This is truly new territory for me, reviewing an Android product. What makes this all the more tricky is that this product is the Android port of Max Payne (entitled Max Payne Mobile), a classic game that was widely-acclaimed in its original form and is considered the foundations upon which all film-noir storytelling and bullet-time-oriented gameplay in modern games rose from. Essentially, I am walking on eggshells here.
So with that said, let’s dive into Max Payne’s world. The 2001 game was known for many things: its love for detective film tropes, its analogy-heavy script, and its incredibly dark, gritty storyline. It matched the story with focused, action-oriented gameplay that we all know and love. Seeing as this is a port of that legendary game, there is a faint hope that Max Payne Mobile can meet the standard set by its previous incarnations…but is there validity to this hope? Is this game worth buying, both for newcomers and long-time fans?
The plot, to say the least, is something your average gamer probably wouldn’t expect. Set in New York, the story occurs as flashbacks narrated by the titular Max Payne, a former officer of the NYPD who lost his way after his closest family was murdered by drug addicts. Three years later, while undercover investigating a related drug ring, Max is falsely accused of murder and is forced to run. This ties into a larger conspiracy, which Max dedicates himself to unravelling to prove his innocence and find peace. On his journey to bring justice, Payne will have to survive drug dealers, the Mafia, and even the forces of the law.
On the surface, Max’s tale is complicated, dark, and intriguing enough to warrant attention, but it’s the other elements of plot and storytelling that make a difference. The writing, for one, is always intelligent, particularly with how it handles Max’s exposition: when thinking Max is poetic and clever with his wordplay, whereas his spoken dialogue in reality is more direct and blunt.
The pacing is solid, as it should be with an action-packed three-act structure, and the characters are as dynamic and unpredictable as the plot, which is easy enough to follow but manages to throw in a few surprises here and there, particularly with how it handles Max’s psychological state and the truth behind his family’s murder.
However, as it is a port, the plot has not changed from the original version, so be warned: if you’ve played it once, you won’t be in for any surprises on the story front. Gameplay, meanwhile, has seen the greatest number of changes here, though it is apparent that some of these alterations may not be for the best. The game still uses the same third-person shooter tropes from 2001, complete with more than two weapons useable in the inventory and plenty of opportunities to use the bullet-time mechanic (since it is still fun to take out a room full of enemies in slow motion).
What, you may ask, has changed with this game, if the core mechanics are the same? Why, the controls. Thanks to its transference to Android software, Max Payne is now controlled by touch screen, with on-screen “buttons” that control the camera, movement, reloading, switching weapons and opening the pause menu. The trouble with this set-up is two-fold, though – the buttons are cluttered together, making their use difficult, and the actual act of moving the camera while running is more complicated and clunky than it used to be. There has been talk of customization for camera and control sensitivity, but it seems to be quite limited, only emphasizing the issue of the control scheme.
Aside from this, the core game remains the same as it was on PC, PS2 and Xbox. Levels are layed out well, with plenty of hidden secrets that trigger Max’s monologues or additional cutscenes. Enemies are generally competent, even threatening at times – this factor is more reliant on their strategic location in a room and sheer numbers than clever tactics. The game moves at a nice, fairly linear pace, pushing the player from intense shoot-out to intense shoot-out with aplomb. Repetition is usually warded off by nightmare sections, and the aforementioned roster of weapons at one’s disposal. In general, everything about the original gameplay holds up admirably in the modern gaming market.
Now, we come to the awkward part – the presentation, which has not aged as well with time. The graphics, while certainly improved in HD, definitely feel dated, with flat, simplistic textures and truly odd-looking character models, particularly that of Max. Fortunately, the art design makes up for this partially, as the gritty yet energetic nature of New York is apparent in every subway tunnel, every building and every street that Max travels to. The cutscenes between levels consist of comic book-style panels, which add to the stylized nature of the narrative.
Sound work remains an important part of Max Payne‘s reputation. The voice acting is truly exceptional, with every actor putting effort into their various characters. Special mention should go to James McCaffrey, who gives Max Payne his pessimistic yet sympathetic personality through his voice. The soundtrack is also note-worthy, as the main tune resonates with the narrative’s heavy themes of crime without justice and flawed society, while also sounding like a memorable detective story tune should.
Can I safely recommend Max Payne Mobile to just about anyone? Well, no. The game’s existing flaws in visual presentation would have caused some doubt in my mind, but the lack of new content combined with unrefined controls cements this port as a lesser version of the original. With that in mind, I do recommend that any newcomers to the series or those who haven’t played Max Payne in years should spend their time with this, on the strength of the story and action alone – though if you do, fighting the game’s enemies will be the least of your concerns.