is also quite unexpected.
Max Payne 2 throws in some really nice gameplay additions. In two chapters, you control Mona instead of Max. At several points, there are real NPCs who would even join your "party" and fight at your side. Granted, those "party-members" are a pain in the butt due to their very low AI, but it was still nice to have some guys helping you instead of pumping your body full of lead. I particularly liked the two colorful NPCs who join you for a level early in the game: a drunk beggar and a whore.
The gameplay itself is very similar to that of the predecessor, and that is a good thing. All the cool stuff is back: variety of moves, "cinematic shots", traditional weapons, the all-around fast and furious action, and of course the famous bullet time. There are no real puzzles in the game or anything else except pure action, but some levels are enhanced with interesting additions. For example, on a particularly thrilling level, you play as Mona and have to cover Max by distracting the baddies and watching not only yours, but also his health meter.
Max Payne 2 is even more cinematic than its predecessor, not because it has more cut scenes, but because of all that stuff that keeps happening during the gameplay. Scripted events accompany the entire game: you are playing and watching at the same time. It's like Half-Life on steroids.
The style of the original game is preserved very well. Max became less bitterly sarcastic, but he still throws blatant wisdom words and colorful aphorisms at you every time he says something, and he talks quite a lot in the game, playing as always the role of the narrator. Of course, the cool "graphical novels" also appear in Max Payne 2.
Once again, the game is full of action movie cliches and countless references to such movies. There are tons of cool TV shows to watch on the many TV sets that appear in the game, including some obvious parodies.
The graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, pardon my language. No, you really should take a look at them to understand what I am talking about. And I was playing it on an old machine with all graphical details set to lowest level! Even at the lowest level possible, the game looks so good I often found myself stopping and moving the mouse up and down to admire the world. The levels are meticulously detailed, the backgrounds ooze style and atmosphere.
The first Max Payne showed it had studied by the right teacher by having some nice touches of interactivity: you could turn off water taps and TV sets, flush toilets, etc. The sequel goes much further into this direction. Basically, everything you see is not just your standard background, but an interactive environment. Everything can be kicked, dropped, bumped into, and moved from place to place.
I usually don't refer to technical aspects of games in my reviews, but this one is a special case. When I bought it and read "Minimum requirements: 1 GhZ processor" on its cover, I sighed and put it together with some other games that my old Pentium III 600 couldn't handle. Then, for a reason unknown to me, I suddenly pulled it out, installed it, and executed the program. It worked! Of course, with all the graphical details set to the lowest level, and with some serious slowdowns (especially when there were many explosions), but it worked! Now this is programming! A two months old 3D game with fabulous graphics working on an old PIII! As a comparison, Gothic requires only a 450 MhZ processor minimum (with same RAM and graphic card requirements as Max Payne 2), yet its graphics are not really on the same level as those of Max Payne 2, and it also performs on my computer with considerable slowdowns. Not to mention Morrowind, that crawls with such a speed it is impossible to play.
The BadAs far as sequels go, Max Payne 2 is pretty much impeccable. The only thing I can think of are the tweaks applied to the bullet system, which could be perhaps described as an example of "if it ain't broken, don't fix it".
Just like the first game, Max Payne 2 is very linear. I understand they wanted to keep it closer to a movie format, but sometimes it feels almost on-rails. It's a great ride, but a very limited one.
Those who disliked the first game will probably have problems with this one as well; but then again, they would probably not be interested in the sequel. If you disliked Max's personality, his role as a narrator, the extreme linearity, kitschy B-movie scenes, etc., the sequel will most certainly not "cure" you.