Max Payne 2
Cops, eh? Always whining. If my job involved kicking prodigious amounts of criminal ass with no repercussions, I'd be a happy man. That's what we need today - more Dredd style summary executions. Max Payne would know how to deal with the 'yoof' of Great Britain - he'd shoot them. No questions, no trials, no council paid holidays to Africa. Stole a car? Sentence: death. Graffiti artist? Sentence: death. Not speaking the Queen's English? Sentence: death. You get the picture. Anyway, my point is that Max Payne should lighten up. Okay, so his wife and child were brutally murdered, but his whole life is dedicated to ass-kicking. You can't pay for that kind of job satisfaction. Oh, and Max Payne 2 is a well-realised and generally improved game, that wisely sticks to the obvious strengths of its predecessor, while making some interesting changes and additions.
The original Max Payne was something truly special, providing an almost cinematic-quality festival of gratuitous violence and trashy plot. Some found the graphic novel style a bit cheesy, which indeed it was, but the minor faults present could be easily overlooked. Remedy had put themselves in the enviable position of how to improve upon a classic. Their answer was simple - you do it very incrementally. So Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne brings no major upheavals, just some minor alterations that add to the experience.
The most significant of these, undoubtedly, is the inclusion of the Havoc physics engine. Demonstrating the trend for increased use of middleware in games, particularly in areas like physics or A.I., the Havoc engine brings new fun to the proceedings. The physics engine in Max Payne 2 essentially applies the laws of physics to most of the items and characters in the game world, and the developers were clearly proud of their baby, with a number of rooms clearly designed to show of the potential of the engine. One hidden room, situated in the deserted theme park level, serves as a physics 'sandbox' with stacked paint tins to shoot, several balls and barrels to roll around and even a fairground catapult-like game which the player can use to explore the effects of Newton's famous laws. Of course, item physics won't set the average man on the street alight - no, what your average joe gamer wants these days is, of course, rag doll physics. Remedy, never a developer to let its fanbase down, duly provides, and Max Payne 2 is a veritable feast of delightfully arranged limbs, with not a clipped polygon in sight.
All throughout the game henchman are situated in precarious positions - on ledges, on top of walls, near open lift shafts, etc. - such that any homicidal cop looking for his next kill is sure to enact a Michael Bay-style slow motion fall. These are great moments, and truly impressive technologically. There have been plenty of games with rag-doll physics before, but rarely has it been so professionally implemented. Limbs are jointed in a sensible fashion, as opposed to the common 'ball-bearing' joints that produce unrealistic and painful looking contortions upon death. In Max Payne 2, corpses lie like corpses should - something we all agree is good for gaming. What is also particularly impressive is the lack of clipping, despite limbs flailing in all directions and interacting with quite minor environmental features. Other developers take note.
Of course, no one wants in-game physics to be entirely realistic - where, after all, is the fun in that? Thankfully, Remedy have thought of this too. I read recently (valid research, I assure you - I am not a serial killer) that a rifle bullet does not have enough momentum to cause major body movements after impact, and that the jerking movement of a victim is usually the result of nervous spasms. Remedy, however, have no time for such scientific minutiae. No. In Max Payne 2, bodies cartwheel through the air after a head shot, slam satisfyingly into the nearest wall after a shotgun blast, and generally behave as though they had all the mass of an emaciated rabbit. Which is just the way we gamers like it.
Another stand out feature of the Max Payne series is the gritty and realistic environments. It is hard to think of a game with as good quality texturing as this, and it serves to ground the unrealistic action firmly in the real world. Max will once again traverse a series of locales from the usual grubby apartments and hotels, to a derelict theme park, a police station and others. All are expertly rendered and textured. Indeed, Max Payne 2 must be one of the best looking PC games to date, with decals flying all over the place during gunfights, excellent lighting and a smooth frame rate throughout on a mid-level system. Remedy have managed to produce a great looking game that is undeniably lenient on modest systems, and frankly, there aren't enough of them out there in these anti-aliased obsessed times.
There are also numerous gameplay tweaks. The mainstay of Max's original arsenal was undoubtedly the shoot dodge, and while it is still present here, it has taken a back seat to the revamped bullet time system. As Max kills his foes, his bullet time meter not only regenerates, but turns from white to yellow. As this happens, time moves even slower while Max moves faster. After killing several enemies in succession, movement speed will be almost full despite being in bullet time. This does make bullet time a far more powerful tool than it was in the original, and at times it seems like Max is almost invincible, but the action is always frenetic and above all fun. Other changes include Max's new ability to stay down and continue firing after a shootdodge, allowing him to clear a room before standing up. Max sometimes has to fight alongside others during his journey, and these sections do bring some variety. The friendly AI is nothing spectacular, but it does the job, and can offer crucial aid during key encounters. Additionally, Remedy have thankfully removed the worst excesses of the dream sequences that featured in the original. They require no jumping or maze traversing now, but rather serve more as an interactive cutscene, furthering the story and detailing more of Max's many neurotic tendencies.
Max Payne 2 is a highly polished and enjoyable sequel, and one of the best shooters of the year. Although the storyline is purest cliche, this never detracts from the quality of the action, and Max Payne 2 can be justifiably said to be more fun than its predecessor. The relatively minor changes are therefore not only understandable, but desirable in context of the quality of the original, and such incremental improvement are to be commended in a series that should be with us for quite a while.