The Grand Theft Auto series, which was originally released for the Playstation and PC back in 1997, is one of the most popular action / role-playing franchises of all time.  Along with the console and PC releases, Gameboy and PSP versions of the game have given mobile gamers the opportunity to carjack and pillage on the go (with a Nintendo DS release set to debut in March).  And, while we haven't heard that Rockstar Games has plans to bring GTA to Apple's mobile platform, tonight mobile gamers are getting the next best thing.

Or perhaps...a better thing?

Apex Designs has just (re)released Payback [App Store] for the iPhone and iPod touch.  And in the original author's words, "every effort has been made to ensure that Payback beats GTA in every way."

Payback started life as an Amiga clone of Grand Theft Auto [info].  Apex Designs brought an enhanced version of the game to the Macintosh, Gameboy Advance, and GP2X.  Early this month, the developer informed us that the iPhone version was near release.

Payback features dozens of vehicles and 11 cities to explore.  The player starts off each city on-foot and must get to a payphone to receive mission details.  At first, the player's only weapons are his fists, but crates scattered about the cities contain shotguns, grenades and other weapons that aid significantly in wreaking various flavors of havoc upon the cities' inhabitants.

Each level requires a certain number of accumulated points to complete.  Points are gained by completing mission milestones, running down civilians, and generally causing mayhem.  The more mayhem the player causes, the more of a target he / she becomes to local law enforcement.  A particular challenge of the game is the short timeframe given to complete certain missions.  Admittedly, I've spent only a short time with the title, but some of the allotted mission times would seem to require back-of-the-hand familiarity with a given city.

The game features accelerometer control for left / right movement and touchscreen control for forward / backward movement as well as fire and enter / exit vehicle controls.  Having played the joystick-based GP2X version, I can say that the control system of Payback for the iPhone compares quite favorably.  It works well and is not in the way.

Payback offers three modes of play: Story, Rampage and Challenge.  Story mode places the player in the role of a criminal seeking to amass as much money as possible in moving from city to city.  Challenge mode offers all of the cities of Story mode plus a variety of smaller arenas--more of a pick-up game scenario.  Rampage mode has no requisite score to move from level to level, it's just about getting the most points possible.

Payback for earlier mobile units won kudos for its relatively complex software 3D rendering engine that pushed the limits of both the Gameboy Advance and the GP2X (neither of which feature 3D graphics hardware).  The iPhone version appears to include an enhanced version of the GP2X engine with HDR (high dynamic range) rendering and impressive lighting and shadowing. Not surprisingly, the iPhone version runs at a notably higher framerate than the GP2X outing.  Interestingly, it appears that Payback's 3D engine for the iPhone version is not implemented in hardware-assisted OpenGL ES, but utilizes a software-based engine like the GP2X version before it.  Is this a big deal?  Not really, though true, perspective-correct texture mapping done in hardware would have given the game a bit more graphical polish.

Moving through the game's various cities, tossing grenades at oncoming vehicles and pedestrians, carjacking fast rides, and gunning down rival gangs makes for rather engrossing gameplay.  Payback is a fast-paced game and the never-distant sound of police sirens add to the overall pacing and urgency.  For fans of the genre, it's fun, solid action.

Having played both the GBA and GP2X versions of the game, I can say that the iPhone version of Payback is easily the best yet.  It does a solid job of delivering the essence of the experience that is Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto II to the iPhone platform.  Fans of the series will find that Payback hits close enough to home to be of particular interest.

Have a look at our gameplay video to get a feel for the action and the various levels.


[ Full HD version | Low Bandwidth version ]

The developer has also posted a video on YouTube showing additional action including some tank warfare.

Game Details
Name: Payback (v1.02) Price: $6.99 [Buy]
Developer: Apex Designs
Size: 221.4 MB
Device: Tested on iPhone 3G
Payback is basically GTA I and II for the iPhone.  It's a 3D, top-down action/ role-playing game that captures the essence of Rockstar's original.  Fans of the series will enjoy this iPhone outing.

TouchArcade Rating

  • http://Appulo.us Albee

    Waiting...

  • http://Appulo.us Albee

    Waiting...

  • SalsaMD
  • SalsaMD
  • http://www.smiles-game.com PoV

    Stunning. Is this software rendered? I was pretty sure the GP2x didn't feature any notable graphics hardware, especially not the GBA.

  • http://www.smiles-game.com PoV

    Stunning. Is this software rendered? I was pretty sure the GP2x didn't feature any notable graphics hardware, especially not the GBA.

