Max Payne 2 is one of those unforgettable titles that stay with you for the sheer brilliance of their execution. If you've never played one of the games from the series, you've missed out on a lot of the good things about gaming in general. It's Noir done right from the relatively normal entry point into the storyline, to the dark and gruesome exit wound of bad pill-induced dreams and hallucinations and the blood and the fire of memories.
The storyline: starts with Max in his apartment filled with various mementos from his long lost family, his painkillers and not much else, set in a broken up part of town. Then someone slips a note under the door. As soon as you come out of the apartment people in construction cleaners suits start shooting at you, and you have to make your way through the building to escape. On your way you'll meet various people and their little stories that add to the feeling of the game, and you'll watch some brilliantly choreographed stills on a TV screen that imitate game shows or soap operas from the era, that put you in the mood for the grand show of your own insanity. Max's life hasn't been easy. He'd lost his family to a strange sort of drug, that rules the city, and he's looking for ways to get his revenge, but mostly as the game starts out he's gonna need something more than another shootout to bring him out of his state of comatose self-pity. A message on a tape recorder, that's been wired by somebody to listen in to his conversations with himself. A woman, an old friend from the former Soviet Block.
The action: is involving to say the least. Weapons fire in complete digital impersonation of their real life equivalents, and in bullet time even the sound and fire rate is adjusted to match the sensation of time slowing down. As soon as you enter into one of the most original and perfectly executed game mechanics of the TPS world, you'll feel deeper into the game, and you'll really frantically be fighting for an inch of your life. There's a plethora of weapons in-game, and each one feels unique and individual in its strengths and weaknesses against the various enemies you meet.
The setting: is original and involving, to fit the broken up storyline, the whole world seems to be a dark nightmare that Max has been thrown into, the Hospital, the Construction Site, the Fun-Fare, the Russian's Club. You'll never see two areas that overlap in their style, nothing is re-used, nothing is put to waste. The game shines with it's tastefully done graphics, but what really brings this title forward is the level design. Nothing feels worse in a game that's otherwise well executed than Halo-esque repetitive modular levels. You won't have to worry about that with this one. It's a ride all the way through and it only goes one way - up.
The characters: will suck you up into their lives, and even though Max's story is on the front-line of the plot you'll feel for each and every one of them. Throughout the game you'll have some chances to play as Mona as she covers you with sniper-fire from the top of the Construction Yard, as you're trying to make your way out to safety. Mona's story we don't learn much about but she has a strange fascination with Max and shares some of the same enemies, which is about as much motivation as she needs to get on with the killing.
Max Payne draws parallels to some movie titles of its era, namely Leon: The Professional, if anything it's the closest a movie ever got to the feeling of the game. Leon's life is equally mysterious, although a bit less chaotic than Max's, but if you need an equivalent, that would be the one. The visual style, the atmosphere. This game will leave you wanting more, like Max's addiction, like Gary Oldman's blood lust with a spot of personal vendetta you'll lust for 'those calm moments before the storm' But don't worry. Max Payne 3 is coming out sometime this year, and for all the differences that I find a little bit worrying about the game previews, it might just be a treat.