You're probably already aware that the single player mode of Max Payne 3 is looking good at this stage, but these days few games dare enter the market without some kind of multiplayer mode and Max Payne 3 is no exception. Going up against the likes of Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a tall order, but who better to challenge them than Max Payne?
But the multiplayer of Max Payne 3 should be judged on its own merits. It's in parts innovative, entertaining, somewhat crazy, and it also copies some of the popular concepts we've come to expect from a high calibre multiplayer experience. Depending on the mode up to 16 players can compete at once - and Rockstar gave us a taste of three of these modes - Team Deathmatch, Payne Killer and Gang Wars. At this point it is unclear how many modes the full game will feature, but what is clear is that the developers have pursued the idea of a cinematic shooter even in the multiplayer modes.
The first surprise is that Rockstar have managed to integrate the concept of Bullet Time into multiplayer without turning the game into slow motion chaos. When a player enables bullet time, everyone in his field of vision is affected by the slow motion. If they manage to leave his field of vision, it's immediately back to normal. It's a simple and fair system, and Bullet Time is only one of a number of actions you can speed your adrenaline, which you earn through kills and moves, on.
The visuals are also striking. The animations of the characters is just as fluid as in the single player game, but the graphics are overall distinctly weaker here. It's a common fact, and perhaps it is the visual splendor of the single player that makes the weaker multiplayer graphics look all the poorer. Interaction with covers and collisions aren't handled as well as they could be, and even slow motion shoot outs don't look as cool as they could. There are nice details like shattered windows, and there is obviously some time left to improve things.
The multiplayer is set on locations found in the campaign, but they are opened up a bit and offer more vertical gameplay. We played maps set in a bus depot, a favela, and the docks, and each of the maps were optimised for eight players. The multiplayer is seen from a third person perspective, and Rockstar underlined the importance of having the player see the character they are playing on screen to create a stronger bond between the two.
The Gang Wars mode implements this concept best. The round is divided into five smaller events, and a story is being told throughout and it changes with the outcome of each segment. Several groups appear in this mode - favela gangs, the police and Tropa-Z. The events that make up a round include Turf Grab (conquer an area), Grab the Bags (bring bags of money from A to B), Short Fuse (set off bombs or prevent them from going off), Takedown (one target, revealed when the opponent has 5 kills), Siege (capture checkpoints), Survivor (survive until the end). Many of these are well established concepts, but the Rockstar take on the and the way they're wrapped up neatly into a story makes all the difference.
In addition to Gang Wars and the traditional Team Deathmatch, a mode called Payne Killer was also on display. This is basically a deathmatch with a twist. The first player to register a kill gets the Max Payne skin, and the first to die is turned into Passos. As the two heroes of the game these players now possess more powerful weapons and can take more damage, and as such they become the targets for the remaining players. It becomes a hunt for these two players as they cash in points the longer they survive with these skins. It's a very entertaining mode that combines competitive and co-operative multiplayer on the fly.
The controls are fine, even if the control scheme is a bit cluttered at times. The special abilities are triggered by pressing the right analogue stick, and if you press it for too long you may end up flat on the floor. Melee attacks aren't always as precise as I would have wished. Then again there is nothing more beautiful than a precise melee attack at someone who is lurking with his rocket launcher in the shadows.
This takes us to some of the nice little touches Rockstar have added to build rivalries in the game. Each time you die you get to see the crime play out in a few comic book panels. If someone shoots you twice in a row, you can press a button to highlight the player and carry out your vendetta. If you shoot someone on your friends list it gives you extra experience points, and the other way around.
There is a motivating system for experience. You can loot downed enemies for extra experience, cash, and sometimes much need ammunition. These close encounters where you hunch over a downed enemy aren't just a means for extra resources, but they also provide us with a bit of slapstick as they set up executions and vicious melee attacks.
After each round the score is tallied up, and you can invest what you earned in new weapons, or upgrades for your character. As far as weapons go there everything you'd expect is there from the Magnum and AK-47 to rocket launchers, there are grenades, special bursts (there is one called paranoia that causes confusion as you can't tell whose friend or foe), as well as equipment to protect your head and upper body and adrenaline shots.
It's a very deep system, and it lets you combine play styles with your team mates as bursts are designed to affect the entire team. Each object has been given a certain weight so you can't just add everything to your character as you have to find a balance between speed, protection, and firepower.
Multiplayer in a game like Max Payne 3 has a tendency to feel tagged on, and while that is true it can also turn out to be a great offering in its own right. The design and atmosphere of the game combines well with familiar concepts from other games and the extra layer of rivalries similar to those in the Burnout series is something that translates very well to the shooter genre. There is nothing quite like being hated or hating on someone else when you're playing online.