  • Mike

    I just bought it. It looks pretty good, but two grudges:

    1) FPS issues. The FPS noticeably drops when there are 4-5 cars on screen in a collision. This caused bursts of lag :(

    2) Car textures *still* look like they're done in paint...they are really poor and undetailed.

    3) The camera angle def. needs work, constantly having to go to options to zoom in/out is required, though very annoying.

    Don't get me wrong, its a great attempt and it handles really well. Its impressive to have this running a mobile phone...and entire city to destroy :)

  • Mike

    I just bought it. It looks pretty good, but two grudges:

    1) FPS issues. The FPS noticeably drops when there are 4-5 cars on screen in a collision. This caused bursts of lag :(

    2) Car textures *still* look like they're done in paint...they are really poor and undetailed.

    3) The camera angle def. needs work, constantly having to go to options to zoom in/out is required, though very annoying.

    Don't get me wrong, its a great attempt and it handles really well. Its impressive to have this running a mobile phone...and entire city to destroy :)

  • http://www.iheartvector.com alex

    I agree with mike's grudges, but still very fun. get it NOW!

  • http://www.iheartvector.com alex

    I agree with mike's grudges, but still very fun. get it NOW!

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  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    @POV: 9th paragraph. Indeed, the GP2X lacks 3D hardware. I believe the iPhone version keeps (an evolved version of) the GP2X software renderer.

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    @POV: 9th paragraph. Indeed, the GP2X lacks 3D hardware. I believe the iPhone version keeps (an evolved version of) the GP2X software renderer.

  • -NoVa-

    In the older 2d GTA series the near-realistic car physics was the fun factor, not just moving car images on screen. So this is a GTA clone, without any fun.

  • -NoVa-

    In the older 2d GTA series the near-realistic car physics was the fun factor, not just moving car images on screen. So this is a GTA clone, without any fun.

  • 2kitties1cup

    Does the world need another gta clone? Perhaps the world needs new ideas like gta once was

  • 2kitties1cup

    Does the world need another gta clone? Perhaps the world needs new ideas like gta once was

  • Fokion

    Seeing the graphics made me think of a classic RPG I used to love on the SNES (I think): Shadowrun. Now that would go nicely with this engine.

  • Fokion

    Seeing the graphics made me think of a classic RPG I used to love on the SNES (I think): Shadowrun. Now that would go nicely with this engine.

  • http://www.smiles-game.com PoV

    @Blake: Ah ha. Thanks. I was far too mesmerized by the purty pictures and video. ;)

  • http://www.smiles-game.com PoV

    @Blake: Ah ha. Thanks. I was far too mesmerized by the purty pictures and video. ;)

  • Rigg

    Bought it but can't get it to download! It stops just over half way every time.

  • Rigg

    Bought it but can't get it to download! It stops just over half way every time.

  • slappy

    "nterestingly, it appears that Payback’s 3D engine for the iPhone version is not implemented in hardware-assisted OpenGL ES, but utilizes a software-based engine like the GP2X version before it."

    Why not? It would make the iPhone/Touch platform even more compelling as a game device. Instead of just porting existing games, why not take advantage of the hardware to make the game even more unique with higher quality graphics.

  • slappy

    "nterestingly, it appears that Payback’s 3D engine for the iPhone version is not implemented in hardware-assisted OpenGL ES, but utilizes a software-based engine like the GP2X version before it."

    Why not? It would make the iPhone/Touch platform even more compelling as a game device. Instead of just porting existing games, why not take advantage of the hardware to make the game even more unique with higher quality graphics.

  • deen

    intersting

  • deen

    intersting

  • Michael

    "crates scattered about the cities contain shotguns, grenades and other weapons that aid significantly in wreaking various flavors of havoc upon the cities’ inhabitants."

    Really, crates? Crates? They couldn't come up with anything original and it had to be crates to "hide" the weapons. Yawn. So this game turns into running around smashing crates?

  • Michael

    "crates scattered about the cities contain shotguns, grenades and other weapons that aid significantly in wreaking various flavors of havoc upon the cities’ inhabitants."

    Really, crates? Crates? They couldn't come up with anything original and it had to be crates to "hide" the weapons. Yawn. So this game turns into running around smashing crates?

  • http://www.bytecellar.com Blake Patterson

    As can be seen in the demo video, the graphics are rather nice. Because it appears to be software rendering does not mean it looks poor. I just wanted to comment on what seems a bit of an unusual move.

    The iPhone version, to me, looks a lot better than the GP2X version.

  • http://www.bytecellar.com Blake Patterson

    As can be seen in the demo video, the graphics are rather nice. Because it appears to be software rendering does not mean it looks poor. I just wanted to comment on what seems a bit of an unusual move.

    The iPhone version, to me, looks a lot better than the GP2X version.

