Max Payne Mobile: Story Driven Shoot-Em-Up

Max Payne Mobile on the iPhone (universal iOS) is a third-person shooter set in a gritty, modern-noir New York criminal underworld. Originally released in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment, it has found its way to iOS, just on the cusp of the release of Max Payne 3.

In the game you take on the titular role of Max Payne, an undercover DEA agent who becomes the main suspect in his friend’s murder, and proceeds to go rogue in order to hunt down the guilty parties. His plan? To rain mad bullets down in an unending torrent of lead that leaves no one left standing. Get gunning after the break.

Overview

I have not generally been a big fan of shooters on iOS. The touch interface is hard to adjust to after years of mousing about, and I have been more impressed with the swiper’s (Infinity Blade, EPOCH.) ability to bring the action. But I felt Max had some special potential, as back in the day I knew it for two things: its novel Bullet Time game play and its effective, gritty storytelling.

The themes are adult, violent, harsh and certainly not for everybody. A lot of blood is spilled, literally, before it is all over.

The themes are adult, violent, harsh and certainly not for everybody. A lot of blood is spilled, literally, before it is all over.

Other than implementing a touch control system, Rockstar doesn’t seem to have changed a thing about this game from what I recall. The story is still just as good and well told through the beautifully painted cut scenes and well acted character voices. The gunplay, specifically Bullet Time (though it takes some getting used to), is an interesting twist to the normally frantic pace of shooters.

Controls

Make no mistake, the controls are tricky, but Rockstar seems to have anticipated this challenge and included a number of game-easing features. Auto aim and soft aim specifically are two settings that, when combined, can span the range from “shoot anywhere and hit” to “you will never hit anything like that.” Finding the sweet spot is difficult, so I ended up erring on the side of easy.

Amongst the many settings is the option to move the interface buttons to anywhere you want.

Amongst the many settings is the option to move the interface buttons to anywhere you want.

In order get used to the game I had to find a position to keep the phone in so I could get enough fingers going at once. That done, I was able to find a rhythm and the game wasn’t as hard to play as I first took it to be. Certainly Bullet Time is a major factor in this, but it was just a matter of being open to learning something new.

Bullet Time

Remember in The Matrix how things would slow down and you could see the bullet trails whizz by? Well that’s exactly what Bullet Time does in Max Payne. Triggering it puts everything into slow-mo — except for your ability to aim and shoot — which gives you a major advantage over the numerous rooms full of thugs you find yourself barging in on.

Bullet Time is a skill in itself, but once learned will make you a serious gunfighter.

Bullet Time is a skill in itself, but once learned will make you a serious gunfighter.

Apart from the occasional stealthy move or jumping agility test, the vast bulk of the game is all about the shootouts. From scene to scene you cut your path through a jungle of gangsters, each new encounter a chance to go leaping through the air, your heart pounding in your ears, dual Berettas (or otherwise) blazing.

Performance & Quality

For a game more than 10 years old, it’s still looking pretty good. The graphics have a noticeable low-res feel to them, but not so low that it is ugly. The texturing, though not super crisp like a modern game, is good enough, and does an excellent job of setting the dark and dingy mood.

The level of graphics is more than sufficient for the iPhone, and the artistry is still impressive all these years later.

The level of graphics is more than sufficient for the iPhone, and the artistry is still impressive all these years later.

The developer suggested that I restart my phone after installing, and run Max Payne alone when I play it. Of course, I ignored both of these tips the first time I played, and paid the price with choppy animations. Having since followed their advice, I have not had any major lag since.

Story & Concept

I think I went for this game mostly out of a desire to relive the storyline, and I was not disappointed. This first chapter of the Max Payne legend is as well conceived as it is delivered. I found myself delightfully surprised at some of the twists and turns, and even just the conceptual richness, that I had forgotten.

Max’s grim journey is revealed by comic book style panels and voiceover narration shown between the levels.

Max’s grim journey is revealed by comic book style panels and voiceover narration shown between the levels.

Bullet Time is not the only concept-driven mechanic in the game, either. In order to stay in the fight you must collect, and copiously consume, bottle after bottle of pain killers. If you don’t you will get so wounded that you start limping around. I actually liked how the limping looked, as it added to the dramatics of the hero’s journey, and found myself letting my wounds build up dangerously close to death just for this added visual element.

Nostalgia Gaming

I would guess that we have only seen the very beginning of old games being ported to iOS — certainly I can do without most of them. But for the ones that I seriously played back in the day, it is worth the few bucks for the chance to walk down memory lane; to get a sense of the past, and progress, of the games that have been in my life.

Max is a ninja of gunplay.

Max is a ninja of gunplay.

Max Payne came into my world after a long run with Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear multiplayer, and I thoroughly enjoyed switching to a single player experience that was rich with emotional narrative. All these years later it remains that rather than being just another shoot out diversion, it is instead an interesting tale to be a part of, made all the more engaging by Bullet Time.

Conclusion

I think to see the value of this game you have to understand who it is for. If what you are after is a third person shoot-fest, with slow-mo shoot outs and multiplayer, you might want to check out a game called 9mm. But if what you are looking for is a longer, story-driven, single-player, moody journey, still with plenty of bullets, then Max Payne will deliver.

Sure, this version of Max Payne has plenty one could gripe about. The small interface, the tricky aiming — and what is with that glitchy pain killer button? Don’t count on healing in the middle of a fight! Okay, so it’s not the best of iOS. It is a worthy port though, and for the price I thoroughly enjoyed not only the revisiting of an old favorite, but also the experience of just of how much game could fit into my phone.


Summary

A third-person shooter with special Bullet Time action and a rich narrative.

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