By Mento 7 Comments
20/05/12 - Game #18
The source: Pre-owned purchase.
The pre-amble: Remedy's second game featuring the hard-boiled, tantalizingly close to being self-aware cop Max Payne as he struggles with the death of his family and a drug-trafficking conspiracy bordering on the supernatural. The setting's noir, the prose is purple and the violence is blood red.
The playthrough: Okay, so I guess I screwed up here. Max Payne 2 isn't what you'd call an "Indie game", really, but rather a regular PS2 game that I decided to play all day today instead of installing yet another variant on the same three Indie game models and writing up how underwhelmed I was with a game I probably got for free and therefore shouldn't be grumbling about too much anyway. Consider this a vacation, if you'd like. I know I do.
Max Payne 2 is what I'd dub an "interesting failure", as its reach far exceeds its grasp in some areas. Essentially, Remedy had to top what ended up being an amazing game-changer for third-person shooters. With the spectre of dull cover-based shooters looming forebodingly ahead, they managed to create a suitable replacement for that fortune-making paradigm of popping shots from behind a safe crate or yea high wall with that of popping shots while leaping around in slow-motion, guns akimbo, in such a ballsy manner that your opponents are too awed to land a hit on you in retaliation. Not only was it a decent compromise, it had the added benefit of being as cool as fuck. I cannot speak to what the average shooter fan takes into consideration when making a new purchase, but "cool as fuck" is probably a requisite.
But I digress. How is Max Payne 2 different? Well, in a lot of ways. When not marathoning macabre TV serials (surprisingly common in Finland) for inspiration, Remedy's always thinking outside the box with regards to what they want to put potential players through for the sake of a good story. With Max Payne 2, you still have all the bullet-time and shootdodging of the original but also some additional gameplay variations involving Max's would-be paramour Mona Sax. These tend to include covering Max (and vice versa) with a sniper rifle from high up and following alternate paths through levels concurrently with one another. These sequences are sparse, but rather interesting. At least after one's "oh Christ, an escort mission" annoyance subsides.
The chief issue I have with Max Payne 2, and this could totally be attributed to the limitations of games at the time, is that there is no auto-save. There's no quick save either. You have to pop into a menu, wait a few seconds for the "save game" prompt to load, wait a few more interminable seconds to actually save the game and then eventually bounce your way out of the menus and back into the shit. If you don't do this, you go back to when you last saved upon dying (frequent, since there's no regenerating health, but that's not something I take issue with specifically), which was probably a long time ago because saving is such a pain. You then have to weigh in your mind whether the considerable chunk of not-killing-things time spent saving is worth it to avert the even more considerable chunk of killing-the-same-guys-again time that will result. Talk about your Hobson's choice. Or Morton's fork. I can never remember which is which.
Couple that with some of the most unfortunate jumping puzzles this side of a Metroid Prime game. "Jumping puzzle" is such an odd name for that sort of incongruous instance where you're required to do something the game's engine really wasn't built for, in this case jump across platforms in a game where the jump command was entirely intended for slow-mo John Woo-ing. I guess the "puzzle" part of that nomenclature pertains to figuring out why the designers thought it was a good idea. Finally, we have the vaunted clever-clogs variable difficulty system the game has devised - the game will boost its own difficulty if you're breezing through combat encounters too easily. Ostensibly, this is intended to provide an even challenge throughout the game that imperceptibly moulds itself to the skill of the player. The reality is that you'll keep playing until the game kills you for being too good, at which point you return to the point of your demise well prepared for the deadly foes ahead to find they've been considerably nerfed due to your previous failure, creating a system that is awe-inspiringly obnoxious. Nothing takes the winds out of my sails faster than getting murdered by an arbitrarily difficult encounter of half a dozen goons with pump-action shotguns waiting behind a door then coming back to the same room to show an incredulous friend how unfair the game is being only to be presented with one visibility-impaired guy in a wheelchair armed with a stick. "Yeah, I can see how you could fuck this up," your erstwhile pal jeers while you quietly seethe.
But yeah, it's a good game really. The failure parts were clearly things Remedy would, uh, remedy from future games they'd make, even though said games would take a considerable number of years to arrive and be have more to do with shining flashlights on blurry hobos than hunting down the mob while mumbling fatuous similes about pain medication. It's actually deeply reassuring that there are studios out there willing to take risks with new ideas, even if they don't always pan out. Which means in order to really get my fill of experimental game design, I'll need to go back to covering Indie games. God help me.
The verdict: Beaten.