"As surely as a bullet rips through a victim's flesh ... it shatters the image of the man who pulls the trigger." Not bad, right? It could pass for Raymond Chandler, but that's actually a line from Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (for PC, Xbox and PlayStation 2; $49.99), a literate, atmospheric video game about a good cop with very bad luck who gets tangled up with a bloody underworld gang war and a really good-looking lady assassin. The mood is pure noir: rain-splashed puddles, black overcoats and soulful cello solos. But it's not all artsy stuff. Max goes after his foes with a satisfying arsenal of chunky, high-caliber handguns, and when the fighting gets thick he busts out some stunning Matrix-style bullet-time moves. You won't read a better video game this year.
--By Lev Grossman