Max Payne 3 Multiplayer Hands-on Preview -- Bullet Time DeathmatchBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 29, 2012
When one thinks of Max Payne, one of the first things that should come to mind is the time-warping effect of bullet time. It was the signature feature that helped make the first two Max Payne games stand out amongst the glut of third-person action games in the previous decade. And as you can imagine, implementing this form of gameplay is a whole different story in the scope of multiplayer.
The crime-ridden world of Max Payne is an ideal setting for adversarial multiplayer, and when you have a Team Deathmatch session, it wouldn’t be much fun if the entire game slowed down when one player activates bullet time. Max Payne 3 developer Rockstar London considered a number of solutions including putting the shooter and his targets in a time-slowed bubble. Ultimately, they settled on a more focused “line of sight” approach where only targets within a shooter’s field of vision are affected.
From our own hands-on time with Max Payne 3 multiplayer, Rockstar looks like they’re on the right track. Triggering it works just like in the story mode, only this time the targets (ie. actual gamers) react more unpredictably than enemy AI. And even if I have been singled out for a bullet time execution, I wasn’t at a total disadvantage even if the shooter came from behind. The fact that time slowed down was enough of a signal for me to react, whether to sidestep away from gunfire, take cover, or spin around and take my enemy head on, thanks to the one-button 180-degree turn move you can initiate by pressing down on the d-pad.
It took little time to get used to this new form of Max Payne gameplay as we first jumped into the familiar setup of Team Deathmatch. Further reinforcing how the majority of Max Payne 3 will be set in South America, all the maps we played on didn't have the classic American metropolitan look from the first two games, although it’s known that Max Payne 3’s story starts in New York.
For Team Deathmatch, the setting was a modified version of the bus terminal from the story mode. The passenger waiting areas didn’t provide much cover while nearby two-story buildings often offered opportunities to both heal and get the jump on incoming foes; that included literal bullet time jumps from balconies.
A Latin American favela was the setting for the next mode known as Payne Killer. Considered by Rockstar to be an evolution of the Dead Man Walking mode of Max Payne 2, Payne Killer is Max Payne 3’s King of the Hill mode, with a two-player co-op twist. Like all the multiplayer modes, this setup will handle eight players, but there are technically two kings of the kill at any given time: one person playing Max, another playing Raul Passos, the guy who recruits Max in the campaign. The first killer gets to play Max while his victim plays Passos, and you’re strongly encouraged to work together to survive as the other six players vie to be the next Payne Killer duo.
Perhaps it’s because it caters to my A.D.D. side, but my favorite hands-on experience with Max Payne 3 multiplayer was the multi-objective Gang Wars. The version we played consisted of a five-round mix of goals; the fact that this playlist changes with every session enhances the replay value. These mini modes included the classic bomb protect/detonate mission and the frantic Capture the Flag.
My favorite among the five was a take on Conquest mode, except there’s only one capture point. The fact that it was a tiny shack with two doorways made the bloody chaos all the more hilarious. The random playlist design of Gang Wars is a nice way to consolidate familiar multiplayer modes instead of the traditional route of populating a multiplayer menu with all these modes individually, thereby spreading the player base too thinly.
The unpredictability of real life players as opponents will surely make Max Payne fans rethink when to use and not use bullet time. It’s one of the reasons why Rockstar added a slew of special abilities known as Bursts. As you kill and loot corpses, your Adrenaline meter fills up; the higher the Adrenaline, the more powerful your Burst becomes.
You’ll have to play multiple times to figure out what Bursts work for you, and once you have found the ones you like, you can then slot them into your custom loadout. The Bullet Time Burst increases reflexes at different time durations, Weapon Dealer gives temporary unlimited ammo, and Big Dog grants health boosts to both you and your teammates. The one Burst I could see myself using a lot is Paranoia, which not only activates friendly fire for my enemies but enemies will also think that their buddies are on the other team.
My positive takeaway from this hands-on session was how Rockstar isn’t merely making Max Payne 3 multiplayer feel like a last-minute tacked-on mode like, say, the forgettable multiplayer in Ninja Gaiden 3. As technically demanding as it is to implement bullet time in multiplayer, taking it out altogether would make such a non-story mode pointless. The studio seems to have found the best solution for this gameplay mechanic though we’ll find out for sure when Max Payne 3 ships May 15.