The biggest addition to Max Payne 3, though, is multiplayer. Max Payne is just the latest in a string of franchises that primarily focused on single-player experiences getting an online shot in the arm, but leave it to Rockstar to be amongst the few to do anything worthwhile with it. It’s a highly polished element that obviously had a lot of time and thought put into it, and does a great job integrating what makes Max Payne unique into a competitive environment.
There are four modes at the core of MP3’s multiplayer; your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, as well as Payne Killer and Gang Wars. Payne Killer pits one person playing as Max Payne against everyone else on the map, which would be unfair if not for Max’s vast health and dual-Uzis. If there are enough people playing, one player also joins the fray as Passos, Max’s buddy from the single-player story. Gang Wars is the most dynamic mode of all, giving a small narrative twist to various multiplayer staples. Rather than simply capturing flags, you’re collecting bags of drugs after a deal goes bust, for instance. Once a round is over, you’ll be playing a different type of game. It might be a V.I.P. mode, or perhaps you’ll be capturing points on the map. Whatever the case may be, the added drama means that players are more invested than with your typical multiplayer fare.
Max Payne 3 retains a few things that have embedded themselves as multiplayer standards over the years. There’s a leveling system that unlocks new weapons and items for your custom loadouts, and here your health regenerates over time (although painkillers can be looted from bodies for immediate healing, and regeneration speed is affected by the weight of your loadout). You can join crews — Rockstar’s version of clans, which will carry into all of their future games — which give you an XP bonus for playing together and allow you to create rivalries with other groups. There are also abilities called Bursts, which are built up the same way that Bullet Time is in single-player — an Adrenaline meter fills up as you play, and the Bursts are more powerful the more you let the meter fill. For example, Trigger Happy gives you armor-piercing rounds for a limited time at Level 1, those same armor-piercing rounds along with an LMG and Desert Eagle at Level 2, and a grenade launcher at Level 3. Other Bursts let you see where your opponents are or heal your team, amongst many others.
Max’s Bullet Time also makes it into multiplayer as a unlockable Burst, although it doesn’t affect everyone on the map; only those within the user’s line of sight are affected, as well as anyone looking at an affected player, regardless of team affiliation (it’s hard to wrap your head around it at first, but this image from Polygon explains it best). You can still slow everything down if you haven’t unlocked Bullet Time if you shootdodge, but you need to build up your adrenaline to a certain point. It’s probably the biggest technical concern people had when they announced multiplayer for Max Payne 3, but Rockstar pulled it off brilliantly.
No game is without its faults, though, and Max Payne 3 is no exception. The story, for as gripping as it is, becomes hard to keep track of near the middle, as you’re hit with a whirlwind of double-crosses. There were also a couple of cases where the cutscene audio was either out of sync or absent altogether, which is obviously a problem in a story-driven game. Max also has a habit of switching to a single-handed weapon before cutscenes, which became an annoyance when you have to switch back to clear a room immediately afterwards. Checkpoints aren’t always logically placed, which I became all too aware of during some of the more difficult boss encounters. As for the multiplayer, leveling your character can take longer than expected, while some weapons and Bursts can feel overpowered.
In the end, these annoyances are minuscule when compared to what works. The story can be a blur at times (both literally and figuratively), but Max is one of Rockstar’s greatest characters, and James McCaffrey turns in a brilliant performance as the embattled former cop. The band HEALTH also does a great job with the game’s soundtrack, a huge part of MP3’s highly-stylized production values.
What Rockstar Games have delivered with Max Payne 3 is a Game of the Year contender that oozes style. It’s a technical tour-de-force that puts other developers on notice: THIS is how a shooter should feel. Quick-time events are nonexistent, putting every “Holy shit, did you see that?!” moment squarely in the control of the player, and you’re given plenty of opportunity to do it again and again thanks to the arcade modes. The multiplayer is no slouch either, and will have plenty of legs thanks to the planned DLC coming down the pipeline.
Max Payne isn’t just coming — Max Payne is back.
FINAL GRADE: A