Max Payne 3 Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – An Online Adrenaline Rush
Written Thursday, March 29, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Max Payne could never possibly lend itself to multiplayer, could it? A resolutely single-player, story-driven experience, Max Payne has always been purely about a strong cinematic narrative, and despite Max Payne 2 dabbling with its extra 'Dead Man Walking' survival mode, it's never been a series to attempt a foray into the multiplayer space. But with Rockstar at the helm, Max Payne 3 is taking a brave stride online, bringing Bullet Time and the shoot-dodge to a variety of multiplayer modes, with Gang Wars and Crews at the centre of it all.
That's not to say that Max Payne 3 doesn't do its own spin on the classic Deathmatch. Far from it. It does Team Deathmatch exceedingly well in fact, providing the perfect battleground for the single-player campaign's denizens to duke it out in a range of adaptive maps that automatically adjust to better accommodate the number of players, with the maximum number topping out at up to 16-players overall. And although that particular feature is sadly absent from the current preview code we're presented with, it's of no detriment to the immediacy and frantic nature of the action, which is evident from the off and never lets up during our hands-on session. Have we mentioned that it's also frequently hilarious?
Gang Wars serves as the crux of Max Payne 3's multiplayer offerings, and it's compared internally to the old TV show Gladiators/American Gladiators, in that each round you win counts towards an advantage in the final round. So, you can always turn things around in that deciding final round should your team be lagging behind. Unfortunately, there's no travelators to run up at the end though. There is however a number of varied fast-paced game types to indulge in as part of Gang Wars, with victory in each counting towards your overall score. Each match is chosen based upon the events of the previous game type, and the entire affair is connected by a narrative thread that exists within the world of Max Payne 3's single-player story, with voiceover provided by Payne himself. So, you'll play as the Crachá Preto, Tropa Z, Comando Sombra and UFE military forces, and you can customise your avatars from each faction with a range of parts to make them stand out. You'll want to be wary of the amount of weight that the helmets, goggles, kevlar vests and other parts you can also equip beyond the simple cosmetic stuff adds however, as it can slow down your character and be a drain on your adrenaline meter.
Game types we get to sample during Gang Wars include a grab for bags of cash that have to be delivered to your team's base, a fight for territory a la Battlefield's Conquest mode, an elimination match, a scramble over a single designated spot on the map, a VIP takedown and a Counter-Strike-style struggle to plant a bomb at a target and guard it until the explosive detonates, while the opposing team strive to prevent the bomb from being planted. Once the bomb goes off, it shrouds the stage in ash and debris for the next match, which is a neat cosmetic touch that also adds to the narrative continuity of Gang Wars. It's like a 'best of' compilation of some of the greatest multiplayer game types around, with a few new ones of its own thrown in to boot.
At the beginning of each Gang Wars round, you can place wagers on certain players completing a set objective to earn cash bonuses, and looting the bodies of rivals adds extra cash, a bottle of painkillers, ammunition or a shot of adrenaline to your meter on the HUD. A tap of up on the D-pad has you neck some pills (should you have any) to boost your health when it's low, while adrenaline from bagging kills is required to perform your slo-mo shoot-dodges and Bullet Time manoeuvres, which all work a treat in multiplayer. But how does slowing down time really work in the online multiplayer space? Let's cover that very hot potato right now.
It's all very simple really. Bullet Time works based on your line-of-sight, so when you've accumulated enough adrenaline, you can hit the right bumper to activate the slo-mo shoot-dodge ability or click the right analogue stick to simply activate Bullet Time. Enemies that find themselves caught in your crosshairs are subjected to a slow-motion state that's even slower than standard Bullet Time. That essentially means that anyone caught in your line of fire is getting free super-slow Bullet Time, but before they'll even know it, they'll have been cut down in a hail of your slightly faster slow-mo bullets cutting their way through the air. Make sense? Good. Also, any opposing player unlucky enough to run through your Bullet Time line will also be caught in its effects, which means savvy use can net you bonus kills provided you're wily enough to react quickly. In short, Bullet Time is every bit as gratifying to use as it should be, which you can chalk up as a win for Rockstar.
