Friday, 1 August 2003

Archive Review: Max Payne 2

(PC review)


I'm in a serious mood today. I've got no time to play games, well I have, but not in the context of my review. I'm going to get straight to the point and sum Max Payne 2 up in one simple sentence:

"Short but sweet."

MP2 is to gamers what tipex is to a glue sniffer... a quick fix. Like the original Payne this is very enjoyable and fast gameplay. The basis to this game is a third-person shooter with the novelty of being able to slow down time and gain an advantage over the enemy via the use of this cool feature. This system is known as bullet time since it allows you to dodge bullets and fight in slow motion. MP2 incorporates this Matrix inspired system very well. Infact it does it infinetely better than even Enter The Matrix - the official game to the Matrix franchise.

Give me a gun and call me Payne. The first thing you realise when you play this game is that it is alot like the first Payne in many ways. Actually... it's the same except for two important features. They are that MP2 uses the Havoc physics engine and the Karma death animation system. Now let's first talk about Havoc. This physics system is quite simply amazing. It basically allows you to interact with virtually every object in the gaming world. An example of this could be that whilst in a gunfight you might do a slow-mo side dive and hit a series of boxes - all piled up in a typical John Woo effect. Now in Max Payne this would result in the slow-mo dive ending short due to the collision. In MP2 however the Havoc system allows for those boxes to get knocked down as Payne races through them. This is cool because it looks very cinematic which is surely a great thing. This applies with anything too. See that water dispenser? Well hit it a few times and watch as water flows out, then shoot it to watch as the liquid wets the carpet. Almost anything can be moved, and often destroyed. It's just a shame that not "everything" can be moved or destroyed in true realism. They got close though and it really does kick a$$.

Now we go to the Karma death animation system. Well I'm sure that many of you are already aware of what this is. Raven Shield uses it and it rocks. It came from Unreal 2 but was improved upon in MP2. Karma in this game is the best ever. Whenever you shoot an enemy they die in total, almost shocking, realism. Their bodies react to bullet impact in a way that simply must be seen to be understood. Ha! They don't just fall down and die you fools! They fall over tables and knock Pepsi cans off the tabletop as their legs dangle. They roll down stairs James Bond Style and even will deflect from walls with a thud before hitting the deck. Unlike other Karma based games in this one they also look like they took a round and end up on the floor in a way which resembles a dead body - not an example of high level contortionism.

After one considers these neat aspects then the realisation comes along and the player will discover that this is all that this sequel really boasts. The A.I is slightly improved but still pretty weak. They will often die from throwing grenades at you and simply being killed by their own nades due to either an appalingly bad throw or running into the explosion radius instead of seeking cover once the nade is thrown. This gets annoying but I guess street punks aren't particulary clever are they? These guys are mostly on drugs anyway... They are all crackheads or just plain dumb. This certainly merits a good excuse... not! If they fire guns as sophisticated as MP5's then hell... they should be pretty clever. This game also makes no effort to add anything that the highly popular Kung-Fu Mod for the original Max Payne added. In this respect anyone who played that mod will simply miss not being able to run up walls and lay some jabs into the baddies. You can now use guns to hit people but it is impossible to pull off - and there is no longer a base ball bat! Oh well...

Feel the Payne! Ha! Get it?

Graphically this game is stunning with an improved engine which is better than the original's in every way. Lighting, textures, it's all good. The sound was hardly a strong point in the original and although it is better in this game it's hardly anything special. The music is very good though, with a harrowingly haunting main theme which was also in the original game. One thing I was annoyed about though was the fact that this game has no diagetic music. That is, when the action kicks off the ambient music does not change to that of a fast-paced piece which gets you in the mood. I just dig it when this happens in games. It really adds to the feeling of being in some important situation and adds to the drama.

This leaves me with the low points then and unfortunately Maximus Paynuel (a sort of Greek/Biblical translation) has them. For a start the game is short, so short you could cough and violently cause the wheels on your crappy office chair to slide back as you bow down, vus making you fall down flat onto the floor infront of your PC desk, and you would actually miss the entire game. It's even shorter than the original... which was well short mate. Infact, this game is so short you could go out to the cinema and see The Matrix Revolutions, walk out within the first 10 minutes, get home and the game would be over.

