Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne Updated Impressions
We now return to Officer Max Payne's regularly scheduled duty, already in progress. Exclusive details and media inside.
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We recently had the opportunity to have another visit with the older, wiser Max Payne, who, if you remember, was the star of Remedy Entertainment's 2001 third-person action game of the same name. In that game, Max took on the role of a one-man army in a quest to avenge the murder of his family, and he mowed through armies of mobsters and thugs, armed both with a huge arsenal of modern-day firearms and with bullet time, a dramatic special effect inspired by Hong Kong action movies that let Max briefly slow time and actually dodge oncoming bullets. Max was finally apprehended by the police, but not before he finished off the last of the thugs who had wronged him. The weary cop was ready for a death sentence of his own, but at the beginning of the sequel, we find that he is instead exonerated with the help of the very influential Alfred Woden, who makes Max seem like a hero in the public eye. In true film-noir fashion, Max is haunted by demons of the past and abandons his highfalutin job at the DEA in favor of a regular NYPD beat.
We caught up with Max on what seemed to be a routine distress call--the sound of a woman screaming for help in a warehouse. As Max pulled up in his patrol car in an in-engine cinematic sequence, he heard shots fired and called for backup on his police radio, then readied his gun. Before heading in with Max, we took a brief stroll around the perimeter of the building, which was lit at each corner with floodlights that generated diffuse, dynamic radiosity lighting (rather than the preset shadow-mapping that Remedy had used in the original game). We also passed through an alley with a crate-loaded freight pallet that was precariously balanced on an oil drum. Tossing a Molotov cocktail at the pile of junk launched the oil drum into the air, while the pallet slid from the ledge and crates tumbled realistically to the ground--a result of Remedy's integration of the Havok physics engine into the sequel.
Max then busted into the warehouse, only to find that the source of the screaming, and the gunshots, was nothing more than a TV on a table with the volume turned all the way up to one of the game's new TV programs. The original game featured an in-game comic book, Bat Boy, that Max would occasionally find issues of in his travels. The sequel features similar "running gags," like the TV drama Dick Justice, a cheesy 1970s blaxploitation cop show about a police officer whose family was also murdered and who also has an all-too-familiar penchant for melodramatic soliloquy. As a Rockstar representative explained, this TV show, and other tongue-in-cheek references in the game, is just Remedy's way of poking fun at itself. For some reason, Max himself seemed less than amused.
Max then apprehended a member of the warehouse's cleaning staff, who happened to wander in at just that moment. After frisking and interrogating the man, Max demanded a tour of the rest of the warehouse, to which the suspiciously cheerful janitor assented. While keeping the seemingly harmless man covered, Max was free to explore the confines of the warehouse's ground floor, nudging some of the larger boxes as he ran past. When the janitor turned the corner and opened the door to the foyer, it was revealed that he and his fellow cleaning staff were actually illegal gunrunners who immediately attacked Max, both by leaping from the shadows with guns blazing and, in some cases, by trying to flatten him by driving straight at him with a forklift. Max then entered another room to see another forklift driver plow right into a huge metal shelf covered with boxes--the collision caused the forklift and its driver to burst into flames, and it also sent the shelf and its contents crashing down toward Max.
A Bunch of Stuff Flying Around
We then jumped from that particular warehouse in Max Payne 2 to a completely different warehouse to get a better look at the game's implementation of Havok physics. Developer Remedy Entertainment had apparently decided to use Havok only to create rag-doll death animations for Max's enemies, but once they saw what the engine could do, they removed all of their existing engine's physics calculations and replaced every last bit of it with Havok. We watched a showdown between Max and a single thug atop a tall, industrial scaffold, which was replayed a few times using different weapons to show that no two death animations will be the same. For instance, we watched the thug get blasted with a pair of grenades, the first of which sent him hurtling through the air--and the second kept his corpse pressed against it before it slid down to the ground. We then watched the game's souped-up MP5 automatic weapon actually launch the same thug's body up in the air briefly, then pin his corpse to the wall with successive fire.
After this demonstration, we moved to an isolated test area full of boxes, chairs, and other items to see even more examples of how Havok physics will work in the game. We watched as Max used gunfire to knock a series of picture frames off the wall, which caused them to either slip downward or tumble end-over-end to the ground. We also watched Max use his new heavy-duty street-sweeping weapon, the Striker, to blast a thug into a pile of cardboard boxes, which fell realistically to the ground atop the body. As a Rockstar representative explained, the new physics not only look good, but also provide a new sense of tension, especially when Max is trying to take cover from incoming fire--the pile of boxes he ducks behind could get knocked apart at any second. Finally, we watched a grenade explosion, and its resulting shock wave, knock over a nearby ladder and send piles of tires flying and bouncing through the room. As the Rockstar representative explained, these physics features will come into play in the game's most intense gunfights. Bullets won't be the only things that are flying around--boxes, ladders, tires, barrels, and even bodies will fly.
Finally, we moved on to a rescue mission at the Ragnarock club, the former home of the vicious crime lord Max had hunted in the previous game. In the sequel, the club is bought out by Vladimir Lem, the leader of the local Russian mafia, who seems rather fond of Max, even though the two are on opposite sides of the law. It seems that Lem is trying to turn the club into a respectable establishment (and has chosen the appropriately classy name "Vodka" for it), but he's being held hostage in his own establishment by a bunch of insane, gun-toting thugs. As Max entered through the back door, he heard Lem finishing up a phone conversation with a mysterious woman over the intercom, then demanded to know Lem's location. Over the course of the next few areas, Lem shouted a few words of useless encouragement as Max went berserk, tearing through his enemies with dual Ingram MAC-10 submachine guns and juggling a few unlucky thugs in the air with the MP5 for good measure.
Since the club is still under construction, it was full of scaffolds, piles of lumber, and white sheets tossed over furniture, and the architecture seemed to provide not only good cover, but also good opportunities for Max to swing around corners or jump down from heights in bullet time to blast his enemies. In this area, we got our first demonstration of Max Payne 2's "bullet time 2.0," an improved version of the ability, which turns Max's bullet time meter yellow and actually lets him move at an almost normal speed, while his enemies are still stuck in slow motion. According to a Rockstar representative, bullet time 2.0 represents Max being "completely in the zone," and as such, it's available only rarely, and it can't be replenished normally just by waiting, like standard bullet time. Between the different architecture (which lets you duck for cover, then come out swinging), different weapons, and different kinds of bullet time, Max Payne 2 should very likely provide hardcore fans plenty of opportunity to stage their own dramatic, slow-motion fights as they play through the game multiple times.
Over the course of this mission, we also encountered Mike the Cowboy, a nonchalant Russian Mafioso equipped with an AK-47, a thick Russian accent, and a cowboy hat. Mike was introduced by a brief, movielike title that appeared next to him onscreen in floating text before he stood up and introduced himself. Even though Max fights most of his battles alone in the sequel, he occasionally joins computer-controlled characters like Mike on cooperative missions, though if Max doesn't watch where he's shooting, he may turn Mike and his other buddies against him.
Max Payne 2: the Fall of Max Payne seems to be coming together well, and publisher Rockstar has confirmed that the game is on schedule for its projected release date of October 15.