"Short but sweet" is a good way to describe 2001's Max Payne, as well as its newly released sequel. Actually, the main difference between Max Payne 2 and its predecessor involves more of the circumstances under which the games arrived than anything existing in the games themselves. The original was victim to multiple development delays and spent years in the making, but, despite being a relatively brief experience, it was a thrilling, stylish, violent action game that was ultimately worth the wait. The sequel, on the other hand, was announced just months ago and hit store shelves on exactly the day it was supposed to. This new Max Payne, billed as "a film noir love story," was certainly worth the wait too, though this time, the wait was brief. As long as you go into it without expecting a dramatically different--or longer--gameplay experience than the original, Max Payne 2 won't disappoint. On its own merits, it's a stunning shooter that's got a bit too much plot and is over too soon, though it's still incredibly intense and, by all means, worth experiencing.
Max Payne 2 is a direct sequel to the original and picks up after the events of that game. Max, now a detective and wearier than ever of the world, once again has his hands full as he finds himself hopelessly attached to the lovely Mona Sax, a murder suspect and part of a bigger plot that ties in to Max's own dark past. There are tons of references and parallels to the original story. Fans will undoubtedly be pleased by some of the nudging and winking, though someone starting off with Max Payne 2 would probably feel rather left out, despite the presence of an optional cutscene that summarizes what happened leading up to Max Payne 2. Still, this is a surprisingly complex narrative for a game, irrespective of the genre.
The storyline unfolds in much the same fashion as the original. It uses some very slick, graphic novel-style storyboards--complete with melodramatic dialogue straight out of a pulp detective novel--and good voice-over to go with it. These graphic novel sequences are unmistakably similar to those of the first game, though they are, in some cases, even more artistic this time around. Max Payne 2 certainly isn't lacking in its presentation. Even the game's special edition DVD-style packaging is slick, and all of the game's between-level loading screens and graphic novel sequences are impressive-looking and often very cool. The plot itself features a number of twists but is rather convoluted the first go-round. Play through the game a second time (perhaps on the higher difficulty setting that's unlocked after you finish it the first time) and you'll likely get a much clearer sense of what's happening.