Max Payne 2 managed to stir up quite a bit of attention when it was released on the PC. It featured spot-on controls and some truly excellent photorealistic environment and facial texture mapping that gave the game a truly polished look. Then the Xbox port was released and fans of that system were happy to discover that the visual splendor from the PC version was entirely intact. But PS2 owners will be in for a rude awakening if they’re expecting the same level of graphical compensation. While the controls and content are essentially identical, the overall quality of presentation has suffered greatly in the transition from standard PC equipment to highly proprietary PS2 hardware. There are also some technical glitches and other annoyances that plague the PS2 version, which should make choosing between a platform to play the game on an obvious choice. Of course, if you only own a PS2 then Max Payne 2 is definitely worth checking out, if only for the intense firefights and genuinely intriguing storyline.
If you liked the noir style cut scenes that served to bookend the first game’s levels (and you really should) then you’ll be glad to know that they make a return here. There is also a quick illustrated prelude to the events of the sequel, chronicling what happened in the last game. The story is pushed forward via in-game comic panels complete with voiceovers and sound effects. While you may not think the plot in Max Payne 2 could be as intense or interesting as the original, since the first game was about Max taking bloody revenge for the wrongful death of his wife and kids, think again. A new love interest is in Max’s life but it turns out that she is also the prime suspect in his current investigation. The twists and turns that the story takes using this formula as its basis is even more memorable than that of the original.
The fundamental essence of Max Payne 2 has been carried over to the PS2 port, which means players can expect tons of shooting and plenty of intense firefights. The control scheme is nearly identical to that of the last Max Payne and it works like a well-oiled machine. A few improvements have been made, however. The most notable of which is a new secondary attack. Now you can map high-power explosives to a single button, allowing Max to lob Molotov cocktails or whatever else at the opposition while simultaneously firing his main weapon. There is also a new pistol whip move that works with every weapon. But as cool as it would have been to knock faceless thugs over the face with the blunt side of a weapon instead of wasting ammunition on them, the pistol whip move is actually pretty much useless.
Just as in the first game, Max Payne 2’s coolest gameplay feature is its use of bullet-time. It works pretty much the same as it did in the original, although this time around it is considerably more useful. Performing a shoot-dodge, in which Max jumps in any direction while blasting scads of firepower at the enemy Chow Yung Fat style, is even more intense than it was before. Instead of jumping, hitting the ground, and automatically getting back up to his feet, Max will continue sliding on the floor, extending the length of the bullet-time effect, and giving you more time to target the baddies. Initiating bullet-time while on your feet is usually the best route to go, though, since instead of just slowing down time, it slows down the enemies while allowing you to move around at normal speed. Simply walking into a room full of enemies and kicking it into bullet-time is a surprisingly useful tactic in Max Payne 2. Plus, it just looks so sweet to nonchalantly waltz into enemy territory, cap everyone in the vicinity, and effortlessly dodge their slow-moving bullets.
While plenty of criticisms were lobbed at the first game for its kitsch and over-the-top melodramatic tendencies, many also speculated that the developers did it intentionally. Well, everyone can stop wondering because Max Payne 2 has no trouble laughing at itself. There are even more self-satirical gags and tasteless references than the original game. Some of the most humorous anecdotes come from the various television sets that you’ll occasionally come across in some environments, which broadcast shows like Dick Justice, Lords and Ladies, and Baseball Bat Boy. There are also a few really hilarious conversations between in-game characters that transpire. One in particular involves a woman who is afraid her boyfriend will kill her because he’s played too many videogames.
Visually, Max Payne 2 on the PS2 is (there’s really no nice way to say it) ugly. And I mean dog ass, have to drink 10 beers for it to look good, ugly. The texture quality across the board, which was stunning on the PC and Xbox versions, is blurry, muddy, and every other unattractive adjective you can think of. The framerate has a tendency to stutter, sometimes inexplicably. But it does retain an impressive physics system using the Havok engine to make nearly every object or item in the game react realistically to Max’s movements and rampant gunfire. And the bullet-time effects manage to look pretty damn cool despite the lackluster character models and shoddy texture quality. But the overall graphical presentation is just profoundly lacking on the PS2 version, to the point where it actually hampers the enjoyment of the game. Unloading countless shells in just as many enemies simply isn’t as fun when the visuals look this bad.
Luckily, the soundtrack made the jump to the PS2 unscathed. Max Payne 2 features some truly awesome music, especially the cello-heavy theme song. It’s a shame that there is so little music during the actual in-game action, although the aural ambiance is quite impressive even with minimal musical accompaniment. The voice acting is great; every line is delivered with believable tone and inflection. If you’ve got an adequate sound system then you’ll definitely want to fire it up to play Max Payne 2.
If you’re not one to get hung up on looks then Max Payne 2 on the PS2 is certainly worth renting. But it’s hard to recommend this port with a straight face due to its severely makeshift presentation. Nevertheless, it is a fun game thanks to the satisfying gameplay and excellent story. If all you’ve got is a PS2, then consider this your consolation prize.