Originally released on PC, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox about a decade ago, Max Payne is the story of a fugitive undercover cop framed for killing a police officer during a particularly harsh New York winter. Back in the day Max Payne achieved both critical and financial success, with particular praise for its stylish narrative, and it has now been made available on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
This is the second Rockstar Games title to be updated and converted to Apple devices (and soon Android phones). Much like their other release, Grand Theft Auto 3, this is a faithful port that brings over everything that was great about the original game, as well as the major flaws.
The gameplay experience of Max Payne is heavily influence by Asian cinema, particularly the work of John Woo, using slow motion “bullet time” that allows you to dive across the screen and fill enemies with lead before they can even react. Likewise killing the final enemy in a group activates a dramatic slow motion camera that spins around your opponent, allowing you to revel in the havoc you have created.
Your health can be replenished by consuming pain pills, which is achieved by double tapping your health bar. Similarly refilling ammo is as easy as double tapping the ammo counter. As you defeat enemies you can collect their weapons, ranging from dual wielded pistols and shotguns to grenades and Molotov cocktails. Weapons have a very loose auto-aim feature allowing you to hit your target so long as you’re roughly pointing in the right direction.
As far as the controls go they’re very faithful to the original release and are actually quite good for a game that only uses touch controls. Moving Max is mapped to the left hand side of the screen, while aiming is handled by touching the right hand side of the screen. There are small on-screen buttons that handle jumping, shooting, and activating bullet time, with all being easily reachable and very responsive even on the iPhone / iPod Touch’s smaller screen.
However, as strong as the touch controls are, navigating the world can be challenging at times. This isn’t exactly a new problem to this version of Max Payne; the controls in the console and PC versions of the game also left a lot to be desired, as Max’s movements are fairly broad and imprecise. This isn’t a problem for the majority of the game, however when you’re tasked with navigating tight pathways it can become very frustrating.
For example at certain points in the game Max must navigate his way through a dark nightmare world, following a thin trail of blood. Should you venture off the path you will fall to your death. This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the path is so narrow – I lost count of the number of times I had misplaced one step and fallen to my death during these nightmare segments. It was almost enough to make me quit playing the game back when it was originally released, and the problem is magnified by the touch controls.
It is fortunate then that you are given the option to skip any section of the game should you die too frequently. While I appreciate being given the option to avoid the flawed bits, I would have preferred that they took the time to fix the problems with the game, rather than just giving us the option to gloss over them.
Still, this annoyance is offset by Max Payne’s greatest feature: its narrative. Max Payne is a pulp story told through fumetti comic book (photos of real people rather than drawings) cut scenes. My personal favourite part is Max’s fantastic Frank Miller-esque narration. As you wander through the game world Max’s narration not only serves as a way of furthering the plot, but also acts as a handy hint system.
A lot of care an attention has gone in to crafting Max’s dialogue with gems like “It was colder than the devil’s heart, raining ice pitchforks as if the heavens were ready to fall” cropping up every few minutes.
As an added bonus Max Payne also allows you to sign in to the Rockstar Social Club, letting you track your stats and compare them to the community’s overall performance. It doesn’t actually offer you that much extra, but it is a welcome addition nonetheless. What Max Payne lacks in substance it more than makes up for in style and, considering the low price, you could find far worse games to spend your £1.99 on.
Graphics: 3/5 – Overall Max Payne is very solid graphically, although characters’ faces look a bit flat and their bodies have squared off edges.
Sound: 4/5 – A great theme tune is matched by some enthusiastic voice acting. Sure, some of the voice acting is a bit wonky, but the overall sound design is very strong.
Gameplay: 3/5 – For the most part the game is a lot of fun. Diving in slow motion across a room and filling a punk with lead never gets boring. However the game’s clunky controls bring the overall experience down into the gutter when finer movements are required.
Longevity: 2/5 – Consisting of three main acts, with about 20 chapters in total, it’s not exactly the world’s longest game, and once you’ve completed it there isn’t much incentive to play through it again. Beating the game once unlocks new additional difficulties that offer more of a challenge.
Overall: 3 out of 5
While Max Payne has its flaws, chief among them the imprecise controls, I would find it hard not to recommend the game considering its low price. Even now, a decade later, there aren’t many games out there that offer as much of a profoundly pulp experience as Max Payne.