Max Payne resonates with gamers for a number of reasons. He’s the kind of hardboiled, tough-as-nails hero we’d all like to be– the kind of guy who can slow-motion dive into a room full of gangsters, drop them all like a sack of doorknobs, and then pop a painkiller to help soothe his blistered trigger finger. But that’s the gameplay Max Payne– the cutscene Max Payne is tormented by his family’s death and pushed to his limits by a drug-running conspiracy.
The two Max Paynes– one a balletic, death-dealing machine, and the other a vulnerable, tortured family man– are both on display in Rockstar Games’ iOS port of the 2001 third-person shooter. Max Payne Mobile represents one of those unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true App Store deals: A full PC and console game, which many people paid $50 for just a decade ago, available now as a $3 download for their smartphone.
The important thing is, someone’s going to pay for this.
The incredible story that unfolds as you play Max Payne is worth the $3 alone. It’s told through comic-book cutscenes, featuring retouched photographs of actual actors and excellent audiobook-style voice overs and sound effects. You start off the game by reliving the terrible nightmare that made Officer Payne go undercover in the mob– the night two junkies hopped up on a new synthetic drug murdered his wife and infant daughter. This scene serves as a simple tutorial, since you have to learn to move around in your own home and kill the two druggies yourself, but it’s also a psychological gut-punch that sets the tone for the rest of the game.
From there, the plot flashes forward three years, when Max steps into an even more violent and unsettling criminal conspiracy. Through subway stations, a brothel, a steel plant, and even a Viking-themed S&M nightclub called Ragna Rock, you’ll engage in an unyielding series of firefights with most of the New York mafia.
Max’s secret ability, beyond his colorful catchphrases and cliches, is that he can slow down time in limited doses. This lets him get the drop on slow-witted goons, and you can make him dive forward, backward, or to the side in slow-motion with the touch of a button. As useful as this ability is, we didn’t have to use it much on our first playthrough of the game, because your first run must be on “easy” mode and your auto-aim (if you leave it on) can be quite generous.
Backed into a corner.
In the easy “Fugitive” mode, you’ll get full health from painkillers, take hardly any damage from enemies, and be better stocked with ammo than a Texas gun show. After you beat the game, you’ll unlock New York Minute mode, where you have a limited amount of time to clear each level, and killing bad guys adds a few precious seconds. You’ll also unlock two more difficulty modes.
The default auto-aim is fairly crucial to enjoying your experience, since the controls are not nearly as precise as using a keyboard and mouse or dual-stick controller. Most of the time, controlling Max isn’t too difficult, but in the occasional balancing-beam segment, you’ll face a lot of frustration. Fortunately, some of the more obnoxious scenes can be skipped if you wish, with the only downside being that you’ll also miss some of the plot.
As much as we love Max Payne Mobile’s story, atmosphere, and gameplay, there are a few minor problems with this version of the game. Besides the finicky controls (which are workable, especially if you monkey with the options menu), you’ll have to remember to save manually, since there are no automatic checkpoints within chapters. Also, some of the enemy mobsters’ faces look very blurry compared to the rest of the visuals, and if you toggle off voice acting during the comic cutscenes, DVD-style controls will block out the bottom lines of text.
Take a dive into the tub.
Also, we experienced a surprising amount of choppiness while playing Max Payne Mobile on a brand new iPad 3. The game looks amazing on the iPad’s Retina display, but perhaps it didn’t get optimized fully at the new resolution in time for launch. We didn’t encounter the same issues playing on an iPhone 4S. Hopefully iPad 3 optimization is at the top of Rockstar’s update list– unfortunately, due to its frame rate, this isn’t the game we recommend using to show off your new iPad.
What few problems this port has– the controls, iPad 3 frame rate, and other minor flaws– aren’t enough to diminish our enjoyment of Max Payne Mobile. In fact, the story was even better than we remember it, with several surprising twists and betrayals. Max Payne Mobile is an impressive achievement on iOS, with memorable shootouts and a gripping story. Download it for when those cold nights in the uncaring city start to eat away at your very soul.