  • Steve

    Well, I was really psyched about this game so I purchased it last night.

    It's a little disappointing.
    The controls and, as others have mentioned, the "physics" are just bad.
    The graphics and audio are really nice on the device.

    It's not really the fault of the developers, I think they did a FANTASTIC job with this game, there's only so much you can do with the hardware.
    They made great use of the accelerometer but the platform just isn't well suited for this type of game.

    For me it's just more frustrating than fun..

  • Steve

    Well, I was really psyched about this game so I purchased it last night.

    It's a little disappointing.
    The controls and, as others have mentioned, the "physics" are just bad.
    The graphics and audio are really nice on the device.

    It's not really the fault of the developers, I think they did a FANTASTIC job with this game, there's only so much you can do with the hardware.
    They made great use of the accelerometer but the platform just isn't well suited for this type of game.

    For me it's just more frustrating than fun..

  • SalsaMD

    It is very interesting how the response to this game wrt controls, gameplay, and graphics are in many cases at diametrically different ends of the spectrum...

  • SalsaMD

    It is very interesting how the response to this game wrt controls, gameplay, and graphics are in many cases at diametrically different ends of the spectrum...

  • http://www.spikereid.co.uk CommanderSpike

    Downloaded this today.

    Really is a awful game and a major disappointment. Give me GTA 1 any day.

    The gameplay is badly designed, the physics are almost non-existent (GTA is all about the physics, even the first one, it's a sandbox game full of crashes and bangs not just scrolling helicopter view of a city).

    Voices ('thanks for your..caaar'), sound effects and animation - all laughably bad. It's not for lack of power or the iphone not suiting the game, it's the game not suiting the iphone... really really poor use of resources. Example: when you walk your legs stretch out really far, it's not subtle, it's ridiculous...I know it's a small screen which calls for very small details, but why try to compensate for this and end up making the game a laughing stock.

    Oh and the controls are awful... tilting to rotate - WTF!! It's really lazy, lame and badly thought out... the up and down arrows to move back and forth combined with the tilt controls... it just doesn't work. Maybe GTA isn't suited to a touch screen device after all... oh no wait, already I can think of a better idea for controls... touch the screen where you want to walk...

    Christ.

  • http://www.spikereid.co.uk CommanderSpike

    Downloaded this today.

    Really is a awful game and a major disappointment. Give me GTA 1 any day.

    The gameplay is badly designed, the physics are almost non-existent (GTA is all about the physics, even the first one, it's a sandbox game full of crashes and bangs not just scrolling helicopter view of a city).

    Voices ('thanks for your..caaar'), sound effects and animation - all laughably bad. It's not for lack of power or the iphone not suiting the game, it's the game not suiting the iphone... really really poor use of resources. Example: when you walk your legs stretch out really far, it's not subtle, it's ridiculous...I know it's a small screen which calls for very small details, but why try to compensate for this and end up making the game a laughing stock.

    Oh and the controls are awful... tilting to rotate - WTF!! It's really lazy, lame and badly thought out... the up and down arrows to move back and forth combined with the tilt controls... it just doesn't work. Maybe GTA isn't suited to a touch screen device after all... oh no wait, already I can think of a better idea for controls... touch the screen where you want to walk...

    Christ.

  • http://www.spikereid.co.uk CommanderSpike

    Oh and the crappy royalty free 'songs'... why they couldn't have just left them out and used the iPod playback is beyond me.

  • http://www.spikereid.co.uk CommanderSpike

    Oh and the crappy royalty free 'songs'... why they couldn't have just left them out and used the iPod playback is beyond me.

  • Josh

    I think the developer did the best that they could with the hardware, aside from the hardware graphics support. It's still a beautiful game that controls well; it just takes a bit of time to adjust to the controls. The steering of the cars feels natural and precise. The on-foot movement is what took the most amount of time to get used to, punching in particular.

    Payback is a great game that just takes a little patience. I'm interested to see what else the developer comes up with.

  • Josh

    I think the developer did the best that they could with the hardware, aside from the hardware graphics support. It's still a beautiful game that controls well; it just takes a bit of time to adjust to the controls. The steering of the cars feels natural and precise. The on-foot movement is what took the most amount of time to get used to, punching in particular.

    Payback is a great game that just takes a little patience. I'm interested to see what else the developer comes up with.

  • Plopp

    The game is fair, but I have to agree that GTA 1 is way better.

    I think that we iPhone-gamers sometimes are to forgiving with the titles out there. Honestly very few of them measure up with the PSP games (like GTA LC). And why shouldn't one compare the iPhone with the PSP? The PSP is old.