This really is a shame but the game is brilliant in it's shortness. The levels are nice with one that I was so stunned by I had to replay it over and over. This was the stage in an old abandoned funhouse type place. There were no enemies here, just atmosphere. You walked through the level as if you were simply entering the ride like a paying customer. The old thrills of the place still work although the dust has set and the radio voices coming from the high speakers crackle with age. I loved this stage. You will too :)

My gripe with the levels was the last level to the game. Now I don't know about you but whenever I watch a movie or play a game based on the premise, "the good guy was screwed and wants payback," I want to see a really climatic last stage, like a big building with loads of guards or some huge F off robot - get me? Well in Max Payne 2 the last level is a kinda anti-climax, a little like The Matrix Revolutions actually. I won't give any more away though.

Summed up this is a great game yet short. This is a cool game yet hardly a game of depth. It's fun yet will soon become dull. I think that this is really good game and really fun to play but just a little too linear and a little too short to be seen as anything more than a" pretty good" game.



Havoc! Karma! Sounds like some dodgy Satanic club members list.


WTF! Was that it? Pretty bad A.I, Personally I thought the story was overly complex.


If only it were a little longer, then it would have hit the high 9's

(Important Side note: The Matrix Revolutions is absolutely rubbish)

Archive Review: Hidden & Dangerous 2

(PC Review)

I knew a simple soldier boy...

Before I get cracking I want to make a confession. Normally when one reviews a game they have given it alot of time and therefore thoroughly explored the title before actually putting pen to paper. I, on the other hand, have not played HD2 to a level that merits my experience with it as "thorough". Normally this would be a crime against the game, to not give it a chance before concluding on it. But in the case of this world war 2 inspired gem I am confident that my review will be accurate even though I have yet to see most of the games levels and fully explore the world of multiplayer.

First of this game is a first person shooter set during World War 2. You control a squad of four SAS guys who work as a team to achieve varied objectives. Of course, you can opt to play solo too and forget any of that "team management" crap if you so desire. I was a big fan of the old classic Hidden and Dangerous which was as buggy as it was addictive and revolutionary in the way you controlled a team and played in a true non-linear way. HD2 is very much like the original except for the fact it is heavily improved upon, brings many welcome new features, and has really top notch graphics. But, as we shall discover, this "5 year in the making" creation is unfortunately not perfect and does have some issues.

First of (didn't I already say that above?) comes the basics. Once installed this game hits you with two things: 1) A neat and simple menu interface. 2) A truly brilliant orchestral score. Great music is always a sign of a great game after all. (Gamings famous last words no. 64.) Interestingly this game actually uses the cursor keys (up,down,left,right arrows) as the default control setup. This was changed in the games first patch due to the "flaming" fanboys on the forums demanding the devs did the hard work and configured their precious "WASD" system for them since it was apparently a con to have to do it yourself? Anyway... I didn't mind since I use this cursor system myself anyway.

The training level was fun and really showed a level of quality in the design. Most fps games now have some form of training level. Sometimes it is good, other times it is stupid and just leaves you asking "why?" Raven Shield, bless it, had a very silly training level. You shot and killed people in the training stage who were apparently "captured terrorists living in the Hereford training camp, England, for your disposal." This was at least my only explanation to it anyway. Maybe the American Government should consider this a use for Camp X-ray? So anyway, the training was fun and original. Do I need explain it though? Obstacle courses, shooting range, car driving... get me?

Time to play the damn game! I formed my four man team from a list of potential characters to select from and kitted them out. To begin you only get a small amount of weapons since most have to be captured in the field before you can use them. Although this adds to the management system of the game I personally prefer Raven Shield's system. Why would the powers that be make it this tough for the SAS when on important missions? "Ok boys go kill that General and blow up all the power grids and escape in that old truck. One thing... Don't think we are going to be supplying you people with rockets and top class weaponry! No, you need to find all that yourself in the field." Hmm.

