It might sound overly ambitious on paper. Max Payne, his buddy Passos and all the gangs he faces in the Brazil portion of his newest noire-fuelled adventure, Max Payne 3, in a multiplayer free-for-all replete with all the John Woo-inspired slow-motion dives you can handle. Why? Because the latter has always been a problem in the multiplayer space -- how can you have one person going into bullet-time if everyone else isn’t? It would be more of a negative than a bonus, and forcing everyone else on the map into bullet-time just because you’ve triggered it would get old fast.
So, the folks over at Rockstar came up with the idea to keep Max’s signature move in the multiplayer game, by offering line-of-sight bullet-time only. This basically means you can use bullet-time on an unsuspecting opponent, provided they’re in your line-of-sight, though they can break this by leaving line-of-sight by snapping into cover or letting a game-world object block your LOS. Moreover, the person targeted by someone triggering bullet-time moves slower and fires slower than the person who activated it.
It sounds complicated, but in action amidst a massive skirmish, bullet-time can be a life-saver, and also adds infinitely to the frenetic nature of most of the multiplayer modes Max Payne 3 offers. I actually had a chance to get hands-on with the multiplayer portion of the game at a recent event held locally here in Sydney, and was pitted against the likes of Kotaku AU’s Mark Serrels, IGN AU’s Luke Reilly, OPSM’s Adam “Grizz” Mathew, Australian Gamer’s Luke “Crash” Lawrie and my old nemesis, GameArena’s Joab “Gob” Gilroy.
The basic rundown for what’s on MP offer with Max Payne 3 is a 16-player XP-based contest complete with perks, which are called “Bursts” here. You earn XP for kills or winning game modes, which rewards you with cash to then spend on levelling up your multiplayer profile and accessing new weapons and items (such as grenades), upgrading your weapons and bursts.
For our hands-on we only had access to three different maps, all pulled from the game’s “most dynamic” single-player maps, while game modes included trusty old Team Deathmatch, Payne Killer and Gang Wars. Payne Killer is essentially a KoH styled mode where players enter the map at the same level -- the first two people to draw first blood are then transformed into the titular Max Payne, and his single-player campaign friend, Passos. Everyone one else is just a basic gang member and immediately join the same team, leaving Max and Passos as the entire map targets. The difference here is Max and Passos have better weapons, more health and resilience (as well as Painkillers) while everyone else is weaker and packing much less heat.
The other differentiator here is, given how easy it is for anyone who isn’t tagged as the game’s heroes, it’s not simply a case of whoever fires the final bullet into either Max of Passos becomes them, rather it’s the person who dealt the most damage in that particular embodiment of the character, adding a satisfying level of balance to what I felt was the best mode we got to play.
Gang Wars is a gauntlet of modes with objectives all pulled from the campaign. It’s round-based, and each round is different every time you play, but is drawn from events that transpired in the match before it. So, the first round might be a Destruction-style plant-the-bomb mode and if one team manages to actually have their bomb go off, the following mode will be a story-driven spin-off of that event. Max even narrates on-the-fly to fill you in on what’s going on here.
As far as how it all plays though, it was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Rockstar’s imaginative game-modes definitely kept all of us engaged, but the code looked very early. Character models were super low in their poly count and overall detail, while much of the environment also looked to be murky in detail and love. I need to offer the requisite “this is an early build”, and obviously any multiplayer component is going to have less refined assets for stability, but I do hope the visual fidelity is ramped up for release.
Map design was also a bit hit and miss, with some of the arenas just being too big with too much verticality (Bus Depot being the best example of this), and others just having way too much in the way of cover, tight go-nowhere passages and odd “shortcuts”. They just didn’t feel like they had a natural flow to them, but we did only spend two hours in-game, so a bit more time with them might reveal some hidden balance in design.
I also felt like respawn points were inconsistent. Half the time I’d respawn so far away from events I’d be running for ages to get back in the fight, but running depletes your Stamina, so I’d get into the thick of a fight, have no Stamina to roll or move quickly, and then be at a massive disadvantage. Other times I’d spawn almost in the middle of a firefight leaving me disoriented for a few seconds. Hopefully this is addressed for the final game as well.
We played multiplayer on Xbox 360 and used both soft-lock aiming and free-aiming, the latter of which I preferred. Keyboard and mouse players will obviously get the best of the aiming for the game, but for those on console there are plenty of options in the way of sensitivity adjustments and the like. I’m not too sure about some of the button assignments though, as there wasn’t really a single grenade button; instead I had to tap LB to bring up the weapon wheel and then tap RB. You can do this pretty quickly, but it was a bit too convoluted for the sort of twitch gaming the Max multiplayer offered.
After a while it was easy to overlook the issues I had with it though, and this was mostly due to cool additions such as Shootdodge, where I could literally run at a window, enter bullet-time and dive through it dropping two floors, avoiding fire and stylishly taking out enemies. I even climbed onto the roof of a warehouse and shot through a skylight I was standing on, landing a headshot on unsuspecting goons below. There’s definitely a lot of room here for epic action-movie moments.
I’m proud to say I walked out of the session consistently top ranked in most modes, and shot Joab in the head more than once (though he did leave me for dead during a Payne Killer match as Passos while I was Max), but I digress. There’s a lot of potential here, and Rockstar’s penchant for trying to mix things up in the multiplayer space was well and truly intact, it just needs a lot more refinement and some tweaking, but overall it was fun and engaging, which are two of the most important things with any multiplayer mode. Fingers crossed the final product is polished to the levels the game deserves.