Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: 10/14/2003 (PC), 11/25/2003 (Xbox), 12/02/2003 (PS2)
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Max Payne 2 was released a little over a year from the original and a surprising amount of fat was cut from the original. It’s the same game, but more refined and updated and feels more tightly woven than its predecessor. A lot of problems were fixed, but new ones arose as well. The narrative continues right after the first game with Max still trying to avenge the death of his wife and child, still trying to get to the bottom of The Inner Circle, and a new love blooms: Mona Sax.
The game starts off similarly to the first game, we get some weird trippy dream sequences, but they aren’t nearly as awful with zero platforming this time. Once you are in control of Max you can instantly feel the difference. He has more weight, his animations are smoother, and gunplay overall just feels punchier and sharper. More weapons were introduced with many old ones coming back. The new M4 and Kolishnokov weapons are a great addition, but unnecessary. One assault rifle is good enough as well as the addition of the HP5, but the Ingrams do just fine for a sub-machine gun. While the older weapons pack more of a punch the new weapons just feel like they were added just to add to the weapon count, less would have been fine. A new dedicated projectile button has been added so you can throw grenades and molotovs without equipping them.
Bullet Time has been refined and fixed as well. Max can now spin around in a 360-degree motion while dodging and the bullets impact harder and there’s less of a delay when you shoot. There is also better feedback on enemies when hit as they stumble more and drop their weapons so you know they’re dead in bullet time. Max can also stay lying down while continuing to empty a clip so the delay in getting up doesn’t make you completely vulnerable as the first game did. The difficulty has been dialed way back and I died a lot less than in the first game. All these great fixes and additions make Max Payne 2 the better of the two games already.
When it comes to level design, Max Payne 2 has more interesting levels like a creepy funhouse, a sprawling mansion, a construction site, and some apartment slums, but there’s a lot of backtracking and I feel the overall scope of the game feels claustrophobic. The variety is better, but you explore those few areas longer and I just feel I wanted to see more of New York inside this noire world Max lives in. Also, gone are the boss fights so the game feels better paced and I felt a tempo of gameplay going that the first didn’t have. However, the game is much shorter clocking in at 4-5 hours. There aren’t any collectibles or anything like that so once you fly through the game it’s over and there’s no reason to ever go back honestly.
Max Payne 2 is a memorable ride. The story is still told in those awesome comic strips, and I feel at the end of the game we get to know Max and Mona well enough to understand their characters and want them on screen more. Their love story is a great centerpiece for this Mafia revenge tale and it makes Max and Mona feel more human. There’s still a cliffhanger at the end of the story, and a third Max Payne game didn’t come until a decade later, but what we get is one of the best single-player shooters of the PS2/Xbox era. It’s tightly compacted and solid and while it’s short, sometimes that means quality and that is rare even to this day.