Now that you know how Bullet Time functions, what of the rest of the multiplayer gameplay components? In essence, it plays out like Max Payne 3's single-player, so there's the same weight and robust shooter mechanics, married to the visceral brutality and action movie wish-fulfilment that makes simple things like jumping through a pane of glass endlessly entertaining. And watching other players doing the same thing is an unbridled joy. Payne Killer mode, like Team Deathmatch is also home to countless bullet-riddled moments of air-punching excellence, starting every player as a standard character and then casting the first two victims to be served a lead salad as Max Payne and his buddy, Raul Passos in that order. Payne and Passos are loaded up with painkillers, increased health and plenty of ammo, but when you've got every last player hunting you down, holding on to your place as either of the characters can be a tall order despite clearly having the advantage. Get shot as Payne or Passos, and the role passes to the player who took you down.
The good news then, is that Max Payne 3 multiplayer plays almost exactly like single-player, with the narrative heart provided by Gang Wars and its multiple game types, as well as the self-explanatory thrills of Team Deathmatch and the frenetic, constantly shifting parameters of Payne Killer. All of these modes keep you constantly on your toes, and provide the perfect playground for the multitude of cinematic acrobatics, bursts (perks), guns and slow-motion bullets. It all handles like a dream, with camping in cover for too long duly punished and objectives that ensure you're always clambering all over the maps, climbing onto rooftops and leaping through skylights or out of windows like an adrenaline-fuelled madman/madwoman. Couple the fast-paced gameplay with bursts like 'Sneaky' that makes you appear friendly to rival players, the health-buffering 'Big Dog', the position-revealing tactics presented by the 'Intuition' burst, the firepower-boosting 'Trigger Happy', the enemy-flummoxing power of 'Paranoia', the ammo-augmenting 'Weapon Dealer', the rival weapon-ruining 'Weapons Double Dealer' and the sharpened reflexes that 'Bullet Time' brings to the table, and you have a constantly varied and exciting multiplayer game. Each burst can also be levelled up, so for instance a level 3 Weapons Double Dealer burst enables you to magically pop out the pins on your rivals' grenades. That's not only immense fun, but funny as hell too.
Visually, Max Payne 3 multiplayer also looks fantastic, with the comic book panel presentation extending to Gang Wars and the killcam, which freeze-frames your last moments in one panel and your killer's smirking visage in the other. You can also set Vendettas after being killed by the same person several times, and settling those Vendettas earns extra XP towards levelling up your weapons and characters. Cash you also accrue can be spent on new and better weapons, and before long you'll be able to stroll out onto a map with a rocket launcher and a pair of uzis if you so wish. Personally, we'd recommend your all-purpose RPD assault rifle and a pair of revolvers for that extra cowboy, desperado touch. Trust us, the Bull .608 and the cowboy-style six-shooter are a dual-wielded force to be reckoned with. Switch to dual-wield using the quick radial menu however, and you'll throw your two-handed weapon away, so you'd better be sure about going akimbo.
During our extended 3-hour hands-on session with Max Payne 3's multiplayer, one thing is made abundantly clear. Even if you baulked at the very notion of a single-player experience like Max Payne daring to include a multiplayer component, you're going to be glad that Rockstar decided to take the plunge. To some it might seem like a gamble, but when you're playing it and shoot-dodging, leaping through glass, diving from great heights and killing opponents with effortless balletic style and elegant slo-mo grace, Max Payne 3 multiplayer makes absolute, inarguable, perfect sense. That it's shaping up to be an unfathomably deep, utterly absorbing and totally fun romp, is simply par for the course. In short, Max Payne 3 multiplayer is an absolute blast. You're going to love it.
Max Payne 3 launches on May 15th in North America and May 18th in Europe. There's 10 new screens in the gallery.