    Still, for the money I'd say this is a great game.

  • Plopp

    The game is fair, but I have to agree that GTA 1 is way better.

    I think that we iPhone-gamers sometimes are to forgiving with the titles out there. Honestly very few of them measure up with the PSP games (like GTA LC). And why shouldn't one compare the iPhone with the PSP? The PSP is old.

    Still, for the money I'd say this is a great game.

  • MartiNZ

    Pretty stoked that this has come. I played the demo Mac version years ago but that only gave 6 minutes play time per game - another thing they took from GTA2, except that the demo for that actually had you explode at the end of the time.

    Re lack of originality, the game has been around a long time; it's a tried and true methodology, and I don't see any need for change.

    I also found the controls to be quite all right. Mostly unintrusive as said in the review, and the tilting works as expected. The ability for a slight camera angle shift would be nice, and easier zooming as has been said.

  • MartiNZ

    Pretty stoked that this has come. I played the demo Mac version years ago but that only gave 6 minutes play time per game - another thing they took from GTA2, except that the demo for that actually had you explode at the end of the time.

    Re lack of originality, the game has been around a long time; it's a tried and true methodology, and I don't see any need for change.

    I also found the controls to be quite all right. Mostly unintrusive as said in the review, and the tilting works as expected. The ability for a slight camera angle shift would be nice, and easier zooming as has been said.

  • Anthony

    I just bought this game... it serves me right for not being more patient and waiting for more reviews. I played for about 5 minutes and honestly, I will not likely play it again. Hard to control, hard to see... there are a lot of great iPhone games out there, and I admire the attempt, but I just don't find it fun, and I'm not really willing to spend a few hours not having fun to get better at the controls ;)

  • Anthony

    I just bought this game... it serves me right for not being more patient and waiting for more reviews. I played for about 5 minutes and honestly, I will not likely play it again. Hard to control, hard to see... there are a lot of great iPhone games out there, and I admire the attempt, but I just don't find it fun, and I'm not really willing to spend a few hours not having fun to get better at the controls ;)

  • TKO

    Yay! It's finally here. Downloaded it last night, but also the firmware patch, so most of the evening was download and install. Played it before sleep though. Great stuff. Graphics are definitely a step-up from the GP2x. ..anyone worried about the controls should maybe check the Mac, Amiga, or GBA (or GP2x if you have one) version first. It has just the same feel. ..The tilt-turning has been tuned well (and I can fine-tune it to taste), but I'm thinking a little anti-jitter algorithm on the tilt-sensing would be a good idea. Personally I think I could do reversing better if the steering was reversed when you, um, reverse. :)

    I'm not quite sure what you guys thought the physics in GTA1 and GTA2 were like compared to this. Are you actually thinking of GTA VC, SanAn, or IV? GTA1 and GTA2 definitely weren't stellar physics demos. They tried to make a 2D GTA clone that's better than the originals, and I think they've done it.

    Hehe .. as for the voice acting, it sounds to me like they're trying for a very specific slice of 'English English'. Maybe that's lost on some of the players that aren't familiar with the many accents of the UK? Me, I like having a GTA that has a real UK flavour ..is a nice change. I can understand if you don't. Every other GTA game for the iPhone will probably have left-hand-drive and American accents though, so there's always those.

  • TKO

    Yay! It's finally here. Downloaded it last night, but also the firmware patch, so most of the evening was download and install. Played it before sleep though. Great stuff. Graphics are definitely a step-up from the GP2x. ..anyone worried about the controls should maybe check the Mac, Amiga, or GBA (or GP2x if you have one) version first. It has just the same feel. ..The tilt-turning has been tuned well (and I can fine-tune it to taste), but I'm thinking a little anti-jitter algorithm on the tilt-sensing would be a good idea. Personally I think I could do reversing better if the steering was reversed when you, um, reverse. :)

    I'm not quite sure what you guys thought the physics in GTA1 and GTA2 were like compared to this. Are you actually thinking of GTA VC, SanAn, or IV? GTA1 and GTA2 definitely weren't stellar physics demos. They tried to make a 2D GTA clone that's better than the originals, and I think they've done it.

    Hehe .. as for the voice acting, it sounds to me like they're trying for a very specific slice of 'English English'. Maybe that's lost on some of the players that aren't familiar with the many accents of the UK? Me, I like having a GTA that has a real UK flavour ..is a nice change. I can understand if you don't. Every other GTA game for the iPhone will probably have left-hand-drive and American accents though, so there's always those.

  • Timothy R

    This is an awesome game and I have no problems moving my character(maybe I'm more gentle. :P ). The physics and car designs could be better, though.

