Max Payne 3 Multiplayer [Preview] – Tales told in Bullet Time
The biggest question with Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, is how are Rockstar going to make the series’ trademark Bullet Time, slow-mo mechanic work in an environment populated by real players? How do you slow down the game and give an advantage to one person, without completely ruining the experience for everyone else?
So, let’s get that out of the way. This is how Bullet Time works in Max Payne 3’s multiplayer…
When someone activates bullet-time, everyone in their line of sight has their movement and bullet speeds reduced. Furthermore, in domino effect fashion, everyone in the line of sight of a player affected by bullet-time also suffers the same speed reductions.
The most important thing to note is that Bullet Time does not automatically affect everyone on the map and more than one player can initiate it at any one time. Also, because it’s based on line of sight, it’s possible to break out of bullet-time’s effects by taking cover or moving around a corner – but, obviously, doing so can be difficult given your reduced speed.
Technical bit over. How does Max Payne 3 play in multiplayer? Pretty darn nicely is the answer and, Gears of War aside, I’m not someone that usually enjoys third-person shooters in competitive multiplayer.
In terms of game modes, there’s the usual slate of team deathmatch, capture the flag (in this case ‘Grab the Bags’) and king of the hill setups playable with up to 16 players. But it’s Gang Wars that represents the “heart and soul of Max multiplayer” – that’s a Rockstar quote.
Gang Wars matches feature multiple objectives set over various rounds played on the same map. For example, one match we played took us through Turf War (king of the hill), Grab the Bags, Takedown (kill the enemy leader), Team Deathmatch and the final ‘Showdown’.
The result of each match determines which type you’ll be playing next, so you never know beforehand exactly what you’re letting yourself in for. However, the beauty is that, no matter your performance, it’s the team that wins the Showdown that wins the Gang War – all preceding matches are used to determine the Showdown’s starting handicap. The team that has performed best in the events leading up to the finale will start with a points advantage and, therefore, a better chance of winning.
Of course, the real excitement comes from the ability to go into the final behind and come out on top.
Gang Wars incorporates many of the presentation details used in the single player campaign, including voiceovers from Max, comic book style panelling between events and transitions from night to day as the match goes on.
In typical Rockstar fashion, all of this is built into the experience in such a way that it layers on the drama without getting in the way of the gameplay. Even the scenes that pop up after you’ve died – displaying where the bullets hit you, who killed you, how many times they’ve killed you and how many times you’ve killed them – are both beautifully designed and practical in that all the info is readable at a glance.
Probably because of the influence Call of Duty has had on everything with a gun and an online mode, customisation is something Rockstar are taking very seriously. There’s a vast array of loadout, avatar design and perk/ability options available with a view to allowing you to create something unique and in-line with your play style.
Probably the most important customisation decision you have to make is which ‘Burst’ (read: special ability) you’re going to equip. Bullet Time is one example of a Burst, but other includes the health boosting Big Dog, damage increasing Trigger Happy and enemy weapon sabotaging Weapon Double Dealer.
See a full list of the perks we’ve dabbled with.
As you can imagine, these have a massive effect on gameplay which is why you’re only able to equip one at a time. Not only that, but you’re rewarded for sticking with the same one over many matches by levelling them up – meaning you’ll need to choose between constantly jumping between each one or mastering a single ability.
Some of the max level abilities are truly game changing. Level three Weapon Double Dealer, for example, when activated causes enemies to drop live grenades from their belts. Another, Paranoia, causes teammates to look like enemies and activates friendly fire. Others, such as Bullet Time, increases the duration of the Burst for each level increase.
To deploy your chosen Burst you need to activate your Adrenaline bar, which is built up through shooting, killing and looting enemies. Looting enemies doesn’t provide a set amount of Adrenaline, sometime it’s a lot, sometime it’s a little, sometimes it’s none at all.
However, because Bursts are so effective, it’s always worth taking the chance to loot a body. This forces an aggressive style of play as you kill and then press forward to loot the corpse. The matches we’ve played so far have been characterised by a lot of movement and a lot of flanking. Despite the cover system, this is not a game that rewards camping in one spot.
Weapons range from assault rifles to rocket launchers and from smoke grenades to frag grenades. Like single player, you can carry two single handed weapons and one double-handed weapon at a time with the option of dual-wielding your single handed arsenal.
Items such as bullet-proof vests, gas masks (to protect from tear gas grenades), ammo pouches and urban camouflage can also be equipped. Interestingly, your movement speed, stamina and overall health changes depending on which items you’ve selected, letting you create slow moving tanks or speedy, but fragile, scouts.
Taking player choice one step further, and demonstrating how seriously Rockstar are taking game balancing, Max Payne 3 will separate lobbies depending on what level of aiming assist you want to employ. Whether you want to play with soft lock (some aim assist), hard lock (maximum aim assist) or total free aim, you’ll only be playing against players that have selected the same option.
If there’s one thing you need to note about Max’s multiplayer, it’s that there is a vast array of options.
We haven’t even spoken about the pre-match wagers in which you can risk some of your cash to bet on anything from who will score the first kill to which player will grab the most bags – the potential winnings useful for unlocking newer and better items/weapons. Then there’s the Vendettas you can place on players that have killed you twice in a match and make them permanently visible on your mini-map until either one of you dies again at the hands of the other.
There are also melee attacks, maps that scale up or down depending on the number of players, narrative threads from the single player that are further explored in Gang Wars matches and ability to jump two storeys to the floor, killing yourself but scoring three headshots in the process.
We’ve played Max Payne 3’s multiplayer for about two hours. It was brutal, uncompromising fun. Replicate that fun over the long haul and Rockstar could finally have themselves a multiplayer experience that stands up to the quality set by their genre-defining single player games.