Monday, 5 May 2014

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (PC)

Max Payne 2 title screen
Today's 'F' game is... The Fall of Max Payne. Yeah sorry I totally cheated there (and I'd do it again without shame or hesitation). I'll be playing through Part One, mentioning anything that comes to mind as I go.

Max Payne 2 came out in 2003, two years after the original game, for PC, Xbox and PlayStation 2 (the GBA had to sit this one out I'm afraid). Critics and players loved the game but it didn't end up selling all that well and with Remedy Entertainment moving on to making Alan Wake the series lay dormant for almost a full decade after this before Rockstar Vancouver stepped in and gave it a big-budget blockbuster makeover with Max Payne 3. Whether it stayed true to the tone of the franchise is debatable, but critics and players agreed that it was a hell of a lot better than the mid-budget Max Payne movie released four years earlier.

But I'm meant to be talking about Max Payne 2 right now, so... uh... what about this theme tune huh? Pretty awesome and haunting right? Oh, here's a link so you can listen to it yourself while you read: youtube link. It's basically the song from the first game, except a bit slower, a bit sadder, and the piano has been replaced with violin.

(Click the pictures to inflate them to 1280x1024 resolution if you want a closer look at anything.)

The game jumps straight into the graphic novel cutscenes this time around, with Detective Max Payne reflecting on the events that led him to a manor house on a dark and stormy night, with his usual hard-boiled deadpan narration.

This particular scene takes place in hospital earlier that same night and Max ain't looking so good. Getting shot is nothing new for him (the guy must be addicted to painkillers at this point), but this time it seems really serious.

He tears the IV needle from his arm, drags himself out from his hospital bed, and crawls over to his trademark leather jacket in obvious pain. Guess I'm not going to be doing any slow-motion bullet time gymnastics for a while.

Oh, actually he's feeling much better now. See, check the meter on the left, he's still got half his health left! Just as well too, as assassins have come to kill him.

To say this is a little bit like the first game would be an understatement. This basically IS the first game so far, with the same third person shooter gameplay, the same narrator, the same slow-motion powers, and honestly from the back Max himself doesn't even look all that different. Though he does have ears now.

The biggest change I've noticed is that his walk cycle looks slightly jerkier than it used to. Oh also my bullet time hourglass gauge is filling back up over time now instead of only after a kill!

Man, I know that everything in Max's world is a reflection of his own issues, but this is just getting ridiculous. These drawings basically retell the prologue from Max Payne 1, showing the day he returned home to find that his wife and child had been murdered by junkies.

He actually coped with it reasonably well for the first three years, until events conspired to send him on a three night killing spree against everyone involved in their deaths. I'd say 300 is a low estimate for the number of people he killed during that first game and judging by the state of him now it's possible he's been trying to break that record in the meantime.

Hey I've finally found people who aren't trying to kill me! It's Jim Bravura from the first game, come to stop me from leaving the hospital because he believes that Max "killed her". Max doesn't seem so sure, but then he is suffering head trauma.

You know, this is just like how I ran into Max's friend at end of the train level in Max Payne 1, except Bravura hasn't been gunned down from behind mid-cutscene.

Oh, seems like I spoke too soon. Well there goes Bravura I guess.

This dumbass can't shoot straight though, so Max is able to duck back into the elevator and escape. He doesn't get far though, as a stray bullet hits the gas tank on the left, sending it flying off like a missile right into the elevator next to him. Hey you asshole, shooting gas canisters to blow shit up is my trick, I used to do that all the time in the first game! Well, twice maybe.

Stumbling out of the wreckage, Max finds himself down in the morgue where he comes face to face with the truth. Bravura was right, he did murder Winterson... whoever she is.


Narrator Max suddenly decides that the hospital was a shitty place to start the story and jumps back to the night before instead. He reveals that after the events of the first game he went back to the NYPD to work homicide, but when gunshot were reported at a warehouse belonging to Vladimir Lem he had to investigate. Which of course you already know if you looked at the screenshot.

Vladimir Lem is an old associate of Max, a Russian mob leader who helped him out a little during his revenge rampage three years back. He also made me do a whole lot of running around dodging explosions and falling ceilings after rigging a building I had reason to visit.

By the way, Max seems to have gotten himself a new face since then, and I'm not sure it's a change for the better. Sure his new model is easier to take seriously and is a better match for Max's voice, but that's kind of the problem, as he's become as dour and expressionless as his narration.

