The more complex, involving and time consuming videogames get, the more something as fresh and immediate as Max Payne 2 stands out. A game you can just pick up, play, enjoy, complete and play whenever you fancy something a little less cerebral. Think of it as the gaming equivalent of a brain dead action movie, and I don't mean that in a disparaging way; it's just delivers the kind of shitfaced grin experience that most developers shy away from in this era of 50 hour epics.
The PC version, as we've already discussed at length, was a 9/10 for me. Many of you didn't agree (including our Rob, bless 'im - no anime featured, y'see), complaining about it being a total rehash of the original, but I swear I've not played a more enjoyable all-out action game this year.
We've got cream for that problem, sir
Max Payne 2 is a classic case of horses for courses. Some of you like the film noir "love" story, the comic book styling, the over the top Voiceover Man narrative, and the self-referential humour in Dick Justice, Captain Baseball man and Lords And Ladies. Some of you, however, simply despise it. Opinions are like arseholes - we've all got them, it's just that some of you get haemorrhoids from straining the point a little too hard. Just relax, enjoy yourself. You might have fun.
Rather than take six or seven years reinventing the wheel, Remedy has thrown in a refined bullet time system, vastly improved enemy behaviour, buddy AI, relentlessly enjoyable splendidly implemented Havok 2 physics and some of the most intricately illustrated gaming environments ever. Honestly, it's hard to see what's not to like about it (although we're priming the comment thread in expectation that some of you will delight in doing just that). It's the sequel to Max Payne; of course it's going to be broadly similar to the massive selling original. What were people seriously expecting? Final Fantasy? The main point as to why it's good - and therefore worthy of a 9/10 in our original review - is the fact that it's far superior to the original in every conceivable way, immensely enjoyable throughout, stylish, a visual feast, the list goes on...
Sure, it's still short, clocking in at about seven hours on the first run through, but its core gameplay mechanic is so moreish it's one of the few games you can just dip into and have a short intense session on and feel satisfied. No other game has managed to successfully nail that feeling of being the grizzled action hero from all those equally improbable movies, screaming obscenities with an AK in hand, raking the evil enemy with lead. Apart from perhaps Call of Duty, no other game has so much non-stop chaotic brilliance crammed into it, but the difference is Max Payne's trick, i.e. Bullet Time - still feels fresh, as opposed to CoD, which just feels like an old school FPS dressed up with a cast of convincing looking buddies. In MP2, diving into a crowded room of gun-wielding thugs headfirst in slow motion, while whirling the cursor around fully 360 degrees, picking each one off one by one while stray bullets explode stray fuel barrels and shatter inanimate objects has to rank alongside the most entertaining videogaming experiences ever devised to my mind.
Have fun over and over again
Even just watching the madness unfold is entertaining for heaven's sake, and I simply never tire of seeing flailing limbs flying through the air, knocking paint pots, step ladders and planks of wood asunder on their way to their slo-mo doom. Havok 2 physics or not, it looks good, and it plays even better. Admittedly MP is a one trick pony, with the old "30 seconds of fun repeated over and over" never more evident than here, but only in the same way that Halo is allegedly repetitive. Frankly, Space Invaders was repetitive, Pac Man was repetitive - that didn't make them any less fun. If you want variety, then take your cash elsewhere, you're not welcome at the Payne manor. The key is in the delivery of that "fun", and to those ends, Max Payne 2 couldn't really nail that microcosmic facet of gameplay enjoyment any better than it does.
And even when you're done, the front end unlocks a wealth of extras to keep you coming back for more. New York Minute is like Max Payne 2 - the arcade version, with the simple premise of finishing any of the game's 20 odd levels against the clock. Which one you choose is up to you; there's no arbitrary linear progression. You sense it could perhaps do with a little more content, but what the hell, it's like Remedy has the gaming equivalent of Death By Chocolate Cake. There's only so much you can feasibly consume before you're sated anyway, but by god was it enjoyable while you savoured it?
The compromise to these moans is the all-new Dead Man Walking mode; another great short and sweet way to dive into Max Payne 2, basically tasking the player with surviving an onslaught of endlessly respawning henchmen for as long as possible in a handful of tightly designed arenas. Simple, dumb fun, that probably won't last you more than a couple of minutes per go, but a welcome addition nonetheless. No-one's going to feel intellectually challenged after playing MP2, but if - like me - you were brought up on a diet of quick fix action games and appreciate the opportunity to play a game that focuses almost solely on this, then Remedy mainlines that fix to your brain in style.
Wearing my nit picking head for a minute, some of the visuals don't quite match up to the overall high standard Remedy sets itself. While the environments look great, with superb, almost photorealistic textures, my lingering complaint is the appearance of the enemy character models; not only do they need some work in terms of making them look less samey and generic (how about some variation in size, weight, ethnicity and facial appearance, Remedy?), their limbs still don't quite work as they should, flailing awkwardly and making the ragdoll physics look exactly that.
Another moan many of us have is why Remedy thinks it's acceptable to not include any kind of damage modelling for the characters No matter how many bullets the grizzled Max takes his apparently Kevlar-plated leather coat never takes a single bit of damage, and aside from a sporting a limp when he's about to pop his clogs, you'd never know he was the victim of a full on gang warfare firefight. I realise it'd be a headache to implement, but the way things are it just looks comical - something along the lines of The Getaway's system would've been far preferable to this laughable decision to just ignore it completely.
Looking ahead, it's obvious that this is Remedy's last chance to grind out a Max Payne game without overhauling the gameplay in a more ambitious fashion. The first MP was a revolution thanks to Bullet Time, the second is a chance to refine and consolidate, but we'd demand that it adds to the variety next time; the potential is there for the compete action experience, perhaps with a less linear mission structure; maybe a branching storyline that presents the player with moral choices. As it is, there's no way of changing the story one way or another, which limits the players' involvement to an extent, and the longevity of the game overall. Having consequences attached to shielding a buddy could present all manner of interesting possibilities and, of course, replay value. The reality is, of course, for most people once they've cracked the Detective difficulty level, they'll never bother with Hard Boiled or Dead On Arrival. The incentive to merely play through again for the sake of it isn't huge. It's a case of "incredibly good fun while it lasts" but after that it's a game you're only likely to dip into - and for some of you that might not be enough.
Let's make it piss easy
As for its translation to Xbox, it's a revelation. Not only is it as visually faithful as anyone could reasonably expect, with no discernible compromises save for the resolution, but even the controls feel right. Often the transition from mouse and keyboard is a bodge, but somehow Rockstar Vienna (formerly Neo, the team behind the previous Xbox conversion) has managed to make it feel totally natural. The most obvious compromise is the difficulty level, which has been changed for the worse.
Those who've played the PC version will notice a far gentler ride, with fewer, kinder enemies to do battle with, taking the edge off the intensity of the battle. Whereas the PC version would have you performing quickload/quicksave ballet, the Xbox port rarely demands that, making it an even easier game to just blitz through. While console games are generally a lesser challenge, there's no need to hand the game to people on a plate - at least offer the Hard Boiled difficulty level from the off, because forcing people to play through on easy before they can access the real deal is a puzzling concept that no other game I can think of has implemented.
If you can tolerate the insultingly gentle difficulty (to begin with), and the fact that you pay a £15 premium for this version then you're in for an intensely enjoyable action game that ranks among the best games released this year. For those of you that weren't sold on the first one, don't expect the sequel to change your mind. This is very much a case of giving the fans what they want, which is to say memorable non-stop cinematic brilliance, superior narrative and cutting edge gameplay.