Payne makes violent return

Challenge: The criminal-killing hero is back in a strong mix of strategy and combat for adults.

Game review

December 04, 2003|By Victor Godinez | Victor Godinez,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

When last we left our friend Max Payne, he had obliterated a good chunk of the drug-infested underworld of New York, avenged his wife's murder and been hauled away to prison.

Just in time for the holidays comes Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, boasting more guns and a higher body count.

It's a fine game, with superb action sequences and a healthy respect for the player's intelligence.

The Rockstar Games title is gritty and violent with adult themes. Parents, do not buy this game for your kids. Buy it for yourselves.

The PC version - the one I tested - is out, as are PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions (all $49; rated for ages 17 and older).

The game will look, feel and sound familiar to Payne aficionados. But it has been painted with better graphics, given a revamped physics engine and integrated with a love story subplot that is ambitious and obnoxious.

The plot is told in the same comic book-strip style of the first game, with deadpan voice narration slowly unveiling the sticky web of conspiracy surrounding our hero.

The plot twists like a pretzel, but the core problem is this: Lots of people want to kill you. You have to kill them first.

You start off with a pistol and graduate to shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles and explosives.

You have to fight your way through a variety of settings, all of them set in a dark, rainy New York nightscape.

In one level, you're navigating through a half-built warehouse, with scaffolding, crates and lumber blocking your path. The shootouts are fierce, with multiple foes assaulting you at once, tossing grenades, dodging for cover and circling behind you for an ambush.

This is where your Matrix-style slow-motion ability comes in handy.

Although this also slows your running and jumping, you can aim at almost full speed, allowing you to handle a roomful of thugs at once.

At the end of the level, though, you switch from controlling Max to controlling his love interest, Mona.

As Mona, you have to use your sniper rifle to pick off bad guys in the courtyard while computer-controlled Max scampers for cover. It's a neat gimmick.

Another plus in Max Payne 2 is the new physics engine, which controls the way bodies and objects move.

For instance, if you brush a barrel as you run, it will rock back and forth and fall in the proper direction. If you shoot an opponent off the top of a building, he'll fly over the edge, spinning toward the ground and landing in crumpled heap. You'll spend a lot of time detonating barrels and chairs just to watch the pieces ricochet off the walls.

In short, it's a brilliant game, with a perfect mix of strategy and white-knuckle combat.

But some gamers will stumble over the love story, which I think gets in the way, especially because you don't have any say in how the relationship unfolds. Compare this to the great Xbox role-playing game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, in which you can respond to other characters' advances or rejections with cold logic or rash emotion.

Still, for an adult audience mature enough to deal with the bloodshed, harsh language and mature content, Max Payne 2 is a worthy stocking stuffer.

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