The many faces of Sam Lake.
People mock Max's 3D model in the first game for wearing a near permanent constipated grimace, but in the graphic novel cutscenes he had no trouble showing emotion. In fact the faces he pulled were often as entertaining as the lines he'd come up with in his poetic film noir monologue.

Also he's changed his shirt! Plain white is so dull.

Incidentally both faces and lines were provided by writer Sam Lake for the first game, as he wrote the script and posed as a model for the character. This time around though he's mostly stuck to writing.

Alright, I'm at Vladimir's warehouse. Sadly I didn't get to drive Max's car myself, though I did get to walk around the outside of the building trying every door and being confused when none of them opened. It turns out that I was supposed to walk around a side passage just off screen on the right, so that's another puzzle solved.

I am kind of in a hurry though as someone's screaming for help from somewhere up in the top floor. Enemies in Max Payne start shooting immediately after catching sight of you and they're (usually) very good at it, so I need to be ready to react the second I enter the building.

Okay... that's just a television. It's playing an episode of Dick Justice, where the lone hard-boiled fugitive cop finds his wife has been murdered and goes on a quest for vengeance through the criminal underworld. Yep, even television has started to mock Max (and the Max Payne games in general actually.)

Though Dick really does have some awesome lines:
"The rain was coming down like all the angels in heaven had decided to take a piss at the same time."
"In a situation like mine, you can only think in metaphors."
After that had clip had finished it was followed by adverts for other series like Address Unknown and Max Heat, plus Vladimir Lem's new bar 'Vodka'. It's just a slideshow of images with audio over the top by the way, no video, though it's enough to make me feel like I should stay here watching it instead of running to the rescue of the person in immediate need of saving. These TVs are really screwing with the pacing.

This guy I've found claims to be an innocent cleaner, but everything about him is screaming 'I'm gonna shoot you in the back the second you turn around', so we'll see how that goes. 

Scenes between characters like this were almost always presented with graphic novel cutscenes in the first game (as the 3D models weren't even able to open their mouths), but this game likes to do them in-engine instead when possible. The graphic novel scenes have been reduced to bookends for each chapter.

It's a bit of a shame really as Max Payne 1 uses the graphic novel scenes all through the level, appearing whenever you interact with certain objects. They help flesh out the world a little, describing the place you're in and showing what Max is thinking.

Here, have an example:
Three Max Payne screenshots I've cunningly assembled to look like graphic novel panels.
  • In the first image I've just walked over to a desk in game and Max mentions that there's a note on the table. I choose to read it, bringing up a graphic novel scene where Max explains a bit about the mob-boss who wrote it, what the letter says and why I should care.
  • The second image is a panel from these comic book pages showing that Max actually still had a sense of humour back then, as he takes a moment to throw a couple of darts at a photo of the note's author.
  • Then in the third image I'm back in the level again afterwards, looking at the darts sticking out of the dartboard exactly where his comic book doppelgänger threw them.
In Max Payne 2 on the other hand this cutscene would be in-engine, mandatory, and Max would be too depressed to even think about picking up a dart. Though on the plus side cutscenes have subtitles now and they're skippable, which is always, ALWAYS a good thing... unless you're a cutscene designer I guess.

Well I am shocked, SHOCKED at the cleaner's inevitable betrayal. I'm also shocked that any of my bullets are hitting him, can you see how bad my aim is here? Slow motion dives are cool and all, especially the way I can spin around at regular speed at the same time, but it's no guarantee my accuracy is going to be all that great.

I really have to get out of the habit of sending a single shot towards someone's head, then turning around to look for another target under the assumption that it was enough to kill them.

My keen instincts as a detective are telling me that this might be the person I came here to save.

Sadly Max tries to handle it himself in a cutscene and totally fails to rescue her. Ooops. This was pretty similar to how his wife died as well, which I'm sure isn't lost on him. He's supernaturally talented when it comes to killing people, but his track record at saving the day isn't so great so far.

Speaking of people with supernatural gun skills, look who just turned up too late to be any help! It's contract killer femme fatale Mona Sax. This is actually a bit of a surprise for Max, who last saw her dying of a gun shot to the head in the first game.

She disappears back behind the elevator doors before he has a chance to question her about that though. Hey, 'elevator doors' is the name of the chapter!


Oh I see how it is: his cleaner friends failed to kill me with guns so he tries to kill me with a forklift, tipping a shelf onto my head. This was very nearly as bad as the "what was that noise, oh it must have been a grenadeBOOOOOOM" near-instant deaths from the first game, but seeing as I had just enough time to avoid it I'll let the them off this once. The developers I mean, not the guy with the forklift; that guy's getting a shotgun to the head. Assuming he survived that mysterious explosion.

