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‘Max Payne Mobile’ Review – Beautiful Bullet Time, Aged Like a Fine Wine

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Do you remember the Bullet Time Wars of the early ’00s? Every game had to have it, and not one of them got it right. We lost a lot of good games during that time; lost to the unnecessary addition of a dumb movie gimmick.

But then Max Payne ($2.99) was released, and overnight the war ended. There was no disputing that, finally, a game had gotten bullet time right. That day was almost 11 years ago, and since then the world has changed. Games still implement bullet time, most of them successfully, but they all owe it to Max Payne.

For those of you who somehow missed out on it the first go around, Max Payne is revenge story wrapped in a noir coat that is so thick that the game occasionally comments on how warm it is. It serves as almost a noir for dummies book. Can’t sit through Chinatown? Max Payne will teach you all there is to know about noir.

But, for as silly as the writing occasionally is, it is still a good story. You will run into some truly gut-wrenching moments before you hit the 5 minute mark. But I wouldn’t dare spoil an 11 year old game, so I’ll stop right there. If you want to know more… Well, I assume you know what to do.

There is little sense in reviewing an 11 year old game that won nearly every award it could when it was first released. It’s well established that Max Payne is a fantastic game, but it is also ELEVEN years old. That means it comes with all the baggage that an 11 year old game has earned. So, rather than focusing on Max Payne the game, lets talk about Max Payne the iOS port instead.

This is the absolute best this game has ever looked. On the new iPad, the game sees resolutions and clarity that were pipe dreams when it first came out. Granted, the textures are low resolution, but they still look pretty good rendered on the iPad’s Retina Display. The between level “comic book” sequences are not Retina resolution, but it’s not a great mystery as to why.

I doubt anyone at Remedy envisioned people wanting to play the game at ridiculous resolutions, so it’s likely that they never created super high-resolution assets for anything. But, thanks to how well everything upscales, they still look pretty good. While it didn’t age as well as Grand Theft Auto 3 ($4.99) did visually, it is still a great looking game. Bonus points if you can make it through the whole game without giggling at Max’s facial texture.

Controls are about what you would expect from virtual joysticks. Max feels a bit floaty when he moves, and looking around can be a pain, but the game is still very playable, thanks in part to a pretty competent auto aiming system. I know a lot of folks scoff at the idea of auto-aim, but it really does make the experience more cinematic and fun. When I turned off auto-aim, the results were decidedly less than fun (and often borderline frustrating), but your mileage may vary.

The real problem with the default virtual control layout is that the hit zones for buttons are too close to each other. Because you are aiming at a nondescript part of the screen, rather than a button, you will often find yourself jumping when you want to enter bullet time. A minor problem once or twice, but growing in annoyance significantly over the course of an 8 hour game. Like GTA3, you can move the buttons around on screen in the options, but you never really shake the feeling that this is a game made for a controller (or keyboard and mouse).

(Original E3 2011 trailer for PC version.)

Playing Max Payne to completion takes anywhere from 7 to 10 hours. If you intend to make that journey, please be sure to manage your own save files. Yes, Max Payne offers an auto-save, but I found it to be unreliable at best, and downright abusive at it’s worst. Unfortunately, games ported from PCs seem to bring more quirks than if they were ported from a console. Max Payne is from a time where we didn’t trust the game to save for us, so we took that responsibility upon ourselves. Max Payne for iOS has ported that feature spectacularly, so make sure you adjust your habits accordingly.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was super stoked about Max Payne coming to iOS. It was a game I loved on the PC 11 years ago, and I wanted to see how rose the colored glasses were. The answer is, surprisingly, not that rose. While it looks old, and has virtual joysticks, Max Payne is every bit the great game it was 11 years ago. I wish Rockstar had put more love into the port, but for costing me 1/25th of the original game, I’ll cut them some budgetary slack.

Now if I could just get rid of these war flashbacks, I’d be in business.

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