Sandbox gaming has officially come to the iPhone. Payback, developed by Apex Designs, is a shameless clone of the experience found in the GTA (Grand Theft Auto) franchise. The GTA franchise is known for pushing the envelope with crazy dialog, violent missions and delving into all kinds of taboo subject matter.
Seeing how this type of game (and it’s complicated controls) translates to the iPhone was something I was definitely interested in checking out. With a pair of headphones and fully charged iPhone, I went to work!
The story is fairly basic in Payback. The main character finds himself in a busy city and is immediately briefed to answer phones to take on illegal jobs and earn money. At designated point levels, new environments and over a dozen cities open up for exploration in a variety of gameplay modes.
The types of jobs that are presented are fairly predictable in this GTA-inspired game. It’s common to see jobs like killing criminals, stealing cars, trailing enemies, stealing drugs and a variety of derivatives based on all of the above. No matter what the active job is, my experience has been good in being able to get through them fairly quickly which is perfect for a mobile gaming experience.
Core gameplay and the controls in Payback are a mixed bag. There is a definite learning curve that is required to get the hang of things. The accelerometer is used to control the camera while every other function of the game requires touching on-screen buttons. On a good note, using the on-screen buttons felt intuitive and I had no problem entering cars or changing and firing weapons. On a bad note, controlling the camera is extremely touchy as it tends to wander easily. This isn’t as prevalent while driving vehicles, but it is annoying when the character is on foot. The options menu has sensitivity level which can improve the control. While I was able to stomach many of the issues I had with the controls, it’s a real possibility that others may not get past their initial frustrations.
Payback excels in its overall graphical and audio presentation layers. The opening trailer is easily on par with what you’d see on the Nintendo and Sony handheld platforms. The real-time graphics in Payback are impressive with real 3D environments, shadows, transparencies and a variety of other cool effects at a fairly consistent frame rate. The inclusion of a nicely done game soundtrack and real voice overs helps round out the presentation layer in Payback. If there was one notable negative I’d point out, it would be that the game is extremely dark in some spots making it virtually impossible to play outdoors at times.
Folks have been waiting for a game like Payback to make its way to the iPhone and iPod touch gaming platform. I highly recommend they give Payback a spin. It’s not quite Grand Theft Auto, but this title provides a very good glimpse of what the iPhone is capable of.