Can I get a Payback from iTunes?
When the original Payback was released back in the January of 2009 it was one of the most advanced games to grace the iPhone yet. It brought cool graphics, an open ended Grand Theft Auto inspired world and tilt controls. I think it was the first game to really show that the Nintendo DS was bound to end up in the bargain bin across the world. Three years later the idea of a sequel spurred a lot of interest. It also raised the bar of anticipation that GTA Chinatown Wars and GTA 3 have been released during the hiatus of Payback.
After playing just a couple of minutes of Payback 2 HD I had to stop, and exclaim loudly “what the frack”. Gone is the thing that the original set out to achieve: to be a contender against GTA, as the best open world gangster shooter/driver bonanza game. What seems to be left is the graphics that feel old, and even with a couple of cool lighting effects it pales next to Chinatown Wars.
The campaign mode is not to be confused with a story mode, cause there is none. Instead of a proper story driven experience in an open world we get separate races, or deathmatches. Instead of gaining new cars, expanding the territory or learning new tricks of the trade you are awarded one to three stars. It feels just like when a large franchise dumbs down a game from console to handheld, but in this case there is no premium game that has been dumbed down.
So, am I having fun? Nope, not really. Having played a number of truly great top down racers the past couple of years on iOS Payback 2 HD is left at the starting line. As a top down dual stick shooter it works even worse, and it is painful driving around in a tank playing deathmatches for example. With a total of nine different game modes there are of course some that are better than others, and I think the rampage one is at the top of the list. It is the only mode that resembles GTA, and the original Payback in having missions to perform. Running around answering phones, and doing what the hardcore badass on the other end says is actually quite rewarding.
There is a custom mode if you ever get around to beating the seven tiered campaign mode, or rather cup mode. The custom mode allows you to choose your challenge type, and define weapons and other important parameters. As there is nothing to gain from playing a custom game I don’t really get the point of it. Finally there is multiplayer for up to four humans through Game Center, and twelve AI enemies. I have yet to try this mode, as I couldn’t find anyone to play with. Adding AI enemies is just the same as playing the custom mode, but still by yourself.
Back to the key question of this review: what the frack? Reading the iTunes description for Payback 2 HD it tries to sound like it has got a story mode when it uses the phrase “best Grand Theft Auto clone you’ve never heard of” describing the original Payback. There is nothing telling you that this sequel is just an arcade racer/shooter using more or less the same kind of assets as the original. Other parts of the description also seem to be placed to deceive such as: many huge environments to explore, different weather and times of day and automatic save system that allows you to exit anytime without losing any progress. None of those three have anything to do with a game that is all about racing a number of laps, killing a number of enemies or running around on a rampage for a set number of minutes. They do however sound exactly like something I would like to have seen in an open world criminal drama.
The controls are ok, and this time there is touch controls available from the start. I never really liked the tilt controls of the first, but for those who did you can still use them. With touch controls the setup is exactly what you would expect from any dual stick shooter in the last couple of years.
While the controls are ok, the handling and physics of the cars are not. It is simply too easy to take corners at full speed. No sliding, or drifting makes it feel almost like Scalectrix cars at that perfect speed where they don’t lose traction. It is what kills the racing parts for me. What kills the shooter parts are the lacklustre AI, and the fact that it doesn’t really matter. You just play deathmatch against AI characters, and when it ends there is no story to propel you forward.
As I mentioned previously the game looks a bit dated when it comes to the in game graphics. Sure there are some nice effects here, and there but the building looks like blocks. The cars feel like they are made from empty cardboard boxes, and the characters look less detailed than the original GTA hero. It is a shame since there are aspects that entice me, such as the polished menu system and intro flick.
Payback 2 HD would have been better off if the name had been Payback Arcade, or something that made it sound less of a sequel. Because this is not a sequel in any way, and for those looking to play some GTA like missions I can only say: stay away. There is nuggets of gold here, and there but it is covered in sludge, PR innuendos and a big heap of anti-fun.
Payback 2 HD $5.99
Seller: James Daniels / Apex Designs