By NICK McCOY
Tiger Media Network
In 2001, Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment released their second ever game, the third-person shooter “Max Payne.” Despite a very limited budget and lack of experience with the genre, “Max Payne” became a massive hit both critically and commercially. It garnered praise for its neo-noir storytelling, unique presentation, and its shooter gameplay, specifically its bullet time mechanic. Although some aspects haven’t aged as well as others, “Max Payne” is still a phenomenal game with amazing gameplay and truly one of the best stories in the medium. It definitely deserves its place as one of the greatest games of all time.
Admittedly, “Max Payne” is not a game that needed a sequel. Its ending wrapped everything up nicely, and I’m sure people would’ve been content with the first game by itself. However, a sequel would come with “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.” Once again developed by Remedy, this time, the game would be published by Rockstar Games.
I’m gonna be honest; I wasn’t instantly drawn to “Max Payne 2” like I was with the first game. There was just something about its gameplay that originally just didn’t stick with me. However, as I continued my playthrough, it didn’t take me long to realize how amazing of a game “Max Payne 2” was. Its moment-to-moment gameplay quickly grew on me, and I found myself having so much fun with its mechanics. Its amazing story kept me engrossed the entire way through, with a tragic romance in the midst of it all. Its higher budget is also on full display, with the presentation and performances gaining quite the upgrade. Overall, “Max Payne 2” is a phenomenal title, an amazing sequel, and just like its predecessor, one of the best games ever made.
- Released for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and PC in 2003
- Developed by Remedy Entertainment, Published by Rockstar Games
- A remake is currently in development for PS5, Xbox Series and PC
Taking place two years after the events of “Max Payne,” “Max Payne 2” once again follows the titular Max Payne. Having been acquitted of all the charges leveled against him at the end of the first game, Max is back working as a detective for the New York Police Department, still haunted by the death of his wife and daughter. A murder investigation reunites him with contract killer Mona Sax, who Max thought had been killed. As the two work together to unravel a conspiracy involving a crew of hitmen called the Cleaners and a secret society known as the Inner Circle, a volatile and tragic romance begins to develop between them. As more violent and tragic events begin to occur, Max’s loyalties and psyche are tested, while he also slowly begins to let go of the tragedies in his life, and ultimately move on.
“Max Payne 2’s” story is, once again, an absolute masterpiece in neo-noir storytelling. While it didn’t reel me in immediately like the first game did, it’s still an engrossing and entertaining story all the way through. At the core of this story is the romance between Max and Mona, a relationship that has all the making of a tragic romance of classic neo-noir films. The two of them clearly have a negative impact on each other and those around them, and yet, in a twisted way, need each other to carry on.
These characters are propelled immensely by phenomenal performances; James McCaffrey sounds the best he’s ever been as Max Payne, while Wendy Hoops delivers an equally excellent performance as the femme fatale Mona Sax. These two characters and their relationship make the already amazing story much more engrossing.
Beyond that, however, the story still has a lot going for it:
- Max’s strained relationship with his boss and friend Jim Bravura and his partner Valerie Winterson
- Memorable antagonists in Italian gangster Vinnie Gognitti and Russian mob boss Vladimir Lem
- A conspiracy involving the Inner Circle and their leader, Alfred Woden, returning from the first game
One thing that players will notice immediately is the much higher budget Remedy was given. In the first game, the models for Max and other characters were all Remedy staff, as well as their friends and family. Due to the higher amount of money they were able to use for the game, Remedy was able to hire actors to portray them. Rather than Sam Lake modeling for Max like he famously did in the first “Max Payne,” he is instead modeled by actor Timothy Gibbs. The same case is for Mona; In “Max Payne 2,” Kathy Tong serves as her model. As iconic as Lake’s face on Max’s model is, it feels a lot more natural seeing an actual actor behind the lead character. This higher level of quality goes to the graphics novel panels; the shading, composition and tone of the panels are a major step up from the panels in “Max Payne,” which were already well done despite the budget restraints. It’s genuinely amazing how much Remedy benefited from Rockstar’s involvement.
Finally, “Max Payne 2’s” gameplay is easily its strongest aspect. As I said before, there was something about it that just didn’t stick right with me about it at first; It felt much slower than the first game. However, as I played through it, I came to absolutely love how this game felt, and I slowly came to enjoy it just as much, if not more, than its predecessor. For the most part, “Max Payne” and “Max Payne 2” are quite similar; The biggest chance came with how bullet time works.
Easily the most iconic aspect of the entire series, bullet time allows players to slow down time to better line up their shots, as well as slow motion dodge out of the way of incoming fire. In the first “Max Payne”, bullet time was a static ability, simply slowing down time to give Max better accuracy and better evasive ability. In “Max Payne 2”, however, bullet time instead gets slower and slower as you take out more enemies, all while Max gets faster. This change adds so much to the combat.
Other notable aspects of bullet time:
- Bullet time automatically fills in between gunfights
- Max can instantly reload through a stylish spin
Another thing is that “Max Payne 2” uses the Havok Physics Engine, allowing for better ragdoll physics. It also results in some of the best corpse launches you will ever see in your life. So, despite my initial hesitance, “Max Payne 2” is honestly one of the most fun shooters I’ve ever played, thanks in large part to this change in bullet time.
Even if it didn’t hook me immediately, “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne” is still a masterpiece. Its story and characters are top-notch, only amplified by amazing performances, while its higher budget and production value add so much to its aesthetic and feel. It is also a masterclass in third-person shooter gameplay, and has aged incredibly well. “Max Payne 2” is a phenomenal sequel, and an amazing game in and of itself.
Nick McCoy is a Fort Hays State University senior studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs, and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.