We recently had the opportunity to play through some parts of the final version of Max Payne 2. The recently completed third-person action sequel seems at least as gritty and violent as the original game. It stars an older, wiser Max Payne who starts his story from the end, just as in the original game. And like the original game, the sequel has additional gameplay modes that are unlocked after you complete the story-based "detective" mode, including the "New York minute" mode from the original game and a new mode called "dead men walking."
As you may have seen from previously released screenshots, Max begins the game in terrible shape. He wakes up in a hospital after apparently taking a bullet to the head and suffering severe shock trauma. As usual, Max isn't content taking his condition lying down, since he is, once again, troubled by his own personal demons, the worst of which includes the apparent guilt associated with the death of his former partner, a female detective who lies in the morgue. As the severely injured Max staggers through the halls of the hospital, he's continually assaulted by memories and hears voices in his head, until he takes the elevator to the ground floor and is accosted by Commissioner Bravura, who accuses Max of the crime. Max attempts to plead his case to Bravura, but he's cut short by rapid fire from an assault rifle-wielding thug who fills Bravura full of holes and nearly does Max in before he can dive back into the elevator. However, a stray bullet causes the elevator to go up in flames and sends Max hurtling down to the bottom of the shaft.
The next level features the first of Max's retrospective flashbacks (and it's a level we've reported on previously). This level involves Max investigating the sounds of gunfire and screaming at an abandoned warehouse. Max infiltrates the back of the building only to find that the ruckus was caused by a TV with the volume turned all the way up. He then apprehends a member of the cleaning staff and finds out that this not-so-innocent civilian is part of an arms-dealing ring. This sets up Max's first shoot-out, which requires him to shoot down his enemies from behind piles of crates, barrels, and pallets. At least he's able to liberate a shotgun from a nearby storage room to help him. He then pursues the last of the fleeing thugs to the second floor, and the game cuts to a brief in-engine cinematic that introduces Mona Sax, Max's love interest, as she steps out of the elevator and coolly places a bullet in the skull of each of the remaining thugs.
Max's next mission is also one we've reported on previously. In it, Max must bail out Vladimir Lem, an amiable "former" criminal kingpin from the Russian mafia. Lem is trapped in his half-finished nightclub, and he's in the process of being pinned down by gunfire from an arrogant young gunrunner and his gang. In this level, Max is hard-pressed for cover, especially since several thugs are perched at various heights in some rooms. As such, Max's best bet seems to be to break down doors and turn corners while already in bullet time. In this level, Max also meets Mike the Cowboy, one of Lem's lackeys, who joins him and fights by his side. Mike seems especially aggressive, and, thanks to his trusty AK-47, he can actually clear entire rooms of thugs, if he's given a head start. Unfortunately, not even Mike can withstand a direct hit from a Molotov cocktail.
We also played a few rounds of "dead men walking," which is a challenging mode that places Max in a single level where enemies and painkiller pills continuously spawn. The level we played took place in a back alley, opposite a few parked cars and piles of junk (junk that included half-empty gasoline tanks). The trick to completing this mode seems to be having some idea of where your enemies will first begin spawning in and tossing grenades and Molotov cocktails from a distance, where possible. If you hang back too far, however, they do come running.
Max Payne 2's general control scheme seems similar to that of the original game. By default, you use the WASD keys to move, the tab key to use painkillers, and the left-shift key to enter bullet time. In the new game, you can also use the right mouse button to enter bullet time 2.0, which causes Max's surroundings to become slightly washed out as he outruns and outpaces his enemies. By default, you also press the F key to use secondary weapons like grenades and Molotov cocktails. Interestingly, Max Payne 2 has a handy new addition to bullet time. Tapping the shift key while "shootdodging" causes Max to dive in slow-motion--as normal--but holding down the shift key causes Max to land on the ground and lie prone (at least until you let up on bullet time or run out of ammo).
Max Payne 2 seems at least as fast-paced as the original, and it even appears more challenging. The levels we've played through seem to provide sparse cover; just enough to hide behind, for an instant, when you're in serious trouble. However, it seems far better to use cover just to quickly reload, then leap out in bullet time and shoot down enemies. While we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to play through the final version of the game, everyone else will get to play it soon enough. Max Payne 2 is scheduled for release just days away, on October 15.