Sadly I wasn't able to kill them all, as they had black escape vans outside ready to go. Max ran out and tried to shoot at a van while they tried to run him over, but neither of them got what they wanted as another detective came and dragged him out of the way at the last moment.
Oh, so that's who Winterson is! She's a detective like Max who works out of the same precinct. Well she did, before he murdered her. You know, I'm not sure there's anyone Max has known who hasn't ended up dead because of him.

Mona doesn't count, seeing as she did get shot in the head in the last game; she's just too stubborn to stop living I guess.


Oh right there's Vladimir Lem as well, Max's mob boss friend, turned legitimate warehouse/restaurant owner. Max decides that the decent thing to do would be to drive over to his Vodka restaurant and give him the bad news about his dead employee himself.

This building made an appearance in Max Payne 1 as well, though back then it was a mafia owned club called the Ragna Rock. A whole lot of shooting took place in there back then and from the sounds of gunfire it seems like they're back at it again now without even waiting for me to turn up.

I don't know if it's procedure for New York detectives to pick a side in a gang war and go in shooting, but Vlad's a friend so Max decides to help him out regardless. A friend with a suspicious arsenal of weaponry in the back room of his new restaurant, which I am of course helping myself to.

Here's a new feature for the game by the way: bullet time reloads. Max spins around 360 degrees in slow motion to scope out the room while changing magazines. I'm using up precious bullet time by doing it, but the stuff recharges now so what do I care?

Bullets are still physically modelled and still take time to reach their destination, but they seem a bit faster than in Max Payne 1 (to me anyway) so it's more likely that the target will still be in the right place by the time they get there. One problem that hasn't been fixed though, is that Max can't look downwards while he's diving through the air. Sure he can shoot downwards, but his guns remain facing forwards and it's kinda hard to see what I'm aiming at. Especially when he gets in the way of the camera and all I can see is his back.

Incidentally, never try what I just did here. Sure epic bullet time dives are cool, but poor Max ended up in a bloody mess when he finally made it down to the floor.

Nice to see that I can still carry a good amount of guns in this at once. Also they've improved the way grenades work, giving me a secondary attack button. Instead of having to switch out my gun to throw a grenade or molotov now I swap it into the secondary slot instead, ready to be lobbed over at someone at a moment's notice.

Man, I know this is supposed to be the same place as in Max Payne 1, but it's barely recognisable to me. I keep looking for recognisable landmarks but I'm coming up empty. I guess half of that is because they've got the lights on this time though.

Oh I definitely recognise that guy on the wall, though I couldn't stick around to admire the art back in Max Payne 1 as enemies were throwing Molotovs down at me from the upper level.

Max Payne (PC)
Here's the same room in Max Payne 1 for comparison, considerably brightened up so that it matches better. See what I mean about the two games often looking basically the same when Max has his back turned to the camera? Though Vlad's definitely remodelled the place with some higher res textures.


With Vlad saved, Max gets about 10 minutes sleep on his couch before Mona appears and wakes him up. Thankfully there was no blood trail maze in his nightmare this time.

Of course before Max could say more than three lines to the woman he's obsessed with, a sniper starts taking shots at him from the apartment opposite and Mona bolts for the door. These two are not going to get a happy ending.

Anyway I killed the sniper and now I get to snoop around Max's apartment. I wonder if his old photographs from Max Payne 1 are around here.

They edited the photo! They took Sam Lake out and replaced him with the new guy, Timothy Gibbs. That's just weird... to see the new Max actually smiling.

At least his old friend Alex was left alone (no need to recast a dead character).

(Cropped a bit for clarity.)
Wow, I guess Max is a vampire then? A vampire with contact lenses. That is such a strange glitch as I've seen other mirrors in the game and they've worked just fine.

So the cleaners have come after me in vans now huh? They needn't have bothered, I'm sure all this jumping between buildings is going to finish me off soon enough. To be fair though that's mostly because I keep trying to take screenshots mid-jump.

Fortunately quick saves sure take the sting out of it.

Here's another new feature I've learned to appreciate: slow motion gets slower the more people I kill, to the point where I can take out a room full of threats before the first has hit the floor. Just as well too, because if any of them had gotten a shot off I'd be screwed with the amount of health I have left.

Enemies are blessed with fast reflexes and deadly precision, so this really isn't the kind of game where I can stand in front of them and expect to last more than a second. It's inspired me to quick save after every encounter.