Of course there is a simple solution to that, called bringing down the console and typing the cheat to get all the guns. Not that I done that myself though, obviously. The levels in HD2 are varied and consist of the Snow covered lands of Norway to the dense jungles of Burma. The jungle missions are really good. I really cannot emphasise how good these are in multiplayer mode too. You also have your standard European fields of war with burnt out buildings and snipers on the rooftops. You also get Africa thrown in too but I have a thing about Deserts... too boring. Overall the game boasts around 40 weapons and all sorts of gadgets and costumes. So don't be worrying about a small inventory.

When playing you can play in the fps style view (gun on screen with crosshair) or a third person view. Unlike the original this view is playable and you can experiment with the two styles with ease although multiplayer only lets you use the fps view (thank God). A neat feature of this game is the way you can either use the x crosshair to aim or actually bring up the weapons iron sights to achieve greater accuracy and a more realistic feel. I'm a sucker for iron sights in games nowadays and HD2 does it really well indeed.

You killed his friends, he gives up accordingly.

Meat and bones time then. The levels are well designed and varied and there are enough of them to keep most satisfied. Now comes the difficulty of the game and let me tell you now that this game is uber tough. It is very damn hard and this can sometimes evoke anger. Some levels glide like a gliding streamline sort of thing, others require serious devotion. But you get there in the end. The actual A.I in this game is very impressive. Enemies will actually do all sorts of things. If, for example, you attack a base front on the enemy won't just seem to fight on a individual level. In other words, unlike most games where each A.I enemy will fight like he don't care about the big picture, in this one they seem to link up as a team and fight you as an actual force. Alarms are sounded and enemy units will snipe, charge at you, create defensive positions and seek cover. They will throw grenades and even give up when they think hope is lost. All I will say about the later is that they tend to give up alot but then again only in realistic ways and apparently the tougher the enemy you face, from tired sentry guard to elite SS geezer, the less the chance of a surrender anyway.

Each enemy uses different tactics and equipment. The Germans tend to snipe alot and the Italians seem to enjoy getting killed without much hassle (obviously a sneaky political comment). Now the Japanese are very tough. In the jungles of Burma they know how to hunt you down and flair the ambush. Be warned. The A.I is not perfect though, they often will ignore the fact a buddy just took a headshot and will resume a guard posture without flinching. But one time they will do this, another they will go wild and run off etc. It's quite a random fault. Their accurate shots but not Godlike so it really is the best of both worlds.

Many have really criticised the games friendly A.I. But the latest patches have really improved the initial bugs. They seemed to often ignore waypoints and just stand still. They also seemed to just plain die alot. Alot of this is simply down to bad leadership on the player part. I simply cut out the hassle entirely and play the game solo. But's that's just me... The interface to lead your team though is neat and although tough to pick up it becomes like second nature once explored. You get a map and can even view it in real time. This makes the game feel like an rts. Hell it's a third person/fps/rts shooter.

And to conclude I shall mention multiplayer. I have not explored this enough yet to really be able to sum it up (I'm just too obsessed with Raven Shield Co-op mode right now) but from my impressions it is good. The amount of servers is growing now word is out that the game is actually good and modes include deathmatch (pants), team deathmatch (fun), objective where one team has to achieve something and the other must prevent it, and the best mode, which is quite alot like the Day of Defeat system of land capturing. Both teams start on either end of a large, very large, map and must capture the points on the map. First team to take them all, or the one with the most when the time is up, wins. What really makes HD2 online is the maps. They are so well designed and just amazing to play online. Their big and shiny. You can also get anything up to 32 players in a room and when the numbers are this high it gets really cool. There are some lag issues but patches are constantly improving the net code.

Graphically the game is good but not quite next-gen. The sound is superb however with loud 'n' proud gun sound effects which are all easily the most authentic and superior recordings of the era's guns to date. It also has blood! Pools of the red stuff build up under corpses and stain the walls and bullet impact marks even appear on the bodies Soldier of Fortune 2 style. If you are up for the challenge and are happy to put the effort in give this game a go and I'll see you in the jungles.



Good A.I, good graphics and sound, hard, fun online, patches that fix!


Hard? A.I has some issues, maybe a tad awkward when moving indoors.


A very solid game, but high ambition always brings new issues, patch me baby!

by The Critical Alien
© 2003