Max Payne 3 multiplayer hands-on

By now, probably you know all about Max Payne 3‘s single player-focused story mode. You’ve read our hands-off preview. And our hands-on preview. More than that, you probably have fond memories of Remedy’s two previous Payne games, and you’re aware that this Rockstar Games-developed sequel offers a very similar take on third-person cinematic action, only with the same RAGE framework that powers Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV.

What you probably haven’t heard so much about is the game’s multiplayer component. Rockstar’s kept the focus largely on the solo campaign, but now we’ve had the chance to spend a couple of hours actually playing the team-based multiplayer against actual, living people. And there’s good news. It works. Really well. I would even go as far as saying that right now Max Payne 3‘s multiplayer feels like Rockstar’s most solid, and full-featured effort so far in the realm on online play.

At base, you’re looking at a largely team-based multiplayer component that features a variety of modes and an incredibly elaborate system of unlockable carrots for you to work towards. On the customization side, you’ve got the expected array of firearms and explosives, all bound within the rules of the Maxverse. Or, in other words, you’ve got a slot for a two-handed weapon and a maximum of two slots for your single-handed weapons. These can be dual-wielded just so long as you’re okay with dropping your two-handed firearm. There’s also a grenade slot that you can fill with a frag, a Molotov cocktail, a flashbang, and a number of other thrown weapons.

It goes way deeper than that, however. You’ve got attachments to unlock for each weapon and explosives (such as sticky tape for your grenades). There are three body part-specific slots that you can equip “items” in, all of which give your avatar perk-like bonuses. It could be something as simple as a helmet, which cuts down on the headshot damage you take, or a more elaborate tool like an Autoinjector, which helps boost your Adrenaline meter while also defanging one of the game’s Burst abilities when it’s used against.

A Burst in Max Payne 3‘s multiplayer mode is a limited-use ability that is fueled by how much juice you’ve got in your Adrenaline meter. The meter fills up as you score kills and perform various other actions, and it’s broken into three separate tiers. The Burst concept is an expansion of the single player game’s Bullet Time, which is also fueled by Adrenaline. Bullet Time is one of the Bursts you can use — which enemies are effected is based on your own line of sight — but it’s joined by a number of others. Another is Paranoia, which at its base level will temporarily make everyone on the opposing team see their teammates as enemies.

Base level? This is where the Adrenaline meter’s three tiers come in. You can trigger a Burst as soon as the first tier is filled, or you can let it keep filling until you fill out the second or third tiers. You keep any fully filled tiers whenever you’re fragged, but progress toward the next one is lost. So a tier one Paranoia, for example, just confuses the opposing team for a brief period. The tier three version of that same Burst takes the added step of turning off friendly fire for the duration, so the newly confused team can now also accidentally down one another. In the case of Bullet Time, a tier three Burst gives your entire team the benefit of the slowdown.

While you’re tweaking all of this gear, a meter sits at the bottom of the screen offering a visual representation of how heavy the load that you’re carrying is. With the lightest load, you move faster, recover health more quickly, and can sprint without stopping. The heaviest load, on the other hand, offsets your abundance of gear with slower health regen and minimal stamina to burn when you’re sprinting. Then of course there’s the mid-level load, which strikes a balance between the two. It’s a cool twist that makes players think a bit more carefully about how they want to spec their loadouts.

There’s still more to the customization too, on the cosmetic side of things. In any given match you’ll either be playing as one of the game’s handful of gangs or as a ragtag group of randoms. The look of your avatar for each gang, as well as the random group, can be completely customized. In the case of the randoms, you’re choosing stock avatars from the game’s cast of main and supporting characters. The gang avatars are much more flexible, as you’re able to change up everything from their gender and faces to their clothes and accessories.

Much of this content unlocks as you level up, which you’ll do as you earn XP for scoring kills, completing objectives, and looting corpses. Oh yes: you can loot downed enemies mid-match for a small XP boost, plus replenished resources. The multiplayer leveling maxes out at 50, at which point you can choose to become a “Legend,” which is the Payne take on Prestige.

In addition to a standard Team Deathmatch mode, I got to try out two others that feel more uniquely Max. First was Payne Killer, which starts out like a normal Deathmatch but doesn’t stay that way for long. The first player to score a kill and the first player killed are transformed into Max Payne and Raul Passos, respectively. They must then work together, using stock weapon loadouts and a healthy supply of health-restoring Painkillers, to survive for as long as they can. When one is taken out, the surviving player who inflicted the most damage takes on the VIP mantle. By default, Max and Passos get the Bullet Time Burst while the rest of the players get a Burst that allows them to see where the two VIPs are on the minimap at all times.

Then there’s Gang Wars, which wraps a bit of story around the multiplayer. There are “dozens” of Gang Wars scenarios, according to Rockstar, and they all unfold over the course of five matches, with each match serving up a different, completely randomized objective. It’s familiar stuff here: Team Deathmatch, capture point-based challenges, bomb planting, and so on. There’s a story driving everything forward though, and the way one match ends dictates what the next one will be. The final round always boils down to some kind of shoot ’em up showdown in which each team gets a bonus or penalty, based on their performance to that point.

Both of these modes are a blast to play. The Max Payne mechanics lend themselves very well to online play. There are even options in place to suit those who aren’t used to the twitch-based mayhem of an online shooter. Standing completely apart from the standard multiplayer lobbies with their free aim shooting is a set of “Soft Lock” lobbies in which all players have the advantage of a moderate auto-lock-on feature. The Soft Lock and Free Aim lobbies stand apart from one another but they are otherwise identical, so noobs need not worry about getting a lesser online experience.

That pretty well sums up where Max Payne 3‘s multiplayer is at. The game arrives in North America on May 15 and it’s almost 100-percent at this point. There were a very small handful of Bursts that hadn’t been added in yet, but even just what’s there now feels full and ready for primetime. Multiplayer shooters exist in a crowded space, so big kudos to Rockstar for cooking something up that feels immediately familiar and yet, in many ways, wholly different from the rest of what’s out there.

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