Oooh, some painkillers; that means I get to heal up a bit!

If you're wondering why it says I have 8 painkillers left in every screenshot no matter how injured I am, that's because Max Payne 1 has gotten me into the habit of not bothering using healing items until I find more than I can carry.

Death comes so fast in this if I screw up, no matter how much health I've got left in the tank, so I've been mostly getting by with the tiny slice of regenerating health they've given me. Basically the health gauge automatically recovers to his shoulders, similar to what you see in the screenshot above this one, and anything after that can only be healed by painkillers.


After escaping his own apartment building, Max received a call from Mona leading him to an abandoned fun house based on a fake cult 90s television series he's been seeing on TVs around both games. I gotta say, painted wooden walls and cardboard cars are way more interesting than two bloody chapters in a row of identical green hallways.

Honestly, the way this game is I was almost wondering if the last two levels were some kind of meta-commentary on all the hallways I had to walk around in part 1 of the first game.

Okay now I'm sure of it, the game designers are fucking with me.

Also I haven't found a single person to shoot yet. I know all my screenshots have been pretty empty of gunplay (if you've seen one shot of Max jumping sideways while firing a gun you've seen 'em all), but I assure you I've been killing dozens of enemies per level. This time though it seems that all the enemies were sent to the wrong address or something.

Hah, the flamingo follows me back and forth as I walk across the room. Cool, but I'm still not entirely convinced that mirrors are more fun than television.

Also I've been listening to this fake TV series play out in the televisions throughout the game, and I'm pretty sure that the protagonist is actually supposed to be seeing his evil identical doppelgänger, John Mirra, in this, uh, john mirror.

We've already what Max's own evil reflection looks like: floating eyeballs. Scary.

Still no enemies so far, but I ducked behind the scenes and came across some kind of store room for the funhouse props.

Can't fool me though, this is totally a Havok physics engine play room. The game came out over a year before Half-Life 2 (though five years after Jurassic Park: Trespasser), and it was around this time that developers wanted to show off their brand new physics technology. Finally objects in the level could be pushed around or fall over! Or be shot at by my wooden ball-cannon.

Oh oh, I should throw a grenade over too!

Eventually Max discovers that Mona has been using the funhouse as her lair and barges right in on her in the shower.

Uh, you're still standing there Max. Waiting for an invitation to come in or something?

I suppose he's probably just trying to figure out how the developers ended up constructing a full nude model of Mona for this one shower scene where you only ever see her back... and yet forgot to change the head to put her hair down. Anyway I could end up playing this game to the end at this rate, so I should probably quit now while these two have a chance to actually enjoy each other's company for two minutes without being shot at or murdered. Even if it is just in a flashback.


Alright, here's my final thoughts on Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. It feels very much like a direct continuation of Max Payne to me. It's prettier, a bit quieter and more introspective maybe, but it's a very similar game.

I still had to lean on quick saves a bit to make progress, but not as much as in the first game. I'm not sure exactly what's been changed (though regenerating bullet time certainly helps), but I found it easier to get the drop on enemies and my shots seemed to land on target more often. It seems fairer basically, and that definitely helped me keep my momentum up and my frustration down. I can see how this could annoy more talented players though, especially considering that the harder difficulties are locked until you've finished the game.

Storywise, I've had a better grasp on what was going on this time so far, maybe because the game doesn't set up as many characters, or maybe because Max's obsession with Mona gets more focus than the hierarchies of mob families this time around. Not that I found it a particularly enthralling tale but it's... interesting. Which is a good thing really considering how much focus it gets.

I could very happily keep on playing this, so it gets a shiny star:

Well I've said my bit, but if you've got anything you want to add then go ahead.


  1. Here's some useless trivia:
    Sam Lake's original name is Sami Järvi. Which when translated from finnish to english is literally Sam Lake.

  2. Well, Sam Lake surely looks as if he put some charming overacting to his character, which brought a lot of personality to Max Payne.

    However, the actor they got to replace him here looks the part much more.

    So.... I suppose it's a tie...?

    1. I think I read somewhere that the change of actors was supposed to be showing Max aging (besides also getting some real actors). In the first one he was a young punk of early 30s, while in the second one late 40s and in the third one a modern day Bruce WIllis.

    2. I guess we can deduce some extra useless trivia from that:
      Sam Lake doesn't age.

  3. Hey, are you gonna play Max Payne 3?

    1. I don't want to spoil any upcoming games... but yes.


Semi-Random Game Box