Mento's May Madness: #18 - Max Payne 2

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

20/05/12 - Game #18

The game: Remedy Entertainment's Max Payne 2

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.

Start the Conversation
7 Comments
Posted by Mento
01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

20/05/12 - Game #18

The game: Remedy Entertainment's Max Payne 2

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.

Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

I like to imagine that Max is simply looking a chalkboard with weather forecasts he's drawn.

Online
Posted by Tordah

I could swear both Max Payne games had quick save buttons. It's been a couple of years since I last played them, but I'm still certain of it. I didn't even know about the automatic difficulty boost in MP2, that's really weird. Seems like one of those things that would only bother you IF you knew about it beforehand. I never knew about it and I was never bothered by the difficulty of the game. 
 
Really, the only thing I dislike about MP2 is how they changed the style of the comic panels, and the new "good-looking" Max Payne face. I want ugly constipated Max Payne face, damnit.

Posted by BisonHero

The PC version has quick saves. From your opening paragraph, it sounds like you were playing a PS2 copy, right?

Did PS2 shooters have quick saves? Hell, do any recent console shooters have quick saves? I'm pretty sure that is still firmly in the realm of PC games, and console games with quick saves are in the vast minority. Admittedly, the autosaves in the game are pretty rough, as I seem to recall Max Payne 2 only autosaved at the beginning of a chapter.

I know this ongoing feature is you mostly playing games you already own and you don't want to go out buying different versions of games, but the PC version is really what matters for Max Payne 2, because I can guarantee that version looked better and had quick saves. The game was released at the tail end of the era when publishers allowed medium-sized developers to still use PC as their lead platform, instead of blindly going after that Xbox 360 money. Would you believe that the console versions of Max Payne 2 actually came out a month after the PC release? Oh how times have changed.

Also, at risk of disagreeing with too many of your criticisms and sounding like the Max Payne 2 Defense Force, I really never found the scaling difficulty noticeable at all, and the difficulty seemed pretty unremarkable throughout. It's certainly not as bullshit ridiculous as the final act of Max Payne 1, where you're thrown into all of these small rooms in an office building full of assholes with automatic shotguns that instamurder you the second they have line of sight. The enemies in Max Payne 2 have pretty forgiving reaction time and accuracy (or lack thereof), and they're never bullet sponges. A room full of dudes is never that daunting if you just make sure to equip something high powered (Desert Eagle, your most powerful automatic weapon) before you dive into it.

Posted by BisonHero

@Video_Game_King said:

I like to imagine that Max is simply looking a chalkboard with weather forecasts he's drawn.

For some reason, I thought of the whiteboard you can draw on in Duke Nukem Forever.

Max Payne in Max Payne 1 actually sort of reminds me of Duke Nukem, in that it's hard to take them seriously when both of them are over-the-top caricatures of a certain style of character. But then Max Payne 2 got super serious and dramatic and dropped...most of the cheese, or at least relegated it to goofy in-game TV shows.

It sounds like Max Payne 3 goes even further in that direction, similar to how GTA has dropped a lot of its fun quirks in favour of "TEH GRITTY REALISM".

Posted by Mento

@Tordah: No quick saves in the PS2 version, though it's possible you might've assumed this was on the PC. You'd be entirely vindicated in believing this to be the case, since this series is ostensibly supposed to be covering my Steam backlog. The difficulty isn't actually that bad, since there's a reasonable upper limit - the other difficulty modes are at this maximum difficulty in perpetuity, so I assume it's viable - but there are cases where a tough encounter can sneak up on you, especially if you've been having an easy time of it and have been lulled into a false sense of security. Which is extra bad if this false sense of security subconsciously convinced you that you didn't need to save as often.

@BisonHero: Console shooters do not generally have quick saves, you're correct. In fact, it's rare they have any sort of freely accessible saving system at all, relying mostly - as you said - on auto-saving. This game doesn't auto-save. It doesn't even auto-save after chapters - if you die, the loading screen will helpfully point out which chapter you've been just been bumped back to. It's quite the system, though the PC Max Payne 2 being the lead version would go some way towards explaining why it exists.

I probably did do a disservice to the game by buying this one over the PC version. I generally go with console versions because there's always a guarantee I can run it (my PC is not great), but I guess this was a situation where the opposite would've been a better idea. Still, I can't grumble considering how little I paid for it, and it suffices for the original goal of getting up to speed with the Max Payne saga, such as it is. I didn't mention the in-game TV shows much, and how they have their own little incidental story lines going on, but it's pretty funny stuff considering how prevalent they would become in Alan Wake. Remedy were probably pinching themselves when they saw what Starbreeze did with the concept in the Darkness.

Moderator
Posted by Tordah
@Mento: I think I subconsciously missed that part about you playing the PS2 version since I didn't think anyone would play that version. Now I know you're a crazy person, but that's okay, I still like your comics.