Platform: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Pseudo-3D Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Mobius Entertainment
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: December 16, 2003
ESRB Rating: M

How can I most succinctly describe what I think of this game?

How about this: I'm glad I only paid five bucks for it.

Max Payne GBA is what happens when a money-grubbing publisher finds itself in possession of a very lucrative game license. In the wake of the success of the original PC version, as well as the PlayStation 2 and X-Box ports, and with Max Payne 2 coming out near the end of 2003, Rockstar Games progressed to the next logical step: Max Payne for the 3DO!

Er, I mean GBA. Game Boy Advance. Well, they both make about the same amount of sense, at any rate.

What's wrong with the game? Let's start with the graphics. Everything has a washed-out look to it; the walls, the characters, even the blood. In Mobius'1 defense, it's very possible that they thought they were working on a Game Boy Color port. Even the storyboard portions have a very bad color depth problem; although the fact that they seem to have simply copied and resized images from the original game doesn't help. In all seriousness, my hypothesis for the shittyness of the game's graphics is that (1) they ran out of space and (2) they ran out of system resources. The first is based on the fact that one of Max Payne GBA's two gimmicks is that the storyboard scenes are voice-acted, just as in the PC and console versions. As you are probably aware, sound files (even at the lowest possible quality) take up quite a bit of space, and a GBA Game Pak only has 32 megabytes to work with. My guess is that the voice acting takes up at least four or five megabytes, which cuts rather sharply into the amount of space that can be used for other aspects of the game (like graphics). Secondly, the GBA's processor runs at a mere 16.78 Mhz, and the handheld has less than half a meg of RAM. Even with its low-quality graphics, the game often slowed down quite noticeably (and I don't mean from Bullet Time). If Max Payne had utilized the GBA's maximum graphics potential, it may have been unplayable.

Next up: How the developer managed to mess up a completely clich├ęd storyline. If you've played the PC or console versions of Max Payne, then you should know the plot. If you haven't played the PC or console versions of Max Payne, then there's a very good chance you work for Mobius Entertainment. Somehow, despite the fact that 95% of the text was copied directly from the original, they managed to create plotholes and story flaws where none had existed before. My favorite example: when you exit the Ragna Rock nightclub, Vladimir (the Russian mob boss) picks you up and drops you off at Punchinello's manor, telling you, "When this is all over, look me up. I could use a man like you." Trouble is, in the GBA version, this is the first time you ever talk to him. On the up side, Mobius (whether due to space constraints, deadlines, or sheer laziness, I don't know) didn't include those horribly frustrating playable nightmares from the original game, or the level I refer to as "Exploding Restaurant".

Now let's talk gameplay. Maybe I should start with the fact that, for some reason, the directional buttons don't go the directions they're marked. Pressing the buttons in any horizontal or vertical direction move you diagonally, and vice versa. I imagine the thinking was that since the levels had been designed on 45-degree angles, then logically Max's normal directions should be oriented that way as well. Voltaire had something to say about this line of reasoning, but I doubt you want to hear about that.

Remember the Bullet Time in the original Max Payne? Wasn't it cool being able to dodge bullets and aim while everything was in slow motion? Wouldn't you love to play a game where you're like that all the time?


Ay, there's the rub: Bullet Time is a neat gimmick, but that's all it is: a gimmick. Basing a whole game around it is stupid and bound to fail, but - whether on purpose or through sheer incompetence - that's what Mobius did. It is nearly impossible to go through any room in the game without being killed or severely wounded2, unless you're using Bullet Time pretty much any time you encounter an enemy. There are a number of reasons for this: (1) Enemies begin shooting you before you can see them, (2) They have near-perfect aim (running around does very little, if anything, to keep from getting hit), (3) They can shoot in three dimensions and (apparently) through many objects, and you can't, and (4) there is no dodge ability (!) other than the shoot-dodge (which uses Bullet Time). (The only time you do normal dodges is when you run out of Bullet Time. Go figure.) Arguably because of this, Mobius made the enemies pathetically easy to kill (Jack Lupino, the hardest guy to take down in the original game, took a whole 15 or so Ingram rounds before he died) and they give you five "lives" per level (what is this, Sonic the Hedgehog?).

Smaller irritations:
  • There are only two types of background music during the entire game; the title/storyboard music from the original (which is also played during most of the actual game action in the GBA version), and some "action beat" music which is probably from the original, but I can't really place.
  • Objects which need to be "activated" by Max often need him to stand in counterintuitive places, or will only work from one direction but not the other, even though in real life it wouldn't matter.
  • Several times, text from the storyboards would also be displayed in a completely different part, in-game. I chalk this up to laziness on the developer's part.
  • There is no sleep mode (!).
  • There is no mid-level saving. The game will only be saved when you beat a level.

In conclusion, my recommendation is to stay as far away from this game as possible. Either that, or pick it up cheap and trade it to some sucker for Prince of Persia or Metroid: Zero Mission or something. That's my plan, anyway. As for Rockstar, keep on the lookout for their upcoming game: Grand Theft Auto: Downtown Cheyenne.

GBA specs are from mrsid's Game Boy Advance writeup.

1: The game box says that it was developed by Remedy Entertainment. Don't believe it. What they mean is that the *original* game was done by Remedy. The GBA port was done entirely by Mobius Entertainment.

2: The only real exception I've found is that if you're using an Ingram or M4 and the mobsters aren't, then there's significantly less chance that you'll get badly hurt (provided that you aim and fire quickly enough).