  • Timothy R

    This is an awesome game and I have no problems moving my character(maybe I'm more gentle. :P ). The physics and car designs could be better, though.

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  • http://trylleklovn.net/ trylleklovn

    Don't let the other comments scare you from buying this game.

    In my view this is an amazing game, and I play it alot. The missions are suitable challanging for the steering without being ridiculously hard. And there is alot of time spent with exploring the different cities shortcuts, secrets, jumps etc.

    The softwarerendering does show in some cases with textures being incorrectly scaled on the sides of buildings, but overall the graphics feels very smooth and yet detailed for an iPhone game. I think this is because of the port of the engine leaving it out matched performance wise of the iPhones great hardware.

    For the price this is a must have game in my opinion. Theres lots of playtime. And honostly i think the controls are great and couldn't have been done any better. There is still the possibility of changing the sensitivity, but i find the default config to be suitable and after a short amount of playtime i feel like controlling is transparent and i focus on actually playing the game.

  • http://trylleklovn.net/ trylleklovn

    Don't let the other comments scare you from buying this game.

    In my view this is an amazing game, and I play it alot. The missions are suitable challanging for the steering without being ridiculously hard. And there is alot of time spent with exploring the different cities shortcuts, secrets, jumps etc.

    The softwarerendering does show in some cases with textures being incorrectly scaled on the sides of buildings, but overall the graphics feels very smooth and yet detailed for an iPhone game. I think this is because of the port of the engine leaving it out matched performance wise of the iPhones great hardware.

    For the price this is a must have game in my opinion. Theres lots of playtime. And honostly i think the controls are great and couldn't have been done any better. There is still the possibility of changing the sensitivity, but i find the default config to be suitable and after a short amount of playtime i feel like controlling is transparent and i focus on actually playing the game.

  • RaZrVIN

    This game is pretty good, and I respect the developer's hard work to get this game on the iPhone/iPod Touch. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone, but I'm really hoping for an update with graphical improvements as well as some physics improvements. Once those are established, this game will be STELLAR and UNBEATABLE.

  • RaZrVIN

    This game is pretty good, and I respect the developer's hard work to get this game on the iPhone/iPod Touch. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone, but I'm really hoping for an update with graphical improvements as well as some physics improvements. Once those are established, this game will be STELLAR and UNBEATABLE.

  • mhenr18

    This game ( And a lot of iPhone games) would be better if the devs realised that warping the screen to accomodate for the iPhone tilting would make for a waay better experience ;)

  • mhenr18

    This game ( And a lot of iPhone games) would be better if the devs realised that warping the screen to accomodate for the iPhone tilting would make for a waay better experience ;)

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    From the developer, regarding the game's software rendering system:

    Yes, that's correct. Using software rendering actually has some advantages over hardware rendering in this case - it allows the game to use effects such as HDR lighting that aren't possible with the iPhone's 3D hardware and it's also not really slower because the 3D hardware in the iPhone isn't all that great (it's good compared to other phones though).

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    From the developer, regarding the game's software rendering system:

    Yes, that's correct. Using software rendering actually has some advantages over hardware rendering in this case - it allows the game to use effects such as HDR lighting that aren't possible with the iPhone's 3D hardware and it's also not really slower because the 3D hardware in the iPhone isn't all that great (it's good compared to other phones though).

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  • Alex

    Software rending is all very well, but what about battery life?

    3D hardware is designed to deal with 3D graphics, and CPUs are not. This means that you use a LOT more CPU cycles to achieve the same thing and as such, more power is used.

    While software rendering might not have impacted the game itself. It may even look better in some ways as the developers claim. However sacrificing battery life is a HUGE sacrifice to make when its reducing talk time or listening time. So I would argue that losing the HDR is a small price to pay as likely would drastically reduce the drain this game will put on the battery.

  • Alex

    Software rending is all very well, but what about battery life?

    3D hardware is designed to deal with 3D graphics, and CPUs are not. This means that you use a LOT more CPU cycles to achieve the same thing and as such, more power is used.

    While software rendering might not have impacted the game itself. It may even look better in some ways as the developers claim. However sacrificing battery life is a HUGE sacrifice to make when its reducing talk time or listening time. So I would argue that losing the HDR is a small price to pay as likely would drastically reduce the drain this game will put on the battery.

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  • yousonuva

    i have yet to play this game but from the looks of it, this is impressive stuff for a phone. probably wont be long before we get gta4 graphics on our virtual reality goggle phone that feeds us

  • yousonuva

    i have yet to play this game but from the looks of it, this is impressive stuff for a phone. probably wont be long before we get gta4 graphics on our virtual reality goggle phone that feeds us

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