Think of Max Payne and the first things that come to mind will probably include a tightly plotted noir storyline, world-slowing bullet time and Max’s world-weary narration. Obviously the ideal elements for the action-packed, fast-paced world of online multiplayer. Or perhaps not.
That was the problem facing Rockstar – how to recreate the long-dormant single-player franchise in a world that demands online functionality. The two options: ignore them, creating a bland experience not really representative of the series, or find a way to make them work. This is Rockstar. Boundary-pushing creators of GTA and LA Noire. Which option do you think they took?
So, crucially, our first play of Max Payne 3’s multiplayer still feels in keeping with the series. Most so in Gang Wars - the flagship mode. Played over five different rounds (with tasks like delivering packages under heavy fire and trying to take out a VIP being protected by the other team), each is bookended by a motion-comic updating you on the reasons for, and results of, your unmitigated carnage with one gang eventually winning the war outright.
Max’s narration comes into play when you activate a special ability such as ‘Sneaky’, which makes you look like you’re an ally to enemy players (“Sometimes you learn the hard way who your friends are”) or ‘Big Dog’, which boosts you and your teammates’ health (“Their second wind was like a hurricane”).
And then there’s Bullet Time. Working as another special ability, it slows down time, but not the speed of your aiming, so you can better pick off your enemies. And while time slows for those around you, they don’t get the benefit. Just the warning they’re probably going to die soon. And it only affects the players in your part of the map. Fighting elsewhere when it’s activated? You can continue your gun battle unhampered.
But Gang Wars is just one element of the vast multiplayer, which includes the likes of Team Deathmatch and a six-against-two manhunt ‘Payne Killer’. And, on this evidence, it’s Rockstar’s greatest online achievement to date. Given its past work, and that we played for just three hours, it’s admittedly a bold statement. But one we’re confident making.
Max Payne 3 is released on PS3 and Xbox 360 on 18 May