Max Payne 2 was amongst the very first shooters I played in my discovery that not all games were point and click. (new to gaming and well before my Steam days) It had been a couple of years since I played it, but I was impressed enough with that game to purchase this first one when it became available for download.
Max Payne receives high praise from both critics and users alike. It's a very dark story about a cop whose wife and baby are murdered supposedly by junkies high on a drug called Valkyr. At the same time, his boss is also murdered. Totally devastated by this double tragedy, Max transfers to the Drug Enforcement Agency and a few years pass with him infiltrating the mob families and exacting revenge on the crime syndicates who traffic in this drug. One day he receives a message to meet up with his best friend who is also an agent, but when Max arrives for this meeting in the subway, there's a bank robbery in progress next door. The perpetrators have broken through the walls into the underground corridors and as Max helplessly looks on through locked gates, an unseen assassin kills his friend. Max quickly becomes the main suspect in this murder. In addition, his cover has been blown with the crime family Punchinello. With both the cops and the Mafia out for blood, Max sets about to discover who has set him up for a fall.
His journey takes him through the grittiest parts of New York, which is experiencing its worst blizzard in recent history. This often aids Max in eluding the police who are stretched thin coping with the storm. The story is played out like a mini novel and the cut scenes are often presented in a comic book format. Max's thoughts are cynical, dark and intense. He's seen too much death and pain, not the least his own. At times, during his investigation, his enemies force him to take Valkyr, which precipitates nightmarish hallucinations about his family and adds a surrealistic quality to the experience. The story is never static as it takes you through twists and turns in the plot. Although Max's inner thoughts are bleak, portraying a man who has nothing to live for, he does everything to survive.
Max has many factions to deal with, the cops, the crime family and the Russian mobster Vladimir who is engaged in a territory war with the Punchinello family. There is also a female contract assassin named Mona who adds a nice twist to the plot. Whether their relationship is one of friend or foe is always in question. In the course of his investigations he will also eventually learn why his family was killed and the identity of the person behind it.
The compliment of weapons begins with a standard issue 9mm Beretta with pickups including a dessert eagle, shotguns, sub-machine guns, a scoped rifle and a grenade launcher. There is also bullet time in this game (slow motion) and Max Payne sets the standard for this feature as it truly gives him an advantage, is used heavily, and is well executed. Another very nice feature is the camera angle which enables you to see around corners to a certain extent. This enables you to plan some sort of strategy before rushing to your death.
An interesting little detail is the ability to tune into radios and tvs for the latest in what's happening around the city. It doesn't play a big role, but there is a couple of references on the tv to a soap opera called My Lord and My Lady. In Max Payne 2 this is humourously played to the hilt and you will get a lot more soap.
Much of the game environments are sparse and fairly gray to fit the dark mood so there's not a lot of extraneous eye candy, but conversely there are areas that are highly detailed and the graphic design of this game received high praise. The story is rich and the play quite hard and you will likely get killed often enough as the AI enemies are more difficult to kill than Max is to be killed. After you complete the "Dead on Arrival" mode, other modes become available.
This game won many awards in its day and even without gameplay, Max Payne would stand alone as a novel. Max Payne 2 continues the story, but adds a new love interest.
Fans are eagerly awaiting the release of Max Payne 3. Let's hope they have maintained the quality of its predecessors and haven't dumbed it down too much. However, that remains to be seen as it has a different writer and developer than the first two. Sigh!