Posted 2004-08-09 15:55:43 by
Further reinvigorating my love for video games, we have Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne. I had tried the first game soon after it was released, but I didn't like it that much at the time. It was quite hard, and heavily reliant on saving and loading to get past some groups of enemies. I'm probably going to go back and try it again soon, though, as I really enjoyed the sequel.
For those of you not familiar with the series, the Max Payne games are third-person over-the-shoulder shooters with the hyperbolic writing style of hard-boiled detective stories and the cinematic action of Hong Kong shoot-em-ups. The featured gameplay conceit is “bullet time,” which refers to your ability to throw the game into slow motion with the press of a button, thus increasing the relative speed of your reflexes.
The firefights in Max Payne 2: FOMP are some of the most satisfying I've experienced in a game. Bullet time is a cool gameplay addition, but the real benefit is that your character just looks so damn cool while shooting people. The game also features the best implementation of ragdoll physics I've seen -- and that includes Doom 3, though possibly only because the monsters in Doom 3 evaporate immediately after dying. Bodies fly about in a satisfying manner in response to impacts and explosions. Plus, every once in a while, the game zooms in on a character you've just killed and pans around him in slow motion -- just to show off the physics, yes, but I'm not complaining. It looks great.
The gameplay is some of the most varied I've seen in a shooter. Most of the game is fairly homogenuous, but the designers mix it up on some levels by giving you allies that fight alongside you and by giving you people to protect. Also, you occasionally switch away from Max and play Mona Sax, the game's romantic interest. At one point, Max Payne and costar Mona Sax both assault a criminal hideout, and you end up playing both characters over the same period of time in the story. There are also levels in which you don't fight anyone at all; about half of these are dream sequences.
The story in Max Payne 2: FOMP! is also one of the most satisfying I've experienced in a game. In fact, while there have been several games with a richly-developed setting I've liked, this is the only game I can think of in which I actually enjoyed the story itself. Remember when I mentioned that Max has a romantic interest? It actually works. What other game can you say that about? Don't say anything by Square.
The dialogue is wonderfully written. I've read reviews of the first game, describing the dialogue as “so bad it's good,” and... well, not having played the first game, I can't tell you if it's comparable, but I would say that the dialogue in Max Payne 2: FOMP! is just plain Good. The cut-scenes alternate between motion-captured 3D animation and comic book sequences with audio supplements. I actually didn't like the comic book sequences much; they look sloppy. But the story is still good. Don't skip the cut scenes.
Throughout the game you'll find televisions. Each time you come across one, it's playing an episode of one four TV shows, usually an episode that has some coincidental relation to the situation Max is currently in. The TV show most tightly bound to the storyline is Address Unknown, which is a kind of a noir descent-into-insanity. There's also Lords and Ladies, which is a costume drama. Dick Justice is a blaxploitation series -- and, I'm told, a parody of the original game's story. Finally, Captain Baseball Bat Boy is a superhero series which Vinnie, one of your nemesi, is inordinately fond of. It ends up being his undoing, in a manner both hilarious and stomach-turning. Fantastic.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this game is that, on top of the polished gameplay mechanics and solid level design, there were some ideas implemented, gameplay and design ideas, that just made me grin like an idiot. One of those is the aforementioned situation that Vinnie ends up in. Should I spoil it? Let's just say that one of the levels is a mission where you have to protect him from thugs, as he waddles around in a Captain Baseball Bat Boy costume, gigantic head, squeaky clown shoes and all.
The funhouse level is another stroke of genius. It's based on the Address Unknown TV series, and in it you reenact key plot points like your capture and imprisonment in a psychiatric ward, and your escaping by assaulting the doctors and guards with the drill they were apparently going to use to lobotomize you. The idea works beautifully. There's just something that makes me giddy about video game level designers striving to simulate the cheesy special effects that a real-life funhouse is forced to have the laws of physics, not to mention a low budget.
There are more strokes of genius I could tell you about, but they're more spoily. You should really just play it yourself. Go ahead, it's great.