If you read our Max Payne 3 single-player hands-on then you know that the solo Max experience is shaping up to be as exciting as one would expect from a Max/Rockstar collaboration. But what of the multiplayer? As the previous two games were such single player-centric experiences, how does competitive multiplayer fit into the picture? Even the addition of a Max Payne staple such as Bullet Time leads to questions about how well the series can adapt to multiple players at once. The answer? Pretty damn well.
As Max Payne 3 has moved, smartly, from the over-used alleys of New York to the over-crowded favelas of Sao Paulo, the multiplayer takes advantage of this new and tumultuous environment to introduce gang warfare to the mix. The modes play similar to Red Dead Redemption multiplayer, but on a smaller scale. The players have the same weight and feeling that comes from the RAGE engine used for Red Dead and GTA IV, so fans will immediately feel at home with the environment traversal and soft-lock aiming. Though the characters are more agile and high-flying than other games that used the same engine. New movement options reflect Max's abilities from the campaign and allow diving, climbing and cover-taking, which make the matches all the more frantic.
I had a chance to play in a match with nine journalists on the Docks, Bus Depot and Favela maps (there will be more in the final version) and they feel immediately at home in the new Max Payne universe and nicely reflect the new art style.
Groups of 16 players compete in a variety of modes to gain experience by killing the opposing team. This is nothing new but Rockstar have a few traditional, and some more specifically Max Payne, game modes to help Max stand apart from the pack. The bread and butter of Max's new multiplayer is the Gang Wars mode. Somewhat similar to the Team Deathmatch mode (which we also played), but based around dynamic objectives. Players won't know what tasks they'll be asked to compete because they are dynamically generated based on the outcome of the preceding round. The mode suits the aesthetic of the Brazilian gang wars Max has found himself amidst and the narration by Max's voice actor James McCaffrey between each round only helps to cement the feeling that it takes place in the same universe.
Payne Killer is one of the few times you'll get to play as Max in the multiplayer. The first person to kill another player becomes Max and the next person to die becomes Raul Passos (Max's friend from the single player campaign). This mode is interesting as the ability to be Max or Passos comes with upgraded weapons and attitude. Seeing an alliance between Raul and Max disintegrate as one player loses their top dog position leads to some exciting dynamic gameplay, with impromptu teams holding up in a room against the combined might of every other player bearing down on them.
Customisation is also a large part of Rockstar's vision for their new multiplayer. Apart from Payne Killer, players won't be playing as Max Payne, but will take the role of their own badass in the same universe. The look of your character can be changed, but more importantly, accrued experience allows for more powerful guns and perks to be purchased. There is a lot of variety in the customisation options to create a class that plays to your own strengths, but all this must be balanced with the character’s overall weight. Say you want to take a behemoth of a gun into battle, plus grenades, a helmet and some very useful body armour. That's all well and good but this may mean you have no space for a pistol or any valuable perks. And perks play a large part in the multiplayer experience.
While every character has the ability to dive and shoot as Max does in the campaign, Perks such as Paranoia or Big Dog can change the tide of battle at a moment’s notice. There will be many perks to choose from in the final version but I only had a limited amount of time to try out the option on offer. Most effective of those was Paranoia, which makes teammates appear as enemies on your screen for a short amount of time (amusingly, the opposite perks to Paranoia puts name badges on your team to negate the effect). All the perks can be upgraded three levels and are invaluable to your success in the matches.
Most importantly, how does multiplayer Bullet Time shape up? Well instead of slowing down the whole game, only the initiator and those in their line of sight are affected. This means those who are directly involved in that specific shoot out are the only ones to experience the Bullet Time. In a fast-paced multiplayer match, this works very well and keeps the feel of the campaign alive in a smart and well-designed way.
Max Payne 3's multiplayer is shaping up to be as exciting as the single player campaign. While you can immediately feel similarities to Rockstar's other multiplayer efforts, Max sets himself apart with some technological and design improvements that make the multiplayer as dynamic and fluid as Red Dead Redemption's (underrated) online modes but with a distinctly Max Payne feel.
Max Payne 3 will be released in Australia on May 18.