By hsvlad 3 Comments
1001 Videogames I must play before I die!
No.0026 Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Max Payne 2 is an interesting beast. It was the first game where I really began to see past simply the gameplay and the story and began to notice some of the more nuanced touches Remedy had added to flesh out, not just the world, but the feeling of Max Payne. When it came out in 2003 I was 15 and was starting to look at games, and most other things, in a deeper way. Before that, games were a means of cathartic stress relief. I was only really interested in the gameplay or, more often, the violence. At the time if you asked me what my favorite games was, I would have told you Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. After playing Max Payne 2, I wouldn't have known the answer to that question. It wasn't MP2, but this game did make me open my mind a little.
MP2 feels very similar to the first game in the way that it plays, though certain tweaks make it arguably more fun then the previous game. Max's famous shoot-dodge no longer uses any of your bullet-time meter so you are free to jump around like a mad man, and you will. The game is a touch more forgiving because of this, but you still need to get your quicksave finger back in shape because Max ain't exactly bulletproof. The game also only starts with one, dynamic difficulty setting which seems odd for the time. Completing the game unlocks higher, set difficulties as well as a survival mode which I had forgotten about. Its arsenal is bigger, its effects are prettier and while the graphic novel panel story telling is still very much present, there are far more in-game cut scenes then the first game. I'll get to the side narrative stuff that I found so engrossing in a moment but there is one other thing that made this game so great that I need to talk about.
Max Payne 2, along with Half Life 2, was one of the first games to make in-game physics near universal to all of its objects. Sure you can't knock over the giant shelves in the warehouse level or send larger furniture flying but almost everything else will react to being pushed, shot or nudged. The first kill you make in the game blew my mind when I first saw it. It is staged perfectly to both remind you that you are playing a Max Payne game and to show why it'll be even better then before. After wondering around a seemingly empty hospital for a few minutes you come across a dead security guard and pick up his pistol. As you do a balaclava'd mercenary in all black, one of the iconic enemies from the first game, enters. As you return to the game from this short cinematic, your adversary fumbles with his pistol for a moment, giving you an opportunity to get the first shot off. You'll kill him with one round, regardless of where you hit him and he falls backwards into the corner, breaking a small shelf off the wall and landing on a small, wheeled table with surgical tools on it. It's not especially dramatic and while it is slowed down its not too flashy, but it feels real. Its only a short fall but the way he slumps downwards onto a mound of seemingly random objects felt so grounded that I instantly knew I was in for something special.
The real eye opening moment for me however came for the fake tv shows the game featured. Captain Baseball Bat Boy, Address Unknown, Dick Justice and Lords and Ladies. Some of these had been present in the first game but for the most part I ignored them. Not because they weren't good, but they seemed more like jokes, and truth be told Address Unknown just freaked me the hell out. But in MP2 I followed them, dutifully made sure I found each episode of each show, and I'm very glad I did. Dick Justice is essentially a parody of the first Max Payne, down to the over dramatic "NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" after Dick's wife is murdered and the macho introspection. Address Unknown is a thinly disguised commentary on the events currently playing out in the game, referencing Max's guilt over the death of his wife and child, the cleaners trying to stop him "They wore white uniforms, they looked so clean" and the final realisation that the main character IS John Mirra the serial killer, that Max Payne is and seems only capable of being a murderer. Whether he pulls the trigger or not, everyone around him eventually dies. At the end of the game, Max Payne is the only named character left alive! These shows gave me a new understanding into the way Max's mind and world worked, all without having to sit there and flat out tell me it. Subtly like that is rarely seen in games.
Playing through Max Payne 1 & 2 again has really got me pumped up for the third installment. I'm waiting for the PC version to be released on the 1st of May. I have however watched the GB quicklook and unhealthy number of times and truly cannot wait to get stuck into it. I know the tone has changed slightly but Max's new path towards self destruction is something I don't want to miss. It feels like such a natural and unflinchingly realistic turn for Max, when everyone around him seems to die, regardless of his efforts or intentions that kind of nihilism seems inevitable. Its something that hasn't really been tackled in a game before, and while all of this is going on, I still get to shoot people in the face!