Retrospective Review – Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Max Payne has had a rough time recently. His wife and infant child were murdered, he was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and brought vengeance upon the organization responsible for it all. You’d think after all of that, Max could catch a break. If anything, his luck is only getting worse.

Two years after the events of the original game, Max Payne has taken back his old job as an NYPD detective and is investigating a group of mobsters only known as the Cleaners. Things take an exciting detour when Mona Sax, previously thought dead, runs into Max, propelling him down a noir love story unlike any other. Full of twists and turns, Max Payne 2 delivers a story that not only tops the first game, but completely outdoes it in almost every respect.

The cutscenes are mostly delivered through comic book panels, similar to the first game, sans Sam Lake’s goofy grin. Panel by panel, the story moves naturally and the panels with key moments have a unique style to them. When the cutscene moves to in-engine, the animations feel flat and unconvincing, which makes the comic book style all the more appealing.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the astounding voice work in Max Payne 2. A noir story as good as this would be nothing if not for excellent voice acting, of which the game does so very well. Max Payne’s somber, monotone monologues hit each note perfectly.

The constant monologue from Max Payne serves to dive into the complex mind of the character, as well as to provide story context to just about every scenario. The words are drenched in noir style metaphors and similes that provide some of the best writing I’ve seen in a game, nine years after Max Payne 2’s initial release. While not as metaphor heavy as the first Max Payne, the narrative is much more compelling and focused.

Bullet Time has been vastly improved for Max Payne 2.  The reticule locks on to an enemy when entering Bullet Time, allowing Max to pull off moves only seen in the Matrix. Max’s never-ending pockets allow him to carry as many weapons as he desires from pistols, to shotguns and assault rifles. Max can still dual-wield single handed weapons, which feels incredibly satisfying.

Max Payne 2 looks great, especially for a game from 2003. The Address Unknown theme park levels are fantastic, but the apartment areas tend to bleed together. A few of the set pieces, including running through a burning building, go on a little long, or have some framerate issues, but again, for 2003 it is crazy the technology could run some of these sections.

Max Payne 2 stands the test of time; even in 2012 the compelling story and entertaining gunplay fascinated me. As I sit back and truly think about my experience with the game, I am tempted to bump it into my top ten games of all time. If you plan on picking up Max Payne 3, I highly recommend putting down a few more dollars and getting a copy of Max Payne 2.