First things first: Bullet time’s implementation into Max Payne 3′s multiplayer is wholly successful. This in itself is genuinely something to marvel at, and once they’d finished patting themselves on the back, Rockstar’s finest must have been tempted to sit back and let the rest of Max Payne 3′s multiplayer script write itself. Instead, they’ve carefully enriched it with all manner of blindingly bright ideas. Some of these may sound like old hat – such as the way that heavy equipment and weaponry affect how your character moves – but it’s been a while since a multiplayer action game has felt this balanced and box-fresh before it has even launched.
Here’s an example. The centrepiece of the whole enterprise is Gang Wars mode, an ingenious beast which has its own rolling narrative, the main beats of which are determined by how each of its five chapters play out. During a mission that involved us having to snatch a bag from behind enemy lines, we modified our loadout so that we were carrying merely a single machine pistol, ditching grenades and a second weapon in the process. This enabled us to use the setting – the winding backstreets and low rooftops of the Rio favelas – to partake in a series of throat-grabbing escapes, dodges, and near-deaths, as our heavy machine gun-toting opponents repeatedly failed to gun us down on our way back to base.
This is much more subtle than it sounds. The difference in manoeuvrability is barely noticeable until you get into a scrape like that, and knowing when to engage in a bullet-time skirmish – instead of attempting to escape from one – is an energising (and tactical) part of the fun. The only time when having a heavy loadout is palpably detrimental to you is when you attempt to vault over cover, which can take as long as two wheezy seconds if you’re carrying a lot of kit. This actually works rather brilliantly too, as in one instance that took place during a standard Team Deathmatch, where we had to ask a teammate to provide covering fire whilst we lumbered out of a window to safety.
Overall, it all just feels fair. Even the perk-style Burst abilities don’t derail it, though not all of these have been revealed yet. Weapon Dealer gifts you with unlimited ammo for a short space of time – ideal for when you’re suddenly confronted by more than one enemy – and Paranoia forces you to be savvy and totally aware of what’s happening on your radar. When an enemy opponent triggers it, at first it simply makes every target appear as an enemy; once it’s been levelled up, your team’s friendly fire setting will be temporarily switched on too. Another Burst ability allows you to combat that one by making individual Gamertags or player IDs appear above every player for the duration.
Also very neat is the way that Gang Wars’ maps shift depending on what’s gone on before. Destroy a bridge in the first mission – to stop a rival cartel from escaping the area – and the bridge won’t re-appear for the subsequent five chapters; which in turn creates its own set of advantages and disadvantages depending on which side you’re on. For all of its addictiveness and replayability though, Payne Killer is, if anything, even more worryingly compulsive than that. It starts as a simple free-for-all until the first two players score kills; at which point they turn into Max Payne and his partner Passos. Payne and Passos are then instantly given heavy weapons and a finite supply of painkillers, and utilising teamwork is beyond crucial for both sides. For both parties, a thoughtful gameplan trumped brute force every single time.
With Rockstar at the helm, Max Payne 3 was already one of 2012′s surest things; even if you weren’t taking the multiplayer side of things into account. It’s patently obvious that a vast amount of time, thought and graft went into the multiplayer, and the thing is simply damn good fun. It’s reminiscent of Battlefield 3 in the way that it can’t help but create its own stories, and you truly haven’t lived until you’ve risen victorious from a three-way bit of John Woo-inflected bullet ballet. Max Payne 3 is slick and quite astoundingly addictive in multiplayer, and if you’re prone to playing shooters online, our advice is simple: Anticipate it.
Max Payne 3 is currently due for release on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on Friday, May 18th 2012. The PC version is due for release on Friday, June 1st 2012.
To find out what’s in the Special Edition (which is available across all formats) click here.
Watch the Max Payne 3 “Bullet Time” trailer below: