Max Payne 2
Steve Boxer explains why Rockstar's latest third-person action adventure game was one of 2003's must-haves.
Xbox, PS2, PC
By Steve Boxer
A lot of people reckon that sequelitis is killing the games industry. But every so often, a sequel game arrives that outshines the original (invariably, you will find that it is the second iteration of that game, and subsequent versions disappoint). Max Payne 2, much to our surprise, turns out to be the definitive archetype of a sequel which is everything the original should have been.
It is, of course, built on a pretty decent foundation: the original Max Payne is a much-loved game, although undeniably flawed. You may recall that it was the game that introduced slowed-down "bullet time" - which we'd seen on the silver screen in The Matrix, but had never been able to launch at the touch of a button. Plus it had a great hard-boiled storyline - introduced with comic book-style 2D panels - and third-person shooting which possessed the responsiveness of a hardcore first-person shooter. On the downside, it was unforgivably short, soon became very hard indeed and on the rare occasions when you could actually use the bullet time, you found that it was very fiddly indeed.
All of those concerns have been addressed in Max Payne 2, and much more has been added to the game, to boot. Such as a physics engine - which you will not see used to better effect until Half-Life 2 and Doom III arrive. Although when you trigger the full bullet time, it only lasts for a finite period, illustrated using an egg-timer icon (you can turn it off before you've used it up), you generate bullet-time credit by killing baddies, and there is no shortage of those. Plus, you can launch Max's bullet-time dive without dipping into your bullet-time bank - on the Xbox version, that is achieved by a combination of the left trigger and the direction pad, thereby determining the direction of the dive. So this time around, you have bullet-time on demand.
While Max Payne 2 isn't the longest of games, it's much longer than the original. You can quick-save at any time. And when Max's health gets low, you can patch him up with painkillers (plentiful earlier on in the game, but scarcer later).The storyline is great in videogame terms, with twists and characters galore. Indeed, you even get to play as Max's latest bird, who is, naturally, a female assassin with a bullet lodged in her skull called Mona Sax. Of course, being Max's latest squeeze really isn't good for your health.
The presence of Mona illustrates the thought that Remedy has put into Max Payne 2. Face it: much as we love single-player-only shoot-em-ups, running around shooting everything that moves eventually becomes repetitive. No such problems with Max Payne 2. At one point, you play a mission as Max, and then - with Max trapped under a girder - replay it as Mona, before Mona is able to help Max find safety by providing sniper cover.
There are also some adventure-type moments - such as turning the gas off in the basement to allow Max to get back into his bombed-out apartment, so he can then indulge in a bit of rooftop-creeping. Not to mention some boss battles and the finest virtual interiors ever seen in a game. Mona, for example, lives in a flat above a disturbingly creepy cross between a theme park and a chamber of horrors.
If the thought of a game which includes dream sequences - endowed with suitably trippy visual effects - and even a Stannah Stairlift - plus lashings of gloriously against-the-odds shoot-em-up action appeals to you, then look no further than Max Payne 2. It's probably just as well that it isn't any longer, as it would then become a sure-fire relationship-wrecker. Electronic Arts take note: here's a sequel game which is everything that the original should have been, and a whole lot more.