Modern Hong Kong gangster movies such as The Killer and A Better Tomorrow from filmmakers like John Woo have become famous for their high-intensity, ultraviolent gunfights, in which heroes and villains spray each other with hundreds of rounds in beautifully choreographed, insanely over-the-top sequences. These films went on to influence the popular Matrix film series from the Wachowski brothers, as well as a small Finnish developer known as Remedy Entertainment, a self-described "garage band" group whose lack of resources resulted in constant delays in the development of the highly anticipated 2001 action game Max Payne. Yet despite its delays, Max Payne surprised everyone when it was finally released with its technically impressive graphics, exceptional production values, and its innovative "bullet time" game mechanic, which let you actually slow the passage of time--a neat trick that came in handy in the game's toughest battles and mimicked the dramatic effect used in the movies that inspired the game.
Remedy Entertainment and publisher Rockstar Games are back and have announced that the sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, is not only in development, but is also scheduled for release this fall. That's right, the developer and publisher are both confident that the game will ship this year, and they attribute the sequel's shorter development cycle to having a more-experienced team of developers at Remedy, as well as having full access to Rockstar's production facilities in New York, which are home to motion-capture equipment, sound studios, and a team of producers who regularly go on location in their hometown of New York City to help provide on-location photos, artwork, textures, and other material for the upcoming game.
Like the first game, Max Payne 2 will take place in New York City, and the star of the show will still be the titular, world-weary cop Max Payne. And though Max is older, wiser, and much worse for wear, the story will unfold over the course of a retrospective that covers a recent series of events that led up to his current situation, like in the original game. Though Rockstar was not yet ready to confirm the lineup of actors who will provide voice talent for the game, the original actor who voiced Max Payne will reprise his role in the sequel. Apparently, despite the fact that in the original game Max had been framed for murder, had witnessed his family get slaughtered, and had exacted a brutal revenge on the criminals who had wronged him, he was somehow cleared of the charges brought against him and reinstated as a DEA agent--and was even considered to be a hero by the city. However, the understandably embittered Max cared nothing for those accolades and left the DEA to return to the NYPD as a regular detective. Over the course of the game's story, it will be revealed that Max will get framed once again, but he'll react much differently, considering that he's tired of fighting the system, as well as his own loneliness.
In other words, Max Payne 2 will be, as you might have heard, a love story--or as Rockstar describes it, a "film noir love story." His main love interest will be the beautiful and mysterious Mona Sax, a murder suspect who had previously had a few run-ins with the law--and with Max himself--before the events in the sequel. Remedy apparently felt that a love interest was a key element that was missing from the original game, which introduced several key characters but quickly killed most of them off in a way that was practically wasteful. The developer felt that the sequel could benefit from developing its characters further, so just about every major character that survived the original game will return in the sequel. More importantly, according to the story, Max still is easily one of the best cops ever to hit the streets of the Big Apple, but it will take a lot to bring him back on duty--and Remedy decided that a love interest would fit the bill.
Like in the original game, the story in Max Payne 2 will be told through graphic-novel-style still pictures narrated by the characters, though we were assured that these sequences, along with in-engine cinematics and actual events in the game itself, will help unfold a much tighter, more cohesive story that may even include some risqué sequences that detail how the complex relationship between Max and Mona unfolds, both emotionally and physically. Though the game won't feature any obviously graphic scenes, there may be some innuendo from time to time, at least between the game's action sequences.
And there will be plenty of action sequences in Max Payne 2. We saw a few different levels that resembled the basic mission structure of the original game, in which Max must make his way through each area by getting past crowds of gun-toting enemies. From what we've seen of the game, it seems like many, many aspects of the original game's presentation have been updated and improved for the sequel, such as the facial animation for the character models, including Max, who went through most of the original game with a single, squint-eyed facial expression. Characters will be able to crease their brows and smile, frown, and speak with animated lips. They'll also be more detailed, thanks to Remedy's implementation of the Havok physics engine, which will provide minor visual touches, such as the way Max's leather jacket flaps behind him as he runs, as well as more-obvious effects, such as ragdoll physics in some of the game's more-spectacular death sequences. Thugs that are dispatched with incendiary grenades or Molotov cocktails will burst into flame, while enemies that get caught in the blast radius of a frag grenade will be launched into the air and will land in a heap.
Even Max's old stomping grounds will look better than ever; the game will feature even more highly detailed indoor and outdoor environments. The improved graphics engine will allow for extremely detailed scenery textures for colorful graffiti spray-painted on walls as well as for run-down brick buildings papered with old movie posters. Max Payne 2 will feature an improved lighting engine that will allow for real-time shadows and realistic fluorescent light from everyone's favorite light source, the New York City bus kiosk, as well as improved reflective surfaces on vehicles, such as the pristine police van we watched get torn apart with shotgun fire. The sequel will also feature improved particle effects, which will provide more-realistic-looking flames and smoke, and better-looking weapon effects, especially for shotgun fire that sprays fiery blasts of pellets, as well as Max's favorite lightweight submachine gun, the Ingram MAC-10 (like in the first game, Max can wield one in each hand simultaneously), which spits out a continuous supply of shell casings that accumulate in small piles on the ground when Max really gets down to business.
We also watched a sequence in which Max infiltrates a run-down building and poses as hired muscle for a group of jumpsuit-wearing thugs that bore more than a passing resemblance to the gangsters in the popular Sopranos TV series. In this mission, Max joined them as they descended down a stairway into the basement, then crept out to the streets. Though Max Payne 2 will primarily be a single-character game, the sequel will have AI that's advanced enough to allow for some squad-based tactics; we watched the lead thug open the door while his two cronies stood back and secured either side of it before the group took to the streets. But while the sequel will have interesting gameplay features like these, Remedy remains committed to its primary goal of creating a compelling and cohesive single-player game, which is why Max Payne 2 will feature some interesting play modes (including the challenging New York Minute mode from the previous game) but will feature no multiplayer options whatsoever. Remedy is also very much aware of the criticism that the first game received about its length--the game could be completed by most players in about 10 hours. Yet while the game's script will be three times longer than that in the original game, the developer still wishes to focus on a game that most players will fully explore and eventually complete, so while the new game will be longer than the first, it won't be a drawn-out, 40-hour game that no one finishes.
Max Payne 2 seems very far along at this point, and both Rockstar and Remedy remain confident that the game will make its PC ship date this fall, and they will follow up with console releases for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 towards the end of this year. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on this